The Presidency yesterday said the reported talks that government is holding with Boko Haram are indirect discussions through "back channels", aimed at ending the sect's three-year campaign of violence in parts of the North.
Apparently responding to last week's repudiation of the dialogue by a spokesman for Boko Haram, Presidential spokesman Reuben Abati insisted yesterday that there is on-going mediated dialogue.
"The form of the dialogue is that back room channels are being used to reach across with the sole objective of understanding what exactly the grievances of these persons are, what exactly can be done to resolve the crises, in the overall best interest of ensuring peace and stability in Nigeria and the security of life and property," Abati told journalists at the State House in Abuja.
A report by Voice of America radio penultimate week said a purported deputy to Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau announced that dialogue was going on with government representatives. The report said Habu Muhammad told a VOA Hausa journalist in Saudi Arabia that the sect decided to agree to discussions after considering the calls by the general public.
But a spokesman for Boko Haram, Abul Qaqa, said in an emailed statement last week that no such talks were going on and that the sect had already foreclosed any possibility of dialogue with the government.
Speaking in Abuja yesterday, Abati insisted that the Federal Government is in indirect talks with some leaders of the group.
"When government says it is already talking to Boko Haram, the form of that dialogue must be properly understood," he said.
"I think a lot of people are under the impression that the dialogue involves a situation whereby government officials are sitting on one side, Boko Haram persons are sitting on the other side in an air-conditioned room and there are negotiations across the table. That is not the form of the dialogue.
"The form of the dialogue is that back room channels are being used to reach across with the sole objective of understanding what exactly the grievances of these persons are, what exactly can be done to resolve the crises, in the overall best interest of ensuring peace and stability in Nigeria and the security of life and property.
"And all of this is consistent with the position of Mr. President. So what is called dialogue is at many levels: through back room channels and through multi-level, constructive interventions to address a difficult issue that is multifarious."
Abati added: "One thing that is noteworthy is that the Boko Haram spokesperson made it clear that they were prepared to go a step further to ensure that persons who are using the name of Boko Haram for political and criminal purposes are identified and checked.
"What that original statement indicated was that indeed Boko Haram has many faces. It confirms that this thing called Boko Haram is such a multifaceted phenomenon.
"The true situation has already been stated by the Minister of Information on two different occasions. First in an interview, second through a press release, namely that the Federal Government is involved in dialogue with Boko Haram.
"You will recall that what led to this is that a spokesperson for Boko Haram issued a statement confirming that government and some leaders of Boko Haram were already discussing; in that particular statement the issues being looked at were clearly identified.
"You will recall that in one instance, during a Presidential Media Chat, President Jonathan had made it clear that the Boko Haram phenomenon, the terror phenomenon in Nigeria, is quite a novel phenomenon and that many of the persons involved in the low level insurgency are not known, they have not come forward.
"However if such persons should come forward, government will grant them a listening ear to know what it is that they are after. Again the President is on record, as having made it clear that government's approach to checking the Boko Haram insurgency is at many levels.
"The available option according to Mr President is not solely one of military action or police action and it is on the basis of this that he had reached out to leaders of political thought in the parts of the country that are affected.
"It is on this basis that President Jonathan held a lot of meetings with politicians from the Northern states. Because his position is that look, this people, yes they may not come forward but they are not ghosts, they live in communities.
"They are members of the Nigerian community; there would be persons who know them. There would be leaders in these communities, in these villages, in these towns that may have an idea and such persons needed to be carried along to assist in addressing the Boko Haram issue. When government adopts this approach, it does not mean government is abdicating its responsibility to ensure that persons who go against the law are sanctioned."