Islamic sect Boko Haram yesterday opted for dialogue with the Federal Government, picking former military leader Gen. Muhammadu Buhari as mediator.
Buhari contested last year’s presidential election on the platform of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) against President Goodluck Jonathan.
Boko Haram also proposed Saudi Arabia for the talks, which the government had for long suggested to ascertain the sect’s grievances.
Others, it suggested as mediators are Dr. Shettima Ali Monguno, Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim, Ambassador Gaji Galtimari, Mrs Aisha Alkali Wakil and her husband Alkali Wakil.
Boko Haram named Abu Mohammed Ibn Abdulaziz, said to be the next in command to its leader, Abubakar Shekau, as leader of its team to the talks. He will be joined by Abu Abbas, Sheik Ibrahim Yusuf, Sheik Sani, Kantagora and the detained Mamman Nur.
Ibn Abdulaziz, who spoke in a tele-conference with reporters in Maiduguri, Borno State, also called for the arrest of former Governor Ali Modu Sheriff, but gave no reason for the demand.
He also asked for compensation for families of killed Boko Haram members and the release of those in detention.
In a swift reaction, the Presidency welcomed Boko Haram’s change in position, reiterating its commitment to peace and Justice.
A statement last night by presidential spokesman Reuben Abati reads: “Yes, I have seen the story in which the Boko Haram is reportedly declaring a ceasefire and the opening of dialogue. I think it is important to restate the position of government in this matter.
“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.
“Don’t forget that President Jonathan had made it clear that if the people behind Boko Haram are ready to come forward, and table their grievances, then government will be willing to listen to those grievances.
“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.”
Despite a shift in its hardline position, Boko Haram’s command and control structure remains a mystery.
Abdulaziz, who spoke on its behalf yesterday is unknown to the media.
Ibn Abdulaziz said: “We are not actually challenging the state, as people are saying, but the security (forces) who are killing our members, children and wives.”
“We are highly offended but if this government is sincere, everything (the attacks) will come to an end. We want to dialogue but government must show sincerity in its handling of the situation.”
The call came through the channels that Boko Haram usually communicates with reporters, but not from its spokesman who uses the nom de guerre Abul Qaqa in such calls. Ibn Abdulaziz, who claimed to speak on Shekau’s behalf, did not call for the implementation of Shariah law across Nigeria, a long-term demand of the sect.