3 April 2013

Nigeria: Presidency Challenges Buhari to Lead Talks With Boko Haram

Photo: Leadership
Suspected Boko Haram sect members.

The presidency Tuesday called on a former head of state and candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in the 2011 presidential election, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), to emulate President Goodluck Jonathan by leading discussions with the militant Islamic group, Boko Haram.

It also denied knowledge of any presidential directive against the registration of the opposition parties' coalition, the All Progressives Congress (APC), or any clampdown on any opposition leader.

It challenged any media organisation that has such a presidential directive to publish the directive or keep quiet.

Last year, a faction of the Islamic sect had nominated Buhari to hold peace talks with the federal government on their behalf, but he had rejected the offer.

However, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), reacting to the report by a national newspaper (not THISDAY) that there was a presidential directive to frustrate APC's registration and a plot to attack opposition leaders, warned against such attempts.

It said no presidential directive could stop the registration of APC, an amalgam of ACN, All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), CPC and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).

On the raging debate over whether Boko Haram should be granted amnesty, Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, at another occasion Tuesday, said the federal government would not be cajoled into granting amnesty to the Islamic militant group.

Commenting on the remarks by Buhari that the federal government should be held responsible for any breakdown of law and order in the country, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, urged the CPC leader to emulate Jonathan who went into the creeks of the Niger Delta with other eminent citizens from the area to appeal to the Niger Delta militants to embrace dialogue as a way of resolving their grievances against the state.

According to Okupe, "Nigerians should ask him that as a former head of state and as someone who wants to be president again, what has he done to end this insurgency in the country?

"Or is it when he becomes president that he will stop the insurgency? No, it does not work that way. He should emulate President Jonathan who went to the creeks of the Niger Delta canvassing for peace and dialogue with the militants of the Niger Delta.

"Everybody knows that it was General Buhari who vowed to make Nigeria ungovernable for President Jonathan if he lost the last presidential election. It was in Minna where he said that once votes were counted and he lost people should go for blood.

"He said it in Hausa language. General Buhari is the person who sowed the wind that the nation is now reaping the whirlwind.

"He is not in any position to apportion blame on the issue of violence in the north or in Nigeria in general. He is a protagonist of violence. This government has tried as much as possible to contain some of Buhari's unguarded statements. I don't think anybody in Nigeria will take Buhari very seriously when he makes such comments.

"If there is anybody to blame, General Buhari should become number one on that list. Have you ever seen General Buhari visiting Borno State or condemning the acts of the Boko Haram or condoling with Christians or Muslims that have been killed?

"A man who can traverse the whole length and breadth of Nigeria, yet he cannot use that clout that he has and get leaders together to put an end to the insurgency in the country; and yet he finds it convenient to shift the blame on other people.

"What has he done as a former head of state to help Nigeria and Nigerians to stop the militancy in the north or in other parts of the country?"

Okupe asked Buhari to stop playing the ostrich when there is a crisis, saying: "He should lead the way and let others follow. He should mobilise the leaders to engage the militants in dialogue."

On the claim by APC that the party would end the insurgency if it gets into power, he said: "Then they must know something we don't know."

On the newspaper report that Jonathan had issued a directive to crush the opposition, Okupe denied the claim.

"It is not true that President Jonathan has given a directive to go after the governors or leaders of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). It is not true and we challenge the newspaper to publish what they have.

"It is another way of unnecessarily heating the polity. This is reckless reporting. It is disheartening and unfair."

Okupe also frowned on the report that the president was planning to raise the pump price of petrol when the government had provided enough funds for fuel subsidy in the 2013 budget and in spite of Jonathan's assurance that he had no plans of removing the subsidy on petrol.

Similarly, the president's Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, described as a complete "lie" as published by the newspaper on the presidential directive to emasculate the opposition and raise the price of fuel.

