The Federal Government and fundamentalist Islamic sect, Boko Haram, held a secret meeting in Senegal a few weeks ago in a bid to end the terrorism onslaught against the country, SUNDAY PUNCH authoritatively reports.
The governments of Mali and Senegal played significant roles in the peace talks with officials of the two West African countries serving as mediators during the negotiations, our correspondent learnt. Mali and Senegal have majority Muslim populations and also have mainstream Islamic groups with strong ties to religious groups in Northern Nigeria.
SUNDAY PUNCH gathered that the Federal Government team to the meeting was led by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godsday Orubebe. Orubebe is one of President Goodluck Jonathan’s closest associates. The newspaper also gathered that some senior Boko Haram commanders stood in for the sect. A very reliable source in government, who pleaded not to be named because of the sensitive nature of the matter, disclosed that the leaders of the sect insisted that a ceasefire was only possible if their terms were met.
Pressed for more details, the source refused to disclose the terms Boko Haram gave for ceasefire, adding that the terms were “what the sect has always demanded.” The terms that Boko Haram has been reported to have given government for a ceasefire include, the release of their detained members, the payment of compensation and the rebuilding of their houses and mosques demolished by government.
The source said the talks were successful but could not be sustained because hawks in the military advised President Goodluck Jonathan against accepting the terms. According to him, the military advised the President not to give in to the demands of the sect with a promise that they would deal with the Boko Haram challenge.
Confirming the meeting in Senegal, the Convener of Coalition of Northern Politicians, Academics, Professionals and Businessmen, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, accused the President of double standards. Mohammed said the President could not claim that the sect was faceless because the Federal Government had interacted with some of them.
Mohammed said, “Yes, it is true. The minister travelled to Senegal where, on prior arrangement with Senegalese and Malian secret services, met some of the Boko Haram leaders. The Federal Government has been silent about meeting with leaders of Boko Haram in Senegal.” Mohammed also flayed the price placed on the heads of leaders of the Boko Haram sect. He said the military’s action was aimed at frustrating the negotiations.
“After meeting with these people, you now say you are putting money on their heads. It is an act of bad faith. The mere fact that there was some kind of meeting clearly shows that what the military did was an act of bad faith. The decision to put money on the heads of Boko Haram commanders was a political decision. The Chief of Army Staff should stop making political statements.
“It is dangerous for soldiers to assume the power of taking political decisions in our democracy. It is also dangerous for the civilian government to be controlled by the military to an extent that 20 to 25 per cent of the budget expenditure goes to security; an average of one trillion naira a year. We can’t afford it.”
Similarly, the Secretary of the Borno State Elders’ Forum, Dr. Bulama Gubio, said the recent conflicting signals from the Federal Government had left the North confused. He said while they were hopeful that the Federal Government would resume negotiations with leaders of the sect, the announcement of a bounty on their heads had complicated the situation in Borno and neighbouring states, where Boko Haram attacks had been rife.
He said, “Right now we are even confused. We don’t know what is happening again. The Federal Government said they would negotiate with Boko Haram if they agreed to negotiate. And we have been pleading with these boys to negotiate with the Federal Government. Now, JTF has put money on the heads of the people they listed as Boko Haram leaders. The problem is that the President will say one thing and government agencies will say another thing. We don’t know what to believe now.
“We are still pleading with the Federal Government to go ahead and negotiate with Boko Haram members who have come out to say they want to negotiate. Government would keep saying they are faceless. The situation here is bad. Our people are dying.”
When contacted, the Army spokesman, Brigadier Gen. Bolaji Koleosho, declined comments on the allegation that the army advised the President against negotiating with the sect. Koleosho said, “Army’s response to that is simply no comment.”
Attempts to get reactions from the Embassies of Mali and Senegal in Nigeria were futile. When SUNDAY PUNCH visited the embassy of Mali located in Maitama, Abuja on Friday, an official of the Embassy said those who were in a position to respond to the enquiries on the issue were out of the country on an official assignment.
The official, a protocol officer who did not give his name said, “The Ambassador, the 1st and 2nd Secretaries who may be in a position to answer your question are currently in Cote d’Ivore attending an ECOWAS meeting about the situation in our country. “The only person around is the accountant who cannot speak on any issue. I am sorry.”
At the Embassy of Senegal located at Number 12, Jose Marti Crescent, an official asked our correspondent to return at 4:00pm on Friday to meet the Political Affairs Officer whose name was given simply as Mr. Loum. There was no sign of human presence when our correspondent returned.
Efforts to reach the Presidential spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, on Saturday proved abortive as calls made to his mobile number did not go through neither did he respond to a text message sent to him by our correspondent. Boko Haram has a presence in Mali as over 100 members of the sect reportedly joined forces with Mali’s armed militia, Mouvement National de Liberation de l’Azawad, to declare an Independent Republic in Northern Mali in April.
On Tuesday, the sect wrote a letter to the Federal Government, reaffirming its willingness to negotiate. It replaced Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, who had declined the nomination as lead mediator with the Federal Government, with Imam Gabchiya, an official of the University of Maiduguri.
The letter came less than 72 hours after a double suicide bombing led to the death of at least 17 people in Kaduna State and four days after the army had offered a N290m bounty for information leading to the capture of 19 leading members of the sect. In August, Presidential spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, had told journalists that the government was already in talks with the sect through “backroom channels.”
Abati had confirmed the secret talk to The PUNCH, on November 12. He said, “I can confirm to you that talks are ongoing at the background. But the talks are not the kinds being envisaged by Nigerians. The ongoing talk is a back channel one in which those who know members of the group are talking with them on behalf of the government.”
However, during his latest Presidential Media Chat, Jonathan had dismissed Abati’s claims. He said, “There is no dialogue between the Boko Haram and government. Boko Haram is still operating under cover, they wear masks and there is no face. They operate under cover.”