BY OUR REPORTERS
LAGOS — “WE are seeking forgiveness from the people over the number of people killed in the country.
I appeal to those who lost their loved ones to our activities to forgive us and on our side we have forgiven all those who committed atrocities against us. I want to state clearly that we have no hands in the unfortunate attack on the secondary school (Government Secondary School, Mamudo, Yobe State).”
With these words, Imam Muhammadu Marwana, an influential member of the Abubakar Shekau-led Boko Haram sect, yesterday, confirmed a ceasefire agreement with the Federal Government to end their deadly activities across most states of Northern Nigeria, which have claimed about 4,000 lives and destroyed properties worth billions of Naira since 2009.
The agreement came exactly 82 days after the Federal Government raised a 25-man committee to work out modalities for granting the amnesty to the sect.
Indeed, the Federal Government, yesterday, said that it had signed a ceasefire agreement with the militant group. Minister of Special Duties and Chairman of the Peace and Dialogue Committee in the North, Alhaji Tanimu Turaki announced the ceasefire agreement on the Hausa service of Radio France International monitored in Kano
The announcement came on the eve of the Muslim Holy month of Ramadan expected to commence today throughout the world and also coincided with a vehement denial by the insurgents that they had no hands in the murder of 30 boarding students of a secondary school in Yobe weekend.
Although details of the peace deal were scanty, Turaki who spoke in Hausa further said that the Boko Haram insurgents had agreed to lay down their arms.
“We have sat down and agreed that Jama’atu Ahlul Sunnah Lidda’awati wal Jihad, known as Boko Haram will lay down their arms as part of the agreement so as to end the insurgency. Government agreed with ceasefire and will look into ways to ensure that the troops relax their activities till the final take off of the ceasefire,” Turaki told his interviewers.
Confirming the truce, Imam Muhammadu Marwana said: “This ceasefire, in sha’Allahu, from the time I am talking to you (Radio France Hausa Service) we have ceasefire because of the discussion held so as to have peace over this struggle.”
The Boko Haram stalwart added that “we are seeking forgiveness from the people over the number of people killed in the country.
Sounding apologetic during the Radio news, Imam Marwana declared that “I appeal to those who lost their loved ones to our activities to forgive us and on our side we have forgiven all those who committed atrocities against us”
He added that “I want to state clearly that we have no hands in the unfortunate attack on the secondary school.”
How the agreement was reached
A member of the presidential committee, which President Godluck Jonathan gave 90 days to hammer out a solution to the problem told Vanguard how the agreement was brokered. He said “Shekau’s leadership came out through several fronts and set traps for us. The government gave them confidence, the confidence led to trust and they said they will call their men to cease-fire and they have done so.”
Mixed reactions trail move
Meanwhile, Nigerians have received news of the truce with cautious optimism
A step in the right direction—Gani Adams
National Coordinator of the Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, Otunba Gani Adams said it was a step in the right direction. Iin a telephone chat with Vanguard, he said: “It is a step in the right direction and I think from there, they will create room to dialogue with the Federal Government and state their position.
They cannot continue to waste lives just like that. I don’t know what they stand for but no matter what they stand for, their approach is wrong and deadly. Nobody in the world will support their struggle. But calling for a ceasefire will afford Nigerians the opportunity to know exactly what they want.”
Identity of the group should be ascertained — Afenifere
Also, Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere was of the view that the identity of the group calling for ceasefire should be ascertained. Speaking with Vanguard on phone, Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr Yinka Odumakin said “We should be sure which of the Boko Haram sect is calling for a ceasefire. Is it a strategy to rule or what is it all about?
The identity of the group should be ascertained and its genuineness should be known before the Federal Government is taken off guard. Since emergency was declared in those three states (Yobe, Adamawa and Borno), the incidence of bombings has gone down but killings continue here and there. So, we must know how genuine the call is and the identity of the group calling for the ceasefire. Was it not Boko Haram that said it was the Federal Government that needed amnesty?”.
Govt should reciprocate —Balarabe Musa
In his reaction, former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa expressed optimism that the ceasefire will resolve the insurgency.
“We hope that the Federal Government will respond favourably and effectively to the ceasefire,” he said.
Committee should not concede unnecessarily—Frederick Fasehun
“Nigeria has been on the issue of amnesty for long and if they have agreed on a ceasefire, that is commendable. I see it as a roadmap to peace. I hope the committee does the follow-up to this very well. But the committee should go on with their negotiations and should not concede unnecessarily.”
Committee should go on with its mandate—Abubakar Tsav
Former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, on his part said: “The development is very encouraging. I am happy about it and I commend the committee for doing a good job. The committee should go on with its mandate in order to achieve a lasting peace. The committee should be encouraged the more at this stage to conclude its job.”
FG must rise to the occasion—Arewa Youths
Commenting on the development, President, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Alhaji Yerima Shetima said in spite of the ceasefire, the Federal Government must address the issues that led to the insurgency.
Shetima said: “Whether they cease fire or not, the truth of the matter is that Nigerians must rise to the occasion. Last year, it was the same story we heard when they called for a ceasefire and still, they unleashed a lot of mayhem in Northern Nigeria.
Also, we must appreciate the fact that the whole of Northern Nigeria has been bastardised because everybody is now a member of Boko Haram. If they call for a ceasefire, what about the remaining factions? This does not mean that the Federal Government must go to sleep, the insurgency must be condemned totally.”
How sect’s activities assumed deadly dimension
THE Jama’atu Allus Sunnah Lilda wati Wal Jihad, also known as Boko Haram, (Western education is sin), came into existence in the 1960s but survived through the decades under various names.
