Maiduguri — The federal government yesterday expressed its readiness to look into the grievances of the Jamatu Ahlis Sunna Lidawadi Wal Jihad, popularly called Boko Haram, which has claimed responsibility for money of the bloody attacks in several states in the North since 2009.
The sect had, last Tuesday, indicated in a statement on the Voice of America (Hausa Service) that it had started peace talks with government in order to put an end to the insurgency in the land.
Government's readiness to look into the sect's grievances was contained in a statement signed by the Minister of Information, Mr Labaran Maku, which read thus: "In this regard, the federal government wishes to reiterate its willingness to listen to the grievances of the sect.
"It is our hope that this process will lead to restoration of peace, security and tranquillity to Northern Nigeria.
Maku noted that government was keenly interested in initiative(s) "that will usher in peace, security and tranquillity in the country, especially in the light of the security challenges that we have faced in the last two years."
Maku added, "In this context, we welcome the statement by Ahlul Sunna Lil Daawa Wal Jihad acknowledging that they have been in contact with the federal government through its representatives and have started negotiations with the objective of reaching a final solution to this crisis."
Boko Haram had in February 2011 said it would halt its violent campaign if it is allowed to reclaim its mosque in Maiduguri, Borno State capital.
According to Boko Haram, its members have "a serious religious affinity" with their mosque in Maiduguri so it needs it for its members to continue with their religious activities. The group also insisted that government must withdraw all security personnel on the streets of Maiduguri, while it called for the release of all its members who are held in various police cells and prisons without trial. They also demanded the trial of the security personnel and political elements that conspired to execute its late leader Mohammed Yusuf in 2009.
As at the time of going to press, the sect has not denied media reports that it is in touch with government on how to discuss an end to the insurgency.
When the question of dialogue between Boko Haram and government became rife in the middle of last year, the religious group told journalists that the dialogue offered them by government would not be possible under atmosphere of the threats of use of force by security agencies.
A spokesman of the group, Abu Zaid, said, "A true believer will not allow himself to be attacked twice."
Zaid was quoted to have said, "We have been signing agreements with them [government] but they have been reneging and now they want us to surrender our arms whereas they are terrorizing Islam and Muslims just like what happened two years ago."
Last March, a concerned northern elder, Dr Ibrahim Datti Ahmad who volunteered to anchor and mediate in the talks abruptly withdrew saying he was disturbed by the turn of events.
Sheikh Ahmad who is president of the Supreme Council for Shariah in Nigeria (SCSN) particularly lamented the divulgence of vital information in the dialogue process.
Do not publicize dialogue process, Shettima appeals to media
Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State has appealed to the media not to report "whatever efforts being made by any stakeholder" towards achieving dialogue over the current crisis so as not to sabotage the process.
Shettima made the appeal in a Sallah message issued by his Special Adviser on Communication, Isa Umar Gusau which was made available to newsmen in Maiduguri.
According to the statement, "On its part, the State Government, as a top most priority, is making deliberate and concerted efforts towards the amicable and quick resolution of the challenges in Borno.
As I have consistently maintained, genuine dialogue remains the best option in resolving this crisis and we are explicitly exploring all options to achieve peaceful resolution.
"At this point, I appeal to members of the media to kindly ignore and not report whatever efforts being made by any stakeholder towards achieving dialogue over the current crisis so as not to sabotage the process.
"I believe the media has a responsibility to inform members of the public by searching for credible information and reporting it. The media will not be doing anything illegal by reporting efforts to resolve the ongoing crisis if for any anything, it has the responsibility to probe happenings in our national lives but as they say, necessity can alter routines, and in this case, I appeal to the media not to report whatever efforts being made so that we can succeed and make our society safer for all of us.
"The media has been a very big contributor to the Nigerian project and for us in Borno State; the media is an important stakeholder that we so much appreciate and cherish" Gusau quoted Shettima as saying," the statement said.
The governor also called on residents in the state to assist with prayers for all efforts to succeed in resolving the crisis. "Rather than slow down, Muslims should use the spiritual rebirth gained in the holy month of Ramadan to double their commitments to praying for Borno State and Nigeria at large beyond the Ramadan," noting that the search for peace, "is an endless obligation that should be shared by every individual and institution in a progressive society".