Nigeria: Could the Sultan of Sokoto open the door to talks with Boko Haram?

Nigeria's Boko Haram says it would be willing to negotiate with the government if the mediator was the Sultan of Sokoto, a critic of government tactics against the militant group.

The Boko Haram movement, which conducts assassinations and bombings primarily in northeastern Nigeria, draws on some northerners’ feelings of political and religious disenfranchisement. These feelings target not only national and state politicians, but also Muslim leaders: Boko Haram has killed rival Muslim clerics, including relatives of the Shehu of Borno, northeastern Nigeria’s preeminent traditional Muslim authority. Yet some Nigerians believe that the Sultan of Sokoto, the traditional Muslim leader with perhaps the greatest influence in the North (and nationwide), can resolve the crisis.

The Sultan has recently spoken out on issues connected to Boko Haram, decrying the use of force by security forces and calling for dialogue with the movement. These gestures may have caught Boko Haram’s attention:

One of the leaders of the Islamic sect…expressed the group’s readiness to enter into peace talks with the Federal Government on condition that people of impeccable character such as the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Saád Abubakar, would accept to broker the peace talks. By this pronouncement, the leaders of the sect have made a call.

Interestingly, the Sultan made clear his readiness to wade into the crisis with a view to bringing to an end, the increasing toll of the loss of lives and casualties associated with the Boko Haram saga in the country but with a matching condition that they must cease to be faceless. By his pronouncement, the Sultan has answered the call made by the sect leaders. Going by his pedigree as a retired military general who, as a commander, was trained on how to handle war situations and even excesses of news hounds, an elite and someone who approaches issues with modernity coupled with the respect he commands from the Nigerian Muslim class including the Boko Haram leaders as evidenced in the plea for his intervention by the sect leader, nobody should doubt that the Sultan has all it takes to resolve the crisis once and for all, if given the mandate to do so.

Federal and state authorities have said repeatedly that they are open to the possibility of dialogue with Boko Haram, but the sect has steadfastly refused. If Boko Haram would accept the Sultan as a mediator, the dynamic could shift.

You can read more about the Sultan here.

Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahel Blog.

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