However, it started drawing attention to itself in 2002, when Mohammed Yusuf became its leader. In 2004, it moved to Kanamma, Yobe State, where it set up a base called ‘Afghanistan’ from where it attacked nearby police stations, killing police officers.
In July 2009, the Nigeria Police started investigating Boko Haram, following reports that the group was arming itself. Yusuf, the leader and others, were arrested and on July 30, 2009 allegations were made that Yusuf was extra-judicially killed by Nigerian security forces after being taken into custody.
The development invigorated deadly clashes with Nigerian security forces and attacks on churches, public institutions and military facilities, among others, which have led to the death of about 3,500 people.
Litany of attacks Before the clashes, many Muslim leaders, and at least one military official, had warned the authorities about Boko Haram. Those warnings were reportedly ignored.
According to Human Rights Watch, between July and December 2010, at least 85 people were killed in some 35 separate attacks in four states in northern and central Nigeria, as well as in Abuja, the nation’s capital. Attacks attributed to Boko Haram in 2011 left at least 550 people dead in 115 separate incidents.
Between January and December 2012, Boko Haram-related attacks occurred in 14 of the country‘s 36 states, including all the 12 states that have already adopted Sharia Islamic law, Plateau State and in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Violence blamed on Boko Haram, which said it wants to create an Islamic state in Nigeria, has killed more than 900 people in 2012, in about 290 separate attacks in 12 north-eastern and central states, and Abuja, making 2012 the deadliest year since the group began its attacks in 2009. And in 2013, about 250 people have been killed in Boko Haram-related attacks and incidents.
The litany of attacks include those of the United Nations Office, Abuja, Police Headquarters, Abuja, the building housing ThisDay Newspapers, Sun Newspapers and Daily Trust in Abuja, St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla, Niger State, Deeper Life Bible Church, Okene; Military Cantonment, Jaji, Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) office and other numerous security facilities, especially police stations.
The security agencies also went on counter-offensive arresting, detaining and in many instances, killing Boko Haram members and leaders.
Disturbed by the escalating violence many northern leaders and groups, including the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, urged government to dialogue with the group to end the killings.
A picture taken from a video distributed to journalists in recent days through intermediaries and obtained by AFP on March 5, 2013 reportedly shows Abubakar Shekau, the suspected leader of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, flanked by six armed and hooded fighters at an undisclosed place.
Last November, the group gave the government conditions for ending the hostilities. Acclaimed spokesman of the group, Abu Mohammed Ibn Abdulazeez, in a tele-conference with journalists in Maiduguri, stated that if the state and the Federal Government wanted the group to cease-fire completely, then former Borno State governor, Ali Modu Sheriff, must be arrested and prosecuted according to the laws of the land. He also said that the government should compensate the group and rebuild their places of worship which were destroyed during the 2009 uprising.
He pointed out that for dialogue to take place, it must be through the following elders: Dr. Shettima Ali Monguno; former Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari; former Yobe State governor, Bukar Abba Ibrahim; Ambassador Gaji Galtimari and Barr Aisha Alkali Wakil and her husband, Barr Alkali Wakil, insisting that the dialogue must take place in Saudi Arabia.
Abu Abdulazeez also said that the group had mandated five members who are to mediate on their behalf; they include himself (Abu Mohammed Abdulazeez), Abu Abbas, Sheikh Ibrahim Yusuf, Sheikh Sani Kontagora and Mamman Nur.
Buhari later distanced himself from the group and the Federal Government said it could not negotiate with pre-conditions, thus the crisis festered. With the latest decision of the group to sheathe its swords, it is hoped that all stakeholders will play their required roles for normalcy to return to the country.
However, a peace deal was brokered on January 28, 2013 after a marathon meeting between some leaders of the group, which has been terrorizing some states in the North, particularly Borno State, since July 2009, and the Borno State Government, led by Governor Kashim Shettima with other top government officials and religious leaders from the state in attendance.
The cease-fire came after a 42-month multi-pronged attack unleashed on the polity by the sect.
Briefing newsmen after the marathon meeting in Maiduguri, Sheikh Abu Mohammad Abdulazeez Ibn Idris, a commander of Boko Haram in-charge of North and Central Borno, said after due consultation with the leader of the sect, Shiekh Abubakar Shekau, as well as intervention and pleadings from respected individuals and groups in the state, we ‘’have all come to terms and agreed to lay down our arms.”
The Boko Haram Commander, however, insisted that government should immediately release all their members from custody unconditionally, re-build their places of worship and compensate them, among other demands.
Sheikh Abdulazeez said that, the sect observed that during the lingering insurgency, many Muslim women and children had suffered untold hardship, adding that, they also decided to lay down their arms for peace to reign in Borno State and the country at large.
“I am appealing and calling on all our members through this medium to lay down their arms henceforth, till further notice,” Abdulazeez stated.
However, a few hours after the cease-fire, a faction of the sect distanced itself from the peace-deal and accelerated its deadly attacks, which have claimed about 250 lives since then.
The search for peace took President Goodluck Jonathan to Borno and Yobe states last month. The series of parleys during the two-day visit did not yield amnesty as President Jonathan insisted that the Federal Government could not grant amnesty to ghosts. He urged leaders of Boko Haram to come out of their hiding and dialogue with government as was done in the Niger Delta before amnesty could be granted.
The matter was on the front burner this week following the exchange of brick-bat between Buhari and the Presidency. While Buhari accused the Presidency of being responsible for ‘political Boko Haram’ and should take responsibility for the escalating mayhem, the Presidency countered that Buhari was responsible because he threatened to make the country ungovernable if he lost the 2011 polls.
The government asked Buhari to act like a patriot and get Boko Haram leaders to embrace dialogue. Buhari refused and advised the government to carry its cross.