A Nigeria minister tasked with talking to the Islamist sect Boko Haram says he is engaged in ceasefire negotiations, but doubts persist over whether a peace pact can be achieved.
The claim that ceasefire talks were in progress was made on the eve of the Muslim Holy month of Ramadan and came just days after Saturday's (06.07.2013) attack on a secondary school in Yobe state by alleged members of Boko Haram in which at least 30 children died. The sect has denied any involvement in the attack.
Nigeria's local newspaper ThisDay quoted the Director of Defense Information Brig. Gen. Chris Olukolade on Wednesday as saying that the military was not aware of any ceasefire.
However, the Nigerian government's Minister of Special Duties and Chairman of the Peace and Dialogue Committee in the North, Alhaji Kabiru Turaki confirmed on Thursday that they were in talks with the militant group.
Turaki claimed to be negoitating with "somebody who is second-in-command as a far as Boko Haram are concerned." He said this person was said to be in negotiations with the "knowledge and authority" of Boko Haram leader Imam Abubakar Shekau. He was identified by the news agency AFP as Mohammed Marwan.
Possible relief for internally displaced
Tukur Abdulkadir, a lecturer at Kaduna University, believes that the ceasefire, were it to come about, would bring relief to thousands of internally displaced people in the northern Nigeria states.
“Boko Haram could be losing the battle and may have chosen to surrender rather than have the army continue to hunt them down,” Abdulkadir told DW in a telephone interview.
“There have been less numbers of high profile attacks that Boko Haram has carried out in the recent past, and the army has succeeded in dislodging the insurgents in a number of areas in northern Nigeria, especially Borno and Yobe.”
He added that the group was no longer united, and factions have emerged and weakened it.
Skepticism about possible deal
But Junaidu Mohammed, a Nigerian politician and former legislator, does not believe talks of a ceasefire are practical, because the government hasn't brokered any real peace deal.
“For the past three years, the government has not managed to defeat the group that is why they formed a Joint Task Force (JTF) to help the army,” he told DW.
He also said the Nigerian government should stop playing politics with the nation's security.
“The military is already too overstretched, and anyway, the people do not even trust them.”
Rather than signing peace deals, the government should try and find a political solution to the problem, through dialogue. Mohammed said guerrillas can only negotiate with those whom they trust and "this can only be possible if the committee can have dialogue with the stakeholders on the ground.”
President Goodluck Jonathan's 26-member panel, which is chaired by Alhaji Kabiru Turaki, was set in April to probe a possible amnesty with Boko Haram.
But in mid-May the government declared a state of emergency and launched a sweeping miltiary offensive to try and end the four year Islamist insurgency. The violence has continued.
On Thursday, Nigeria's miltiary approved the restoration of mobile phone services in the northeastern state of Adamawa. The phone blackout, introduced in mid-May, remains in force in Borno and Yobe states.