A new twist emerged in the purported ceasefire offered by the Boko Haram sect, as a faction of the group yesterday took exception to President Goodluck Jonathan's statement during his recent state visit to Yobe and Borno States, that members of the sect were "ghosts."
Also, gunmen in separate attacks on Tuesday, shot dead two chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from Southern Borno Senatorial District and Shehuri ward at about 8 p.m., while four suspected gunmen were reportedly killed by a combined team of soldiers, police and officers of the State Security Service (SSS) at Bado quarters in the Sokoto metropolis.
Similarly, the Presidency dismissed criticisms against President Jonathan over his recent visit to Yobe and Borno States and the non-granting of amnesty to members of the Boko Haram sect.
But the Boko Haram sect, in a statement signed by Sheikh Muhammad Abdul'aziz, and distributed to journalists in Maiduguri, said its members could not have been ghosts or a faceless association because they have been in dialogue and consultation with the Borno State Government and a delegation of the Northern State Governors' Forum (NSGF).
The statement also faulted a video in which Boko Haram's self-acclaimed leader, Abubakar Shekau, repudiated a ceasefire offer, which the group offered the federal government.
Jonathan, during the two-day visit to Borno and Yobe had said his administration would not grant state pardon to "ghosts."
Reacting to the president's statement, Abdul'aziz said: "As regards the statement by Mr. President that we are ghosts, let me say with due respect that we are not ghosts; we have sat with officials of the Borno State Government and a delegation of Northern State Governors' Forum on Peace and Reconciliation, headed by Air Vice Marshall Mukhtar Muhammad (rtd.)."
He also said the video clip on YouTube credited to Shekau, where he dissociated the group from the ceasefire and dialogue offer was fake.
He said: "About a week ago, somebody who claimed to be leader of Jama'atul Ahlul Sunnah Lid-Da'waati Wal Jihad, Sheikh Abubakar Shekau, appeared on You Tube and disclaimed peace process going on between the government of Borno State and the group. The purported Sheikh Abubakar Shekau, went further to say that he does not know Sheikh Mohammed Ibn Abdul'aziz. Let me state that the man who appeared on the said YouTube is not Sheikh Abubakar Shekau. The voice is not his and sheikh has never hidden his face.
"Sheikh's voice is heavily Kanuri accented. The man (in the video) is an impostor deliberately brought to the frontline by those opposed to the peace process.
"I call on (Borno State) Governor Kashim Shettima, to disregard all those propaganda aimed at disrupting the peace process as we are ready and willing to continue to dialogue with government.
"Sheikh knows me and has confidence in my ability and is aware and he blessed the peace process. When I was being sworn in as munzul, that we are going to work for the sake of Allah by the late leader of the group, Sheikh Muhammad Yusuf, he did so in the presence of Sheikh Mallam Ibrahim Mubi, Mallam Ibrahim Agaji, Mallam Sani Kontagora and Babagana Mulima. So, it is impossible for the sheikh to say he does not know me while it is he who promoted me to my present position," he added.
Abdul'aziz said the peace process was still on course despite the continued killing by Boko Haram members and "we will continue to talk with government because our people are suffering. Allah has sanctioned dialogue in all human undertakings so we will pursue it to its logical conclusion."
In a related development, the PDP chieftains, who were shot dead are the zonal vice-chairman of Southern Borno senatorial district, Alhaji Ibrahim Usman Gula; and the PDP Women Leader for Shehuri ward in Maiduguri metropolis, Hajiya Gambo.
A top official of the party, who spoke on anonymity, said: "They were killed in cold blood near the Maiduguri International Hotel (MAIH) and Shehuri ward of the metropolis, before the Joint Task Force (JTF) and police cordoned the areas for over an hour to prevent further attacks and killings. The bodies of the slain party officials have already been buried on Tuesday, according to Islamic rites at the Gwange cemetery."
The state Police Commissioner, Alhaji Yuguda Abdullahi, confirmed the separate incidents in a telephone chat.
THISDAY checks revealed that the killing of the gunmen occured in the early hours of yesterday, when security operatives invaded the area, following a tip off and engaged the gunmen in a gun duel that lasted for about eight hours.
