By Olalekan Adetayo and Friday Olokor/Punch
“We have accepted dialogue as a way of bringing the (insecurity) situation to an end as quickly as possible. We have always called on those engaging in violence to stop because violence can’t solve any problem. So we welcome the decision to dialogue,” Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, told journalists in Abuja.
The Christian Association of Nigeria has, however, warned that the government should not hold dialogue with the sect on its own terms.
Though CAN said it was ready to support any step aimed at curbing the sect’s insurgency, it opposed the government-Boko Haram talks if they centred on the condition to Islamise of the country.
The sect’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, was reportedly quoted to have said in a video footage that President Goodluck Jonathan should convert to Islam or resign from office.
Jonathan in a statement by his spokesman, Reuben Abati, had rebuffed the condition, saying he had the legitimate mandate of the people, both Christians and Muslims, hence he could not resign.
The Voice of America had reported on Tuesday that a purported spokesman for Boko Haram, one Habu Mohammed, said the group had the Fedral Governement in direct talks on ways to end violence in the North.
According to the VOA, Mohammed, who claims to be a deputy to Boko Haram leader Sheikh Abubakar Shekau, said in a statement that the group decided to initiate the peace moves in response to numerous public appeals for peace in the country.
The VOA said a senior Nigerian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed the talks to VOA.
Maku, while not denying that talks with the violent sect had commenced, claimed that the government also heard Mohammed’s claim on the radio.
Our correspondent reports that the minister might have refrained from confirming the talks in order not to stall its progress. Recent talks between government and the sect had broken down after they were reported. Northern clerics who facilitated these meetings had accused government of breaching an understanding reached by both parties that the talks should be kept secret.
He said, “We have heard about the news. The position of government from the beginning has been that we are prepared to negotiate and hold dialogue with members of this group because we believe they are Nigerians and they are our children.
“It is a known fact that violence has disrupted social and economic activities in some parts of Northern Nigeria.
“We have accepted dialogue as a way of bringing the situation to an end as quickly as possible.
“We have always called on those engaging in violence to stop because violence can’t solve any problem. So we welcome the decision to hold dialogue.”
Meanwhile, the Coalition of Northern Leaders, Academics, Professionals and Businessmen has said there are proofs that government officials are benefiting from the Boko Haram crisis.
The leader of the group, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, told one of our correspondents in a telephone interview on Wednesday that the inability of the government to hold dialogue with members of the sect in the past was because the unnamed government officials were afraid that they might stop making money from the crisis if the discussion had succeeded.
He said this was the reason the first talks between government and members of the sect did not yield any positive result.
Mohammed said, “The so-called talk between government and Boko Haram should be encouraged and must be pursued in good conscience with the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians at heart.
“The last time the talk was initiated; government started it with bad faith. This was because government officials and members of the Joint Task Force are making money from the crisis.
“This was why the officials sabotaged the talk. They knew that they might not make money again if the talk had succeeded. “
Junaid however said Jonathan could not also be trusted with a successful dialogue with the sect that had been prosecuting campaign of bombing against the country for the past two years.
He added, “But if now they are serious about it, it is alright. I will encourage them to continue because they know that members of the Armed Forces are not in the best position to defeat the sect.
“My fear is that the President himself is not a leader we can trust. He is not a good leader. And above all, he is also surrounded by bad people.”The Special Assistant (Media and Public Affairs), to CAN President, Mr. Kenny Ashaka, in an interview with one of our correspondents on Wednesday questioned whether Jonathan had satisfied the condition for dialogue with the insurgent group.
He said, “We in CAN believe in dialogue on matters that can be resolved by all parties to a dispute. Indeed, our attitude to matters of dialogue is altruistic contrary to the feelings of our detractors who believe that we don’t want dialogue.
“But our opposition to dialogue or negotiation with Boko Haram is because of their demand to Islamise Nigeria which is in clear breach of the nation’s constitution. So what CAN is saying clearly is that any move, no matter how central it is, to end the insurgency of the Boko Haram sect that seeks to curtail or wish away the rights and liberties of Christians in Nigeria will not enjoy our support. That is our stand.
“President Goodluck Jonathan at a point told Reuters in an interview early this year that if the Boko Haram people clearly identify themselves and say ‘this is the reason we are resisting and confronting government, killing people and destroying property, there will be a basis for dialogue.’ Has this condition been met?”