Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: Top Level Talks On Boko Haram

The withdrawal of soldiers from Maiduguri will not be effected for now until normalcy is restored to the troubled Borno State capital, a two-hour consultative meeting between President Goodluck Jonathan, Vice President Mohammed Namadi Sambo, security chiefs as well as prominent citizens of Borno State and leaders of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) decided in Abuja yesterday. The meeting centred on the security situation in Maiduguri. The meeting, which took place in House 7 of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, had the Secretary to the Borno State Government Babagana Njidda representing Governor Kashim Shettima.

Daily Trust gathered from a source who was at the meeting that the Borno elders led by former chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission Ambassador Usman Gaji Galtimari (CON) tabled four demands which they wanted the government to implement as a panacea for the resolution of the conflict which has claimed many lives. The source said President Jonathan agreed to look into their demands excluding the demand for the immediate withdrawal of the military, which the President said was premature.

The elders also demanded an immediate dialogue with members of the Boko Haram sect, unconditional amnesty for the sect members similar to that granted the Niger Delta militants as well as relief for victims of the recent military crackdown, which they said has aggravated the security situation and has resulted in the mass exodus of people from Maiduguri.

"We have realized that the presence of the military did not improve the security situation and the need for amnesty is to convince the sect members that there is a genuine reconciliation and that will give room for more robust dialogue and eventual resolution of the crisis," the source said.

Briefing newsmen shortly after the meeting, Information Minister Labaran Maku said the meeting consulted widely and explored various options on how to tackle the Boko Haram insurgency, but he declined to disclose any of the options brought forward at the meeting.

Also speaking, Senator Ali Ndume said the government was willing to dialogue with the Boko Haram but that the leaders of the sect must disclose themselves to enable the government identify them. On the alleged military excesses, Maku said two soldiers were being interrogated and he appealed to the residents of Maiduguri to cooperate with the soldiers until the "potent threats are lowered."

He said, "There were broad based consultations about the outcry for the withdrawal of military. But in the light of this discussion, the meeting generally agreed that it is premature to withdraw the military. What was needed was that if there are cases of individual misbehaviour by members of the Joint Task Force, the authorities will look into those cases.

"And right now we know one or two soldiers who were found to have done things in excess are being questioned by the relevant authorities. What is important is that the army are playing a great role and the situation we are now in. if you withdraw the army, what happens?

"What is most important is to manage the military until such a time that it is clear that some of the potent threats are lowered."

He said the meeting was broadly attended by political leaders and said "it explored different options, consulted widely on what we can do together to bring about peace and security in Borno state and other affected areas. The meeting was very fruitful and indeed, this is the beginning of further dialogue to find solution to this problem.

"All hands have to be on deck, political leaders, community leaders, traditional leaders, religious leaders so that together, we can look at ways to bring about solution. The meeting rose with the understanding that further consultation will be taking place. All the leaders are concerned about the need to bring about peace."

Borno elders in attendance include Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, former Governor Muhammadu Goni, Brigadier General Abba Kyari (rtd), Alhaji Bulama Mali Gubio, Senator Maina Ma'aji Lawal, Ambassador Hamza Yarima, Ambassador Ahmed Al-Gazali, former FCT minister Ibrahim Bunu, Senator Ali Ndume and Chairman of board of trustees of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Lt Gen Jeremiah Useni, among others.

Also in attendance were FCT Minister Bala Muhammad, Minister of State for Agric and Natural Resources Alhaji Bukar Tijjani; Chief of Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Oluseyi Petinrin, National Security Adviser (NSA) General Andrew Owoye Azazi (rtd); Secretary to Government of the Federation Anyim Pius Anyim, Attorney General of the Federation Bello Adoke and other presidential aides.

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