ABUJA — Nigeria’s new national security adviser Colonel Sambo Dasuki took up his post late last month and has been touring the north, calling on leaders to reach out to Boko Haram contacts and convince them to accept peace talks. Some locals said the powerful northern leader is more likely to start successful talks than his southern predecessor, but some analysts said he is just a new face on an old problem.
A police officer stands guard outside the Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Nigeria's capital Abuja, June 24, 2012, after tit-for-tat attacks between Muslims and Christians in Kaduna, sparked by suicide bombings blamed on Islamist sect Boko Haram.
In late June, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan sacked his national security adviser and minister of defense. Colonel Sambo Dasuki was appointed to be the new security adviser and almost immediately, as one columnist put it, “swung into action.”
Dasuki headed north, the heartland of violence blamed on a militant Islamist sect known as Boko Haram, to discuss how to bring peace to the region.
For northern leaders like former Borno state assembly speaker, Bulama Fugu, Dasuko’s presence in northern cities was a good first step.
“He came to Maiduguri. He came to Damaturu," said Fugu. "He visited other places and he has had some consultations with people after visiting. It’s a good effort and it’s in the right way.”
Clement Nwankwo is the executive director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center in Abuja. He said as a northerner from a powerful Muslim family, Dasuki might have a better chance at gathering information about Boko Haram.
“He comes from the region. He has good reach with traditional rulers and even a lot of actors within the region so it is easier and much more possible for him to gain knowledge and intelligence."
However, Nwankwo said Dasuki’s reach is limited because his job is to advise the president who has failed to contain Boko Haram attacks over the past three years. Boko Haram has been blamed for thousands of deaths and a near collapse of the economy in northern Nigeria.
Last week, Dasuki announced that peace talks were imminent, and he had the phone numbers of Boko Haram leaders. In an untraceable e-mail sent Tuesday, Boko Haram said Dasuki was lying.
Nwankwo said even if Boko Haram leaders are willing to meet with the government, he is not convinced it would end the bloodshed.
“I’m a little bit unsure what negotiations mean to be honest with you," said Nwankwo. "Is it negotiations to kill less people or negotiations to what purpose? It’s still not very clear to a lot of people what the political agenda of Boko Haram is.”
Other analysts said negotiations with Boko Haram are essential because the group’s main support base is impoverished young people who are unemployed and angered by extra-judicial killings by security forces.
In the northern city of Maiduguri, newspaper vendor Benedict Ominyi said unless those grievances are addressed, Dasuki will not be able to weaken Boko Haram.
“There’s nothing he can do without the cooperation of the people themselves, especially those people in the troubled areas,” said Ominyi.
Boko Haram has said it wants to establish Islamic law in Nigeria, and demands the release of imprisoned members.
Idang Alibi, political columnist for Nigeria’s Daily Trust
newspaper, said the group may also have hidden agendas and foreign funding.
“You need a lot of finance and you need a lot of know-how to even deploy the weapons of terror," said Alibi. "And I don’t think that the people we hear about here have the kind of sophistication or the finances to be able to do what they have been doing.”
President Jonathan said Boko Haram’s goal is to destabilize Nigeria by inciting religious violence. In recent weeks, Boko Haram attacks have sparked deadly religious riots in Nigeria’s volatile “Middle Belt” region. The group also claims responsibility for an attack on a funeral last weekend that left at least 22 dead, including a senator and a state assembly member.
Abdulkareem Olayemi in Maiduguri contributed to this report.