Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku
Muhammad Bello and Michael Olugbode
The Federal Government has reiterated its willingness to hold talks with the religious Islamic sect, Boko Haram, which has unleashed a reign of terror on Northern Nigeria for almost three years.
Making this known Wednesday in Abuja after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, who was responding to questions from journalists to a foreign news report that the sect had decided to initiate dialogue with the Federal Government, said the government was ready to hold dialogue with the group to reinstate peace in the country.
“You have heard the announcement of the group and government has made it clear that it is ready to hold dialogue with them if they are ready,” he said.
Maku said that top government officials at different levels and other stakeholders would be available to help in the dialogue initiative, especially to discuss the group’s grievances “because government alone cannot solve all problems.”
According to Maku, the government has always been ready to discuss with the sect and that it would not shy away from doing so now, especially with the dangerous turn the activities of the group has taken.
He said government was really worried about the spate of killings and bombings across the Northern part of the country, a situation, which he said, was causing monumental loss of lives and property.
Maku explained that the Federal Government has an open door policy and would not hesitate to constructively engage the sect in fruitful dialogue in order to bring an end to the problems of terrorism in the country.
A man purported to be a spokesman for Boko Haram on Tuesday had said the group was holding direct talks with the Federal Government on ending the violence in the country.
According to a statement obtained by the Voice of America (VOA) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, from one Habu Mohammed, who claimed to be the deputy to the sect’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, the sect decided to initiate the peace moves in response to numerous public appeals for peace in the country.
The VOA also quoted an anonymous senior government official, who confirmed the talks but could not provide additional details. Efforts to engage the group by the government in the past had ended in a stalemate.
The first was based on the report of the Galtimari committee. The second was initiated by the leader of the Supreme Council of Sharia in Nigeria, Dr. Datti Ahmed, while the third, and most recent, was that initiated by Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi.
However, the group Wednesday launched yet another attack on Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, and Damaturu, the Yobe State capital, in which at least six people were killed in gun duels with security agents in the two states.
The attack on Maiduguri was said to have forced residents to scamper to safety, which left major streets of the town deserted while activities at the state secretariat were abruptly shut down as civil servants fled their offices when the sect engaged the Joint Task Force (JTF) in a gun battle.
The incident, which took place in two commercial centres of the town – Customs and Post Office areas – led to the death of four persons, including a suicide bomber and a passerby.
When THISDAY visited the state secretariat at about 1 pm, many offices were locked and few workers were sighted. A civil servant, who craved anonymity, said many of them had to flee when they heard sporadic gunshots.
He said they later heard that there was an attempted robbery at the Monday Market, which was repelled by the JTF.
Confirming the attacks in a statement, JTF spokesman, Lt. Col. Sagir Musa, said at about 10 am, a suicide bomber on a tricycle targeted a JTF patrol vehicle but missed it.
However, he rammed the tricycle into a moving Mercedes Benz car and detonated an improvised explosive device, resulting in the death of the suicide bomber and a passerby, while two others and a soldier were injured.
“The dead bodies and the three injured persons were taken to the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital for treatment,” the statement said.
According to him, the JTF has since cordoned off the affected areas and normalcy has returned to the town.
He said in another incident in the town, “two suspected members of Boko Haram who stormed Monday Market with the intention of killing innocent citizens were encountered and killed by troops of the JTF.”
He said during the incident, which occurred at about 11am, two AK 47 rifles and 18 rounds of ammunition were recovered from the assailants.
The JTF also alerted the public on planned attacks by Boko Haram during weekend’s Eid-el-Fitri celebration. It said it had intelligence information on planned attacks on military and civilian targets by terrorists during the Sallah period.
“People are advised to report any suspicious persons/movement to the Task Force so as to beef up security arrangements already put in place in order to achieve the desired peace and security during and after the period,” Musa said.
In Damaturu, the insurgents engaged security forces in a gun battle, which sources said led to the death of two policemen. The police, however, said there was no casualty recorded in the attack.
It was gathered that a detachment of the police had gone to the Gwange area to retrieve the corpse of a civil defence corps member killed in an earlier attack by suspected members of Boko Haram on Tuesday night.
A source said they were waylaid by gunmen who shot at them from all directions and they could only repel the siege after reinforcement came from JTF men.
Confirming the incident, the Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Toyin Gbadegesin, said the incident occurred between 10.30 and 11am when some policemen went to retrieve the corpse with a view to taking it to a mortuary.
“Some group of hoodlums opened fire on them from all directions which they were able to repel and forced the gunmen to retreat before calling for reinforcement,” he added.