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arrested boko haram members

Arrested Boko Haram members in Kano

Boko Haram’s offer of a conditional ceasefire throws up more questions than answers

About a forthnight ago, the violent fundamentalist sect, Boko Haram, waved some sort of an olive branch when it issued conditions for a ceasefire to the federal government. The group has been behind the killing of over 2500 people and unfettered destruction of properties in the northern part of the country. Nigerians, who had become traumatised with the wave of violence, heaved a sigh of relief at the prospect of an end to the menace of the sect and the untold hardship it had engendered. Many citizens happily raised their voices in support of the call for negotiations by the sect.

The peace offer is, however, fraught with questions. The source of the offer, one Abu Muhammad Ibn Abdulazeez, in a teleconference with some journalists in Maiduguri, said the group was willing to lay down its arms and dialogue through intermediaries, chief of them being General Muhammadu Buhari (retd). The group hinged the ceasefire deal, which it wants discussed in Saudi Arabia, on four terms: the release of all its members from detention; the arrest of ex-Borno State Governor, Ali Modu Sheriff ; compensation paid to families of its members killed by security forces; and the rebuilding of its mosques by the Federal Government.

The conditional offer for a ceasefire could not be authenticated because the bearer, Abdulazeez, was not known to have spoken on behalf of the sect in the past. More so, since the reported killing of the sect’s spokesman, Abu Qaqa, two months ago, the group has not contacted journalists through their usual means of e-mails and teleconferences.

But Abdulazeez claimed he was speaking on behalf of the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau. He said as soon as the conditions were met, the group would ceasefire and be ready for a meeting with the government in in Saudi Arabia, to finalise issues relating to dialogue and full restoration of peace.

Not done with their terms, Abdulazeez also gave out the names of those to be nominated. Aside from Buhari, other nominees are Shettima Ali Monguno, a Second Republic Minister; Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim, former governor of Yobe State; Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Insecurity in the North-east, Ambassador Gaji Galtimari; Barrister Aisha Alkali Wakil and her husband, Alkali Wakil.

He also said the sect had mandated five members to mediate on its behalf. They are Abu Abbas, Sheikh Ibrahim Yusuf, Sheikh Sani Kontogora, Mamman Nur, the alleged mastermind of the last year’s bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja and himself.

Who is this Abu Muhammad Ibn Abdulazeez? How can his claims of speaking on behalf of the sect’s leader be authenticated? What faction of the sect is he speaking for? Many questions, no answers!

It had been speculated that the sect has been factionalised and this gained momentum when more attacks were recorded in the wake of Abdulazeez’s offer of ceasefire. At least five persons, including General Mohammed Shuwa (retd), were killed in Maiduguri. The sect, however, denied any involvement in the killings.

Some notable Nigerians have thrown their weight behind the request for dialogue by the sect and have urged the federal government to accept the offer. But others have warned that the idea would be counter-productive.

The Presidency, in its reaction through the Presidential spokeman, Reuben Abati, said it would discuss with the group but not under any conditions. “The Federal Government is committed to peace and security for the benefit of all Nigerians. If what the proposed ceasefire is intended to achieve are the objectives of peace and security, then it is a welcome development. There have been attempts before now, by concerned persons, to reach out to the Boko Haram through back channels, in response to government’s call that all efforts should be made to resolve the problem. I suspect that this latest development may be related to that. Definitely, government is determined to ensure peace, peace, and peace, and protect the rule of law, and at the same time, see that justice is done where wrongs have been committed,” read a statement signed by Abati.

But the Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on Inter-Party Affairs, Senator Ben Obi, rejected the conditions attached to the ceasefire offer. Obi raised issues concerning the request for the release of the sect’s members in custody. “I think if they are truly and seriously interested in picking dialogue, we should engage them in dialogue. However, you don’t place conditions before security agencies. If a man is a criminal and has been arrested for criminality you don’t tell people to release him; it is not their duty. You go to court and let the court release him. But if they want to engage in dialogue, yes they should be engaged in dialogue not with any precondition,” argued the presidential aide.

