President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday gave the committee on Boko Haram amnesty three months to open talks with the sect as well as work out modalities for granting amnesty and for payment of compensation to victims of the insurgency.
Jonathan had until weeks ago rejected calls for amnesty to Boko Haram saying the sect members were "ghosts", but he capitulated after sustained pressure especially from Northern elders.
Speaking at the committee's inauguration in Abuja yesterday, the President hinted at the obvious difficulty of the assignment saying the panel is expected to wave the magic wand.
"All Nigerians are expecting this committee to perform magic and I pray that Allah should give you the wisdom to do so because without peace we cannot develop," he said.
"No matter how committed we are, without peace we cannot progress as a nation."
The Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North, headed by Special Duties Minister Kabiru Turaki, now has 25 members after two pulled out a new member appointed.
Within three months, Jonathan said, the committee is expected to establish link and open up dialogue with the Jama'atu Ahlis Sunnah Lid Da'awati Wal Jihad, develop a framework for disarmament, work out a sustainable option that could lead to granting amnesty and develop a comprehensive victims' support programme.
"As we're trying to address the issue of Boko Haram, we must also comprehensively address the issues directly affecting the people," he said on the compensation.
He urged the committee to come up with suggestions on how to address underlining causes of the crisis to forestall a similar security threat in the future.
"As a nation, we've passed through thick and thin; we've passed through difficult periods in our history, but we all agree the situation that Nigeria is facing today is quite different from other challenging periods we've passed through, and mainly, we're dedicated and committed to resolving this crisis," he said.
Jonathan explained that in composing the committee, members' antecedents, commitment to national service, dedication to duty and patriotic zeal were considered, adding that the government believed that they would be in a position to bring peace to the country.
He assured that the government was ready to work with the committee and any other organisation to end the violence "so that as a nation, we face issues of development and not issues of conflict, issues of peace and not issues of disaster."
The Boko Haram violence affecting parts of the North has caused the death of thousands of people since July 2009.
There has been widespread criticism of the government's military approach to the insurgency, with allegations of large-scale extrajudicial killings by security forces.
Jonathan yesterday urged security personnel to avoid civilian casualties in their operations.
"In attempting to bring peace to the country or any part of the country, they (security forces) should do so in a manner that will not bring destruction to the third party," he said.
The President said the alleged execution-style killings at Baga, Borno State, were being investigated steps would be taken "to make sure that if errors were made, such people are cautioned and treated in line with our own laws and regulations."
He also urged Nigerians to support the committee, as well as another committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons which was also inaugurated yesterday, "because they have to work with information that will be freely given by Nigerians."
He thanked members of both committees for accepting to serve. "In some cases, when you call people to serve, they'll accept to serve, whether you consult them or not; while in some cases, people raise issues. Most of you were not even consulted, but, of course, all of you are aware of the challenges we have as a nation; and when your names were mentioned, you willingly agreed to play your own part to see how we can stabilise the country, to bring peace and development in our country," he said.
The President said the committee on light weapons had similar responsibilities with the Turaki committee, "because the threats come from the free use of small arms and light weapons."
In his response, Boko Haram amnesty committee chairman Kabiru Turaki said the committee was not under any illusion that its task would be easy, "but we're resolute; we feel challenged by this enormous responsibility given to us."
Turaki said in carrying out the assignment, members of his committee were coming with open minds and would not bring any presumptions or assumptions.
"We'll try the best we can to carry out the assignment within the terms of reference given to us. And we appeal to Nigerians to show a lot of understanding and patience even as the situation is seemingly intractable, and we also appeal for prayers from all Nigerians so that we'll succeed in carrying out this gigantic assignment," he said.
Sect leader Abubakar Shekau had already dismissed the amnesty offer even before government announced a decision on it, saying in an audio clip emailed to journalists two weeks ago that his sect had done nothing wrong to warrant an amnesty.
Speaking later yesterday on the BBC Hausa radio, amnesty committee chairman Turaki said they would approach the assignment with the fear of God and try to convince sect members on the sincerity of the process.
He said the first step "is to show these people our sincerity and the fear of God; there is no deception and nobody is using us to deceive them. The first thing is therefore is convince them there is no hidden agenda."
Asked when the committee will start working, Turaki said the first meeting would hold yesterday so that they would work towards meeting the 3-month deadline.