BOKO HARAM PEACE TALK: Buhari under pressure •Gowon, Northern govs back move •Reps, NADECO, others react
The sect had on Thursday named Buhari, Dr. Shettima Monguno; a former Yobe State Governor, Senator Bukar Ibrahim; Ambassador Gaji Galtimari; and Aisha Alkali Wakil, and her husband, Alkali as “trusted Nigerians” it was willing to negotiate on its behalf in Saudi Arabia.
Apart from the negotiations, it also demanded for the arrest of ex-Borno State Governor Modu Sheriff, compensation for families of its members killed in the course of its terrorist activities and the rebuilding of its mosques by the Federal Government as its conditions for a ceasefire.
Shortly after the sect’s pronouncement second-in-command, Abu Mohammed in Maiduguri, eminent Nigerians and groups have called on Buhari not to spurn the offer if it was all that was needed to “restore peace to Nigeria.”
Most prominent among them was a former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, who implored Nigerians not to misconstrue the intention of Boko Haram’s request for Buhari on the negotiation table.
Gowon told SUNDAY PUNCH in a telephone interview that if it would bring lasting peace to the country, Buhari should be given a chance.
He said Buhari was not going to be their spokesman, but that he would only help to ensure that peace reigned again in the country.
He said, “If Buhari leading the talks would lead to lasting peace, we should give him the chance. People should not misconstrue the intention by saying that Buhari knows them or their leaders. That I think, may not be the intention.”
The Northern States Governors Forum on Saturday also applauded Federal Government’s acceptance of the offer of negotiation by Boko Haram.
A statement by the forum made available to Channels Television in Minna, the Niger state capital, stated that “dialogue rather than use of force, would help find a lasting solution to the worsening insecurity of lives and property in the country.”
The House of Representatives also said the sect call for a dialogue was a welcome development.
The Speaker of the House, Aminu Tambuwal, told newsmen on Saturday at Ila-Orangun, Osun State, that the House would support any step that could bring peace to the country.
“If the sect is now accepting that there should be a kind of peace pact with the Federal Government, I am sure the House will encourage that.
“There will be a dialogue and it may not necessarily have to be all the conditions given will be met. I think government should be engaged, and see how best the issues can be resolved.’’
Similarly, the President of the Ohaneze Ndigbo, Ralph Uwechue, urged Buhari and others nominated for the mediatory roles to accept it for the restoration of peace to the country.
Uwechue said, “Buhari is a senior citizen and an elder statesman, I think he and others would do whatever would help solve the crisis. We are only interested in seeing the end of the violence. So, the people nominated should accept the offer if that would solve the problem. But the Federal Government should verify how authentic this offer from Boko Haram is.”
In the same vein, the Secretary of the Borno State Elders’ Forum, Dr. Bulama Gubio, said the forum was happy that the sect had accepted its appeal.
Gubio urged the Federal Government and those nominated as mediators to set in motion, the rapprochement process without delay.
He said, “We have been appealing to both Federal Government and the sect. We have been appealing to them to drop their weapons in order to stop the killing of innocent women and children. They have said they are ready to listen to us. The choice of the mediators was totally their own volition. We did not choose anybody for them. The people they choose are those they can trust.”
Gubio said the ball was now in the court of the Federal Government to kick-start the peace talks by getting the people the sect nominated to the negotiation table.
“It’s not enough for the Federal Government to accept the offer. Government has to set things in motion. Something has to start somewhere. If government does not take action, the situation will remain the same. We want Buhari, Moguno and others to accept the role so that this whole issue can be resolved.”
Convener, Committee of Concerned Northern Professionals, Politicians, Academics and Businessmen, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, also told one of correspondents that Buhari could accept the offer as long as he put aside his political ambition.
He said, “The negotiators must be people who are neutral and acceptable not only to the sect but to other stakeholders. They must be men of integrity who have apolitical status. Buhari must put his political career on hold pending while the negotiation lasts.
“Any politician can use the process to work towards actualising certain political ambitions.”
A former Minister of Information, Prof. Jerry Gana, is also one of those pushing for dialogue.
Gana on Saturday said, “The Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria should take this matter very seriously because the most important way to have peace is through dialogue and resolution. Every crisis is not solved by violence; it is finally solved by a resolution.
“If there are good proposals that have been put forward for peace, we pray that they should be given very serious consideration and we pray that God will give the leadership the wisdom to resolve how to move Nigeria forward. If there are good suggestions, they shouldn’t be thrown away; they should be considered because you never know what key may open the door.”
But the National Democratic Coalition, however, warned the Federal Government not to allow the Boko Haram dictate the pace of the peace talk.
Mr Ayo Opadokun, the General Secretary of NADECO, told the News Agency of Nigeria that the demand by the sect for peace talks in Saudi Arabia, among other demands, “was a curious demand’’ and an attempt by the “tail to wag the head.”
Opadokun, said even though he did not disapprove of dialogue with the group, such talks should be held on the right terms and conditions.
“The government must tread softly,” he said.
He said if the government acceded to the demands of Boko Haram, it could serve as a precedent which could propel other aggrieved groups to employ the same tactics.
However, the Convener, National Patriotic Movement, Senator Femi Okurounmu, criticised the nomination of Buhari as one of the mediators for the sect. He said the threats by him that Nigeria would be ungovernable, if the 2011 presidential election was manipulated, had raised tension in the land.
The former Secretary-General of the pan Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, said, “I am extremely baffled by Buhari’s expected role in the negotiation. Why did the sect nominate Buhari? Why should Buhari accept to take up the responsibility? Why will the government accept him as part of the negotiators?”
Also, youths under the aegis of the Niger Delta Youth Parliament have urged Buhari to distance himself from the Boko Haram sect.
The youths expressed shock that members of the sect could pick a former Head of State and presidential candidate to mediate between it and the Federal Government.
National Coordinator of the NDYP, Mr. Imoh Okoko, said, “Buhari should reject his nomination as a mediator for Boko Haram. He should also distance himself from the sect, which has been tagged a terrorist group. It would be an insult for a former head of state and presidential candidate to be seen negotiating on behalf of a terrorist group.
“President Jonathan should not negotiate with Boko Haram members. If he (Jonathan) goes ahead to negotiate with them, then he should be ready to negotiate with MASSOB and other aggrieved groups.
“Again, if the President agrees to negotiate with members of Boko Haram, he would be indirectly saying that the Federal Government cannot guarantee the security of Nigerians.”