LAGOS, Nigeria — Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka on Friday dismissed calls for peace negotiations with the radical Islamist sect known as Boko Haram and said Nigerian society is at stake in what he described as a war for survival.
Nigeria's northeast remains under almost daily attack by the sect, which is blamed for killing more than 740 people this year alone, according to an Associated Press count. Three police officers died in an apparent bombing carried out by the sect in Yobe state early Friday morning, officials said.
Soyinka, a 78-year-old playwright and essayist, was once marked for death by one Nigerian military ruler. He has both has feuded with and befriended others. Africa's most populous nation now has a civilian government, though the military remains a powerful behind-the-scenes force.
Despite his often strained relations with his country's military, Soyinka said the military go after Boko Haram while avoiding civilian casualties.
He acknowledged that grinding poverty in Nigeria's north gave rise to Boko Haram, but said negotiating with "mass murderers" would not end the cycle of violence tearing at the country. He also suspects that crooked politicians had a role in Boko Haram's early rise.
Politicians who wanted to rig elections "activated this brainwashed horde of religious [i.e., Islamic] militants. That's how it started," Soyinka told foreign journalists in Lagos. Boko Haram members then "looked at those who unleashed them and they realized they were being manipulated. ... And now they are completely out of control."
Boko Haram, which means "Western education is sacrilege" in the Hausa language of Nigeria's Muslim north, has carried out shootings and bombings targeting both Christians and Muslims. The sect continues to kill despite a heavy military presence and says it will stop only if the government strictly implements Shariah law and frees its imprisoned members.
Soyinka called the prospect of the government engaging in peace talks "abysmal appeasement."
"The issue has become a security issue in which the question becomes: who goes down? Is (it) the community, the nation, the society that goes down or is it a bunch of killers who are totally beyond control?"
In its fight against Boko Haram, Nigeria's military has killed dozens of civilians in reprisal attacks after its own soldiers died. Soyinka said the Nigerian military likely had committed "violations of fundamental human rights" in its assaults and that innocent people have been killed. However, he said soldiers had begun to refine their tactics and rely more on intelligence gathering rather "than just a blitzkrieg approach."
"This is a new problem with the military," Soyinka said. "They have never had to cope with this kind of insurgency. So the military itself is making a lot of blunders."
Soyinka won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986, the first African honored with the award.