He made the assertion via the micro-blogging site Twitter yesterday, stating that the story that "a presidential directive (PD95)," dated March 26, 2013, showed that the presidency had given the marching orders for "everything to be done to frustrate the merged opposition parties," was a fabrication.

Abati while refuting the allegation stated, "There is no such presidential directive or executive order as claimed today."

Also yesterday, the federal government said it would not be cajoled into granting amnesty to Boko Haram as that should not be the first option towards seeking an end to the activities of the group.

Maku said the issue of amnesty would only be applicable after the sect might have opened up avenues for discussions with government.

"It can only come up in the process of discussions," he said, noting that it would be difficult to grant amnesty to a group that is still evasive.

He also denied any discussion with the group, saying that in the last one year, "we have not seen anybody come up to say that they can negotiate on behalf of the group."

The minister, reacting to the call by the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa'ad Abubakar III, for amnesty and dialogue with the terrorist group, said though the sultan's call was done in good faith, it could not be the first option.

He explained that although government was open to discussions with the sect, the condition for amnesty was not there.

Maku said the security situation in the north was not overwhelming, as the security agencies have succeeded in their strategy to contain the terrorist activities of Boko Haram.

On the failure of government to end the insurgency by the middle of last year as promised by the president, Maku said a lot of progress has been made since the president gave the assurance.

The minister, who played down the role of corruption in the rising spate of insecurity, however said issues of governance in some of the states could not be ruled out.

Also, the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja Diocese, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, yesterday said Boko Haram should be ready to meet certain conditions before it could qualify for amnesty.

"Before Boko Haram can be seriously considered for amnesty, they must meet the two conditions for forgiveness, namely repentance and amendment.

"Before they are eligible for any amnesty, they must at least admit that they were wrong to have killed innocent people, whatever may have been their grievances.

"If this is not done, they could as well continue to feel that they did the right thing and perhaps, it is the rest of us who ought to beg them for pardon," he said.

"The fact is that they have killed innocent people. How does the state forgive murderers? How can the government grant amnesty to people who have killed innocent citizens, some in their places of worship?" he asked.

The Cardinal said the issue of poverty and unemployment, which are cited as excuses for the Boko Haram insurgency, and the growing danger of community polarisation gradually tearing the nation apart, should be addressed as key ingredients of an amnesty for the deadly sect.

Meanwhile, the ACN in a statement yesterday, described the report of a presidential directive to frustrate the registration of APC as part of a plot by the Peoples Democratic Party-led federal government to remain in power.

But it warned that no presidential directive could stop the registration of the coalition group and its bid to unseat the PDP in 2015.

ACN National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said part of the plot by the PDP to cling to power was to ensure that either the elections do not hold in 2015 or that they would be held under curfew.

It described the newspaper report as confirming its fears about a plot against APC leaders, including the sinister plan to stop ACN leader, Bola Tinubu, ahead of the 2015 elections.

"We would like to add that part of this plan is to hurt his business interests, scare off most of his business partners and political associates, try to pin some activities of Boko Haram on him and generally go after the leading figures, including governors in the APC initiative," the party added.

ACN said it was aware that all the attempts to derail the registration of the APC were masterminded from the seat of power and the highest echelon of the PDP by those who have totally abandoned governance for dirty politics.

"But there is also another plan, which is to ensure that elections either do not hold in 2015 or that they will hold under a curfew.

"To achieve this, those who have now succumbed to a mortal fear of the APC are stoking the fire of violence across the country, either through the incompetent handling of the existing crisis or by instigating fresh ones.

"With the North-east and North-west in the throes of violence, the South-west is their next target in this regard, and we will reveal the full details of their shenanigans in due course," the party said.

It warned that the do-or-die politics or violence would not spare anyone, including the instigators, just as constricting the democratic space will eventually stifle democracy.

"No force on earth has ever been able to stop an idea whose time has come, which is what the All Progressives' Congress (APC) represents. It is therefore futile for anyone to embark on such an impossible task," the party said.

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