It was further gathered that the three bedroom flat that was occupied by the gunmen was demolished by the soldiers after the operation.
Addressing journalists at the Brigade 1 Barracks in Sokoto, the Brigade Commander, Brig Gen. Mohammed Tasiu Ibrahim, said the combined team of security operatives embarked on the operation, following a tip off from the SSS, which enabled them to track the residence of the gunmen.
"As you are aware, the 1 Brigade received intelligence report from the SSS and immediately mounted a raid operation in the Bado area. In fact, no sooner had the operation started that the soldiers came under direct fire from rocket propelled grenade from the adversaries.
He said items recovered include: submachine gun, one rifle propelled grenade, two AK 47 rifles, two revolver guns, two pistols, four cartridges, 3mt magazine, 122.56 milimetre ammunition, 4.45 special ammunition, 13 pistol round, one improvised explosive devise container, half bag of fertiliser, a deposit slip of N3.5 million, two GPS, 10 handsets, one plate number, one laptop and two Toyota starlet cars among others.
Meanwhile, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, described the allegations as cheap, ill-informed and ill motivated.
"It may be apt at this juncture for the purpose of comparison to recall when in 1980, during the Maitatsine insurgency in Kano, over 6,000 residents of Kano were killed in broad daylight but President Shehu Shagari who was the President of Nigeria at that time did not rush to Kano. President Shagari as a matter of fact did not go there for a very long time until the security situation in Kano had been brought to a situation where a President could visit and there was no hue or cry as at that time," he said.
Okupe added that the visit allowed the President to actually show honest and true leadership by engaging in very frank talks with community leaders and leaders of thought in those two states.
"The President was not angry. The President felt it was time for us to look ourselves into the face; eyeballs to eyeballs and speak the truth to ourselves and if you cannot speak the truth, we cannot get justice and we will not find solutions to our problem," Okupe added.
The presidential spokesman said it was important that Nigerians understand the nature and ideology of the Boko Haram insurgents for whom some people have been asking for amnesty, stating that: "Their demands include things like setting aside the Nigerian constitution and its replacement with laws based on the Sharia legal system, conversion of President Jonathan from his Christian faith to the Islamic religion, unconditional release of all its members arrested in connection with bombings, arson and violent killings in different parts of Nigeria and scrapping of all institutions of modern educational training.
"It is obvious from these stated demands that the Boko Haram sect is founded on an extreme faith-based ideology, which seek to coerce other citizens of this Nation to accept its own ways of life. This ideology is certainly inconsistent with the secular nature of the Nigerian Nation and the dreams of our founding Fathers."
According to him, "the activities of the Boko Haram group are alien to civility as they have consistently murdered hundreds of thousands of women, children, the elderly and other defenceless citizens regardless of whether they are Christians or Muslims.
"It is, therefore, inconceivable that some people have continued to liken this religious terror group to the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) to whom government offered an amnesty in 2010.
"Even though the methods adopted by MEND were like-wise condemnable, their demands were mainly socio-economic in nature and spelt out as crusade for better deal for its people whose farmlands and waters have been degraded by pollution emanating from the activities of oil firms operating in the region, Crusade for a greater share of funds accruing to oil producing states from the Federation Accounts. massive development of the Niger Delta region though provision of infrastructure like pipe borne water, electricity, hospitals and good roads.
"Despite the economic nature of these demands, leaders of the MEND were not anonymous. They came out to dialogue with government and it was on the basis of the dialogue that an amnesty was eventually granted by the Federal Government.
"The position of the Federal Government is that those who seek amnesty must come out in the open to renounce violence and drop their arms. That is the way it is done in all parts of the world and Nigeria cannot be an exception."
"The President holds the Sultan of Sokoto in high esteem and does consult him from time to time on various national issues. The request by the Sultan for amnesty for the Boko Haram is quite understandable in view of his eminent position as the leader of the entire Muslim community in Nigeria and the pre eminent traditional ruler in the North.
"However, the President has a responsibility to the whole Nation and his judgment must be based on facts and information that are available to him and that will be in the best interest of the Nigerian people. The President cannot afford the luxury of sentimental consideration under the present situation where government has to contend with and find a lasting solution to the menacing issue of Boko Haram insurgency."