*No contact with insurgents yet
By Jide Ajani & Soni Daniel
24 hours after the abduction of 87-year old statesman, Alhaji Shettima Ali Monguno, Sunday Vanguard learnt that the 26-man committee set up by President Goodluck Jonathan to explore the possibility of resolving the insurgency in the northern part of the country will be meeting tomorrow for crucial talks.
The meeting would be its first major engagement since inauguration penultimate Wednesday. It has 60 days to complete its assignment.
Tomorrow’s meeting, which, though had been scheduled before Friday’s kidnapping of the elder statesman, “has only become more urgent and very crucial in the light of the kidnap of an 87-year old man”, one of the committee members told Sunday Vanguard at the weekend.
And whereas it has been independently verified by Sunday Vanguard that members of the committee are yet to make any form of contact yet with members of the dreaded Ahlan Sunnah Lid Da’waati wal Jihad Yaanaa (brothers), popularly known as the Boko Haram sect, a leader and spokes person for the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, Professor Ango Abdullahi maintained that this should not give anybody cause for concern.
Conversely, however, National President of Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, Alhaji Yerima Shettima, expressed doubt that the committee may achieve success.
COMMITTEE’S PLAN TO RESOLVE CRISIS
In separate interviews with members of the committee, Sunday Vanguard discovered that the meeting slated for tomorrow would take the “form of a preliminary stock taking”.
Sunday Vanguard was made to understand that “those who had been given light assignments immediately after inauguration would be expected to report back to the committee at tomorrow’s meeting”.
Sunday Vanguard has also learnt that the committee would be looking beyond the issue of insurgency in the North alone; beyond making initial contact with the group.
According to one of the more respected member of the committee with broad national disposition, “a national plan would be drawn up by the secretariat of the committee and all members would be expected to look at it thoroughly and add or subtract, all with a view to ensuring that the larger interest of Nigeria is served and served well.
“Mind you, there are three very major issues at the heart of what is expected of the committee. Nigerians need to be educated on what we are expected to do”.
Sunday Vanguard discovered that the three “major issues at the heart” of the committee’s work starts with the process of dialogue, disarmament and then followed by amnesty.
The second issue, investigations have also revealed, “is the type of package that would be worked out for the victims of the insurgency”.
In this category of victims are widows, orphans, traders, as well as institutional orphans domiciled in churches and mosques.
Sunday vanguard was told that the committee members would also be very “mindful of those who have relocated from the areas of insurgency back to their villages and states of origin. And to this end, we would be working closely with state and local governments, in liaison with civil society groups just so the compensation package would not go into the pockets of state governors and council chairmen.
“The third core issue would be the engagement of a process that would lead to the preparation of a blueprint that we hope, honestly, would stop a recurrence of insurgency in any part of the country.
“This would mean creating an anti-poverty master plan for Nigeria because the issue of poverty is not a northern problem; it is a national problem that requires a national approach.”
Asked why nothing much has been heard of the activities of the group after 12 days of inauguration, Sunday Vanguard was told that “the work of the committee is not meant to be celebrated on the pages of newspapers but must be effective in the pursuit of peace. Of what value would our efforts be if newspapers report it on a daily basis while the problem persists?
“Tomorrow’s meeting becomes more crucial because of the kidnap, in Borno, of an elder statesman. That singular act would make people appreciate the enormity of the task we have at hand”, the member said
NORTHERN ELDERS WANT UTMOST CONFIDENTIALITY
The NEF is optimistic that the committee would be able to achieve its mandate of successfully dialoguing with the sect and restoring peace to the north.
The spokesman for the body which actually set in motion the accelerated facilitation of the committee, Prof Ango Abdullahi, told Sunday Vanguard that it was too early for Nigerians to begin to judge whether the panel had established contact with the sect leadership with a view to achieving its goal.
“I believe they still have over two months to do their work and they should be given that support and cooperation to do just that.
“But my appeal to them is that the panel should ensure some level of confidentiality for those who want to come out and sign up for amnesty. We all pray that this phase of atrocity stirring the north on the face should become a thing of the past before long,” the former Vice chancellor said.
OUR FEARS, BY ACF
Reacting to the development, Alhaji Shettima, said he doubted the ability of the amnesty committee to perform the task set before it, pointing out that the government made a serious blunder in the appointment of the panelists.
According to him, the members are not people trusted by Boko Haram leaders and will only end up dashing the hopes of the people.
Shettima said, “There are certain persons in the north that the sect respect and will be ready to listen to at any time. Government should have sought them out and saddled them with the assignment.
”The whole Boko Haram crisis will not end until the government arrests some very powerful politicians in Borno State and bring to justice all those who took part in the killing of the leader of the sect, Yusuf Mohammed.
Another very competent source, who is familiar with what has been going on in the north since the committee was inaugurated by Jonathan on April 24, 2013, pointed out that it would be an uphill task for members of the committee to win the support of the sect to accomplish its assignment.
The source said, “to be very honest with you, the amnesty committee members cannot achieve the required peace because in the first place, they cannot even reach the sect leaders. To that extent, the Jonathan government is merely wasting public funds.
“We believe that the government raised the committee principally to win the support of the members and enable them to reach out to the north so as to win their support for his 2015 election and not for ending the violence in the north.
“Now, if you doubt what I am telling you, ask any of the members of the amnesty committee to go to Maiduguri or Damaturu to go and discuss with Boko Haram members even for a second. They cannot and will never try that because the sect has no respect for the members put on the panel by the President.
“The government must have made a mistake by taking a political step in order to solve a problem that should have been handled with tact by sending people who have the ears of the sect leaders and members to dialogue with them before coming out with a committee.
“These people know and respect some persons; we believe the government should have relied on this group of people to work out the modalities for ending the violence quietly. Now, with the kind of media attention that has preceded its formation, fear and distrust have been built into the whole process and the purpose defeated”, the source concluded.
Anxiety over Mongunu’s health
…whereabouts still unknown
Meanwhile, Alhaji Baba Ibrahim, secretary to the kidnapped Borno elder statesman and former Minister of Petroleum, Dr. Shettima Ali Monguno, yesterday, said the whereabouts of his principal remained unknown, even as he denied that the kidnappers had communicated with the family and demanded ransom running into millions of naira.
Ibrahim spoke as Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State left Maiduguri for Abuja to brief President Goodluck Jonathan on the incident.
Ibrahim spoke to newsmen on telephone, yesterday.
The elder statesman, who is also the Chairman of Borno Elders Forum, a strong agitator for the withdrawal of JTF troops from Borno and also at the forefront of the call to grant amnesty to Boko Haram, was, on Friday, after performing his Juma’at prayers in Mafoni mosque in Maiduguri, kidnapped by gunmen suspected to be members of Boko Haram.
Monguno’s secretary said, “As I am talking to you now, nobody or group has contacted the family for ransom, and the speculation that the kidnappers have freed Dr. Monguno is unfounded.
” We are still praying to Allah (God) that whoever is/are involved in this act should please free this innocent old man”.
Borno State Police Commissioner, Mr. Yuguda Abdullahi, and the Joint Task Force (JTF) spokesman, Leuitenant Colonel Sagir Musa, could not be reached on the abduction as their phones rang without response.
Governor Shettima, also, yesterday, said expressed concern that the elder statesman may be without some drugs made of food supplements some of which were said to have been Monguno’s companion in the last twenty years.
The governor’s adviser on communications, Alhaji Isa Umar Gusau, said information reaching his principal through family members indicated he was concerned that, given his age, Monguno should eat less food and take more supplements.