There was an air of expectation tempered with some degree of scepticism when a presumptive second-in-command in the leadership hierarchy of the Boko Haram, one Sheikh Mohammed Abdulazeez bn Idris said the sect had declared ceasefire in its years-long violent insurgency.
Idris, who appeared before journalists at a location in Maiduguri, said he was speaking on behalf of the group's leader Abubakar Shekau, who has a bounty on him, like a number of other Boko Haram leaders. According to Idris, the move followed talks between the group and officials of the Borno State government. There was a condition though: all detained members of the group should be set free.
While everyone would welcome a respite from the carnage of the last three years, the public's scepticism and the government's lukewarm reception to the announcement was not without foundation. Several offers have been made in the past; and the mayhem did not abate even when the authorities were preparing to make a response.
In the current case, it is unclear if indeed Idris was speaking on behalf of Shekau. It is also not certain if he merely represented one of the many splinter groups that make threats, each claiming to be Boko Haram. Shekau, considered to be the de facto head of Boko Haram, has not been heard of or seen since Idris' announcement.
Even so, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar has urged the federal government to take the offer serious, because idris' public appearance had undercut the argument that the group was faceless.
The Borno State government has not commented on the issue, declaring only that it was a matter for the federal government because it concerned national security. The federal government too has not made a categorical statement on it either.
Military authorities however said they would subject the ceasefire offer to a 30-day test. Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Ola Sa'ad Ibrahim, remarked that it would make a difference and the offer taken serious only if no bomb exploded, no one was beheaded, or no place of worship was attacked in that period.
Any genuine attempt to bring an end to the senseless killings and destruction of property should be seized upon, even if it has to be on the basis of giving the ceasefire offer the benefit of doubt.
The government's caution is understandable, but patience with the group, as well as vigilance of the authorities is required to make it a success.
One or two incidents may not necessarily be proof of bad faith on the part of the group; the ceasefire order may take awhile to trickle down to its footmen; and there may be some challenges enforcing it. If this turns out to be a genuine offer, the government should resist the temptation to take measures that may scuttle it. There could be other factions that may disagree with the offer and attempt to thwart it; security agencies should be able to determine which faction is doing what, and act accordingly.
If it holds for the duration of time imposed the military, the government should consider giving the offer a serious thought by engaging in some form of dialogue with the group. Modalities for such interaction-and where it might lead to- are details that can be worked.
When the stage for peace talks with the group is eventually set, interactions would set out conditions for a permanent cessation of violence, like the disarming of the group and what form of legal procedure would follow.
The government already has a blueprint in the document that has moderated militant activities in the Niger Delta. It may not necessarily take the same pattern; but it a basis from which all the parties can proceed.