Others who support dialogue with Boko Haram are House of Representatives Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal; Second Republic governor of old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa; member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Daniel Reyenieju; Arewa Youths and founder of the Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, Dr. Frederick Fasehun, who cautioned Jonathan against involving Buhari in the negotiation.

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Tambuwal urged government not to hesitate to go for the talks, if that would bring peace. “I will encourage our leadership to engage the leaders of Boko Haram in the dialogue; if that will bring peace, we should go for it. We have had more than enough bloodshed of innocent Nigerians and government should do everything possible, including dialogue with Boko Haram, to bring this to an end,” said the lawmaker.

Those opposed to the move include Second Republic governor of Plateau State, Chief Solomon Lar and Dr. Olapade Agoro of the National Action Council, NAC. Lar refered to the sect as “faceless people”.

“I disagree completely to dialogue with Boko Haram, unless they show their identity that Mr. X, Y, Z is Boko Haram and this is his rank. For them to name some people to be their representatives, who are they? They are faceless people, let them come out and reveal their identities. It is not enough for the sect members to nominate some people to negotiate on their behalf . Let us know who is who among them. Let them come out in the open and identify themselves rather than being faceless,” he said.

The politician advised the group to adopt the style of former militants in the Niger Delta, whose leaders and members were known. “During the Niger Delta militancy, some people came out and said they were the leaders of the militants. That was very reasonable and that was how the late President Musa Yar’Adua was able to tackle the problem of militancy in the Niger Delta. The Niger Delta militants were not faceless like Boko Haram. Why didn’t Boko Haram follow the example of the militants by showing their faces?” Lar asked.

Similarly, Dr. Agoro regarded Boko Haram’s conditional ceasefire as a condemnable arm-twisting and picked holes in the sect’s request for a peace parley in Saudi Arabia.

In the group’s denial of involvement in the post-ceasefire offer, Abdulazeez, also in a telephone conference in Maiduguri, categorically denied killing Major General Shuwa, stating that the group had no problem with the deceased. He described the Shuwa as a responsible man, who had not said anything wrong about Boko Haram.

Even in the face of  its denials, the killing of two Chinese nationals on 31 October in Borno State, by gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram members, further raises doubts about the genuineness of the offer of ceasefire.

The Joint Task Force, JTF, in Borno State has, however, sneered at the sect’s request for peace, saying that it has evidence that the sect was planning fresh attacks on “soft targets”. This further casts a shadow of doubt over the real intentions of the sect as well as the authenticity of the claim of Abdulazeez.

The JTF went on to issue telephone lines to the public to report suspicious persons or activities within their locations.

OPC’s founder, Fasehun, however, cautioned President Jonathan against involving Buhari in the negotiation. He stressed that Buhari could not negotiate on behalf of Nigerians or the federal government because the personality of Buhari in the negotiating team would further aggravate the problem in the country. He pointed out that the former head of state has a grouse with the federal government over his defeat by Jonathan in the 2011 presidential election and as such could not represent the interest of the government and Nigerians well in negotiations with the sect.

To Fasehun’s rejection of Buhari’s nomination as a mediator came a swift response from the former head of state. He expressed his disapproval of the request and said he was not interested in taking up such a role. Buhari claimed not to know any member of the sect, nor the cause they stand for, offering these as reasons for his refusal to accept the nomination.

“Well, I think my party has done an excellent job on that. Unless some people do not want to believe, I do not know any member of Boko Haram. Secondly I do not believe in their cause…How can I represent people I do not know? I do not believe in whatever they are seeking.  I cannot work for either the Boko Haram or government.  I do not believe in what they are doing, in destruction of life and property, and the government does not want to intervene to stop all that. With all the military and security, the federal government could not stop that,” Buhari said at a CPC event in Abuja.

—NNAMDI FELIX, Abuja/TheNEWS magazine