SETBACK AS FG, BOKO HARAM INTERMEDIARY, 4 OTHERS QUIT
Chief negotiator for the Federal Government in peace talks with the leadership of Boko Haram, Dr. Ahmed Datti, has reportedly pulled out of the talks.
The development is threatening a unilateral ceasefire by the sect expected to begin on April 1. Daily Sun gathered that the decision to pull out was reached at the weekend after the committee members reviewed news reports on their activities and its implications on their assurances to the sect's leader, Abubakar Shekau, that the media would be shut out of their negotiations.
Datti is President, Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria (SCSN). Four other members of the committee also pulled out. Members of the committee include police top brass, a Secretary-General, Dr. Nafiu, one Alhaji Muktari and an official of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), who doubles as the panel's secretary, reportedly quit alongside Datti.
The committee was said to have accused some Presidency officials for leaking the story to a foreign news service ' simply because they felt the committee would take the shine off them.' But for the mass resignation, the committee had planned to visit Shekau this week at his base in a bordering West African country and negotiate the possibility of Boko Haram launching a three-month ceasefire, beginning April 1, sources close to the committee told Daily Sun.
The decision to visit Shekau, Daily Sun gathered, was taken after two 'very successful' meetings by the committee. The first was held on March 6, 2012, with another on March 14. Both meetings held at the Louis Edet House (Force Headquarters), Abuja, which incidentally was bombed by Boko Haram on June 16, 2011.
Sources told Daily Sun that the three-month ceasefire would afford government the opportunity to soften on what the group reportedly complained was its 'tough stance' on its members. Government is also expected to improve the living conditions of Boko Haram members in its custody, increase their feeding from one to three meals a day, and probably allow them pray in groups.
Sources told Daily Sun that the sect leader complained that his men were being kept in solitary confinement.
In return, Boko Haram would give government 'some measure of confidence' by halting their tell-tale attacks for three months in the first instance. This ceasefire, the committee reportedly believes, would help solve the riddle of the several crimes suspected to be committed in the name of the sect.
The committee is said to be working under strict confidentiality and that even President Goodluck Jonathan does not have direct access to it. 'All communication from the panel to the President are routed through an aide of the President, who is a staunch Muslim.
Daily Sun gathered that the Chief Negotiator may have helped the Federal Government uncover the historical roots of the sect. A source said that the committee has established that Boko Haram (which means 'Western education is forbidden') was, ironically founded by a handful of students from Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Bayero University Kano (BUK), University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) and Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi. He could, however, not confirm the year that the sect was formed.
Another source said that the negotiators may also meet with leaders of the splinter group known as Al-barnawy, whom, he said, are holed up in another neighbouring West African country.
'But our major dealing shall be with Shekau, whose group is the main one, well-funded and is filled with ideologists,' he stated.
The negotiators were said to have cautioned on the need for tact in dealing with the sect which they have reportedly described as 'extremely touchy', with a vast network within and outside Nigeria. Instant death, the committee chairman reportedly warned, awaits any person believed to have compromised the sect.
The committee recommended that during the ceasefire, no Federal Government official, particularly the service chiefs, would publicly denounce or pass comments on the sect. During the period, government agents would be barred from threatening or arresting any Boko Haram member or supporter.
The committee, sources said, had advised the Federal Government to appoint few officers to manage information on the sect, warning that any conflicting statements could scuttle the peace process.
'You may have noticed that the spokespersons of the security services have been a bit quiet of late on Boko Haram. You will also see the service chiefs talking less. This is an ideological war, which can only be won with diplomacy and superior argument, not with fighter jets,' a source offered, adding, 'the IG (police boss) is most likely going to be appointed government's spokesman while negotiations last.'
When the panel eventually meets with Shekau, a source told Daily Sun, 'it shall seek to convince him and his followers to strictly follow the tenets of Islam, which, of course, doesn't include the sect's bomb-to-death campaign.
'Sure, they have their grievances. This is quite normal as people all over the world harbour grievances. What the committee shall seek to do is to help re-mould their ideologies which are already giving some of us Muslims cause for concern,' he said,adding, 'and there is sufficient hope that Shekau would see reason.'