Ike Abonyi, Tobi Soniyi, Dele Ogbodo, Senator Iroegbu and Ibrahim Shuaibu with agency report
There was an air of cautious optimism yesterday following the declaration of a ceasefire by a faction of the Islamic sect, Boko Haram, which has sustained a campaign of terror in Northern Nigeria for almost four years.
However, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Admiral Ola Sa'ad Ibrahim, Tuesday advised the Federal Government to treat the ceasefire with caution.
Security forces in the volatile North-east also welcomed the ceasefire declaration by a commander of the Islamist sect, but said they would not lower their guard.
Sheik Abu Mohammed Ibn Abdulazeez, who introduced himself as a member of the sect and the commander-in-charge of North and Central Borno, had on Monday, called on the sect members to halt attacks that have left many hundreds dead since it launched an uprising to carve out an Islamic state in 2009.
In a statement to journalists in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, Abdulazeez urged security forces to reciprocate.
In a related development, the arraignment of the suspect alleged to have masterminded the bombing of the building occupied by THISDAY newspaper, The Moment and Sun newspapers in Kaduna, was for the second time in one week stalled yesterday owing to the absence of a defence counsel to represent the accused.
Reacting to the declaration of ceasefire, the spokesman for the Joint Task Force (JTF). Lt. Col. Sagir Musa, told Reuters: "Conflicts are resolved through dialogue, hence the declaration of ceasefire by the sect's leader is a welcome development."
"Be that as it may, the JFT will remain in a staging position to continue maintaining law and order ... in its area of operational responsibility," he said.
Admiral Sa'ad, who spoke with reporters after a meeting in Abuja, however, called for caution and advised the government to strengthen its security operations all over the country to avert further attacks by the group.
According to him, defence officials are excited on the declaration of ceasefire by members of the sect, but would not rest on their oars in ensuring the security of lives and property in Nigeria.
Prominent Northern leaders also expressed excitement over the decision by the leadership of Boko Haram to lay down their arms in order to pave the way for dialogue with the Federal Government.
Commenting on the development, three prominent Northerners, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, Alhaji Mamman Danmusa and Alhaji Lawal Kaita, noted that the decision has provided hope for Nigerians, particularly the northern region, adding that the conflict destabilising the region would soon abate.
Kaita, former civilian governor of the old Kaduna State, said: "Any decision that will end the insurgency and restore peace in the region and country is a welcome development, so it's my hope this time around the ceasefire works for good, even though some of us may be a bit confused regarding the authenticity of the information. However, the government should grab the opportunity to reach out to the sect."
Former Deputy Senate President, Danmusa, in his own remarks, appealed to government not to allow this opportunity to slip by, but rather grab it for the peace of the country
"It is a good omen because this is the first time a leader of the sect is identifying himself publicly and this is why government should be serious about it," he said.
For elder statesman and Second Republic presidential adviser, Yakasai, it was a welcome development, adding, "I always believe that in a situation like that, dialogue is the only option. We have seen the game of dialogue in the Niger Delta situation, Northern Ireland and Sudan.
"I hope this ceasefire will mark the beginning of the end of this national tragedy. Let us try the offer now and see how it will work. I am optimistic it will work."
The ceasefire declared by Boko Haram notwithstanding, France has asked its citizens to leave the North and Abuja following threats due to its military intervention in Mali, a diplomatic source told Reuters on Monday.
Islamist militants have vowed to target French interests following its two-week-old military offensive in Mali against militants allied to al Qaeda.
The diplomatic source said the threat of kidnappings, coupled with Nigeria's support for France's action in Mali, had raised the risks for French nationals.
France has about 2,000 citizens living in Nigeria, of which 335 live in or around Abuja.
French oil major Total has moved its staff from Abuja following the kidnapping of a French national in a remote northern town close to the Niger border last month, Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie said on Friday.
It was the first time in recent history that a company has said it had evacuated foreigners from Abuja due to security concerns. The diplomatic source said Total had asked 40 employees to leave Abuja.
Nigerian Islamist group, Ansaru, said it kidnapped the French national and threatened to continue to target the French because of the country's military action in Mali and its ban on the Islamic veil. Ansaru is believed to have loose ties to Islamist sect Boko Haram.
Meanwhile, the arraignment of the suspect alleged to have masterminded the bombing of SOJ Plaza in Kaduna State occupied by THISDAY newspaper, The Moment and Sun newspapers, was stalled yesterday owing to the absence of a lawyer to represent him.
Although he was brought to the court, the suspect, Mustapha Umar, told the court that he did not have any lawyer to represent him.
Umar, who was charged on a one-count of terrorist-related act, told the court that since he was arrested and detained last April, he had not been allowed any visitor, including family members.
He requested that a lawyer be produced for his defence by the Federal Government, which brought him to court.
Umar was alleged to have driven a white Honda Academy car with registration number AL 306 MKA with improvised explosive devices into the premises of SOJ Plaza and detonated same. Over 10 persons were reportedly injured as a result of the attack.
The case charge sheet against him read: "That you Mustapha Umar, 34 of Damaturu, Yobe State on the 26th April 2012 drove a White Honda Academy car with registration No AL 306 MKA laden with impoverished explosives in the premises of SOJ Plaza occupied by THISDAY, The Moment Newspaper and the Sun Newspaper located at R9, Kontagaora Road, by Ahmadu Bello Way, Kaduna and detonated the explosives.
"You thereby committed an act of terrorism contrary to section 1(2) (c) (v) of Terrorism Prevention Act, 2011 and punishable under section 33 (1) (a) of the same Act."
Prosecution counsel, Mr. Simon Labaran, while arguing for the commencement of the trial hinged it on the fact that the charges had been filed since January 9 since the incident took place in April last year.
But the trial judge, Justice Adeniyi Ademola, adjourned the arraignment to February 5 to enable the suspect appoint a lawyer for his defence and expressed doubts over the possibility of the Legal Aid Council coming to the assistance of the suspect, as his charge bordered on terrorism.
He directed the suspect, who spoke through an interpreter, to secure the services of a lawyer before the next adjourned date, as his arraignment will take place on that day whether or not he has a legal representation.
The court thereafter ordered that the suspect be remanded at Kuje Prison and directed the prosecution team from the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), led by Mr. Simon Labaran, to allow the suspect have access to his family members and lawyers to enable him prepare his defence.
Umar, who was dressed in a brown flowing kaftan, appeared unruffled and clean shaven, and was accompanied by at least 10 detectives from Kaduna Police Command who were in the court ready for the commencement of the case.