Nigeria Says Open to Talks with Islamists

Nigeria said Friday that it is willing to end the Boko Haram insurgency through dialogue after a man claiming to represent the Islamists declared they were open to peace talks.

Abu Mohammed Ibn Abdulaziz, who spoke to journalists in the northeastern city of Maiduguri on Thursday by teleconference, identified himself as a senior Boko Haram leader but his credibility is in question.

He said the group was not challenging the Nigerian state, directly contradicting previous Boko Haram statements, and spoke in English, a departure for the group that has consistently addressed the public in Hausa.

There was also no mention of Islamic law in his conditions for dialogue. Boko Haram's demands have varied during its insