By Muhammad Bello and Michael Olugbode
The leadership of Boko Haram Thursday expressed its willingness to suspend further terror attacks as a prelude to entering into dialogue with the Federal Government.
The group, which is demanding that talks between it and government must be held in Saudi Arabia, said in a telephone interview with journalists in Maiduguri, that it was ready for peace talks should government meet its demands.
It also suggested the names of former Head of State, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, and Dr. Shettima Ali Monguno, among others, to be on the government delegation that will meet with its representatives for dialogue.
The Federal Government, in a cautious reaction to the peace offer, restated its commitment to ensuring that peace reigns in Nigeria.
Self-acclaimed spokesman of the group, Abu Mohammed Ibn Abdulazeez, who also laid claims to being the second-in-command (Amir) to the group's leader, Imam Abubakar Shekau, said it would embrace peace if former Borno State Governor, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, is arrested and prosecuted.
Abdulazeez also said that apart from the arrest of Sheriff, government should compensate the group and rebuild its places of worship, which were destroyed during the 2009 uprising.
In addition, all Boko Haram members in the custody of security agencies must be released with immediate effect, the group said.
He equally said all their wives, who were displaced following the crisis as well as their children, must be rehabilitated to allow their integration into the society.
The spokesman said for Boko Haram leaders to come out of hiding for dialogue, the Federal Government should allow the following people as mediators: Monguno, Buhari, former Yobe State Governor, Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim, Ambassador Gaji Galtimari, Mrs. Aisha Alkali Wakil and her husband, Mr. Alkali Wakil.
According to Abdulazeez, the dialogue must not take place in Nigeria but Saudi Arabia, stressing that the group chose to have the dialogue outside Nigeria because it does not trust the Federal Government, given alleged past betrayals.
He said the group had raised a five-member committee, comprising himself (Abdulazeez), Abu Abbas, Sheikh Ibrahim Yusuf, Sheikh Sani Kontogora and Mamman Nur, to meet with government if all the preconditions are met.
He dissociated the group from the spate of killings and wanton destruction of property being perpetrated recently in Maiduguri, saying that such attacks were politically motivated.
He accused politicians enmeshed in power struggle in the Borno Emirate Council, government or otherwise of being behind the violence.
The Federal Government in a swift reaction to the peace offer by the Islamic sect was non-committal.
Rather, it restated its commitment to ensuring that peace reigns in Nigeria.
Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, in a statement after the Boko Haram offer, said: “It is important to restate the position of government in this matter. The Federal Government is committed to peace and security for the benefit of all Nigerians.
“If what the proposed ceasefire is intended to achieve are the objectives of peace and security, then it is a welcome development. Don’t forget that President Jonathan had made it clear that if the people behind Boko Haram are ready to come forward, and table their grievances, then government will be willing to listen to those grievances.
“There have been attempts before now, by concerned persons to reach out to the Boko Haram through back channels, in response to government’s call that all efforts should be made to resolve the problem. I suspect that this latest development may be related to that.
“Definitely, government is determined to ensure peace, peace, and peace, and protect the rule of law, and at the same time, see that justice is done where wrongs have been committed.”
Meanwhile, Borno State Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, yesterday urged security agencies to thoroughly investigate allegations that some politicians are behind the Boko Haram operations, and if necessary, arrest those with proven links to the terrorist group.
The governor told State House correspondents after the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting that he was focused on how to curb the menace of Boko Haram.
He said while he would not like to take issues with security agencies that had accused politicians in the state of being behind the Boko Haram terror attacks, they should go out to fish out indicted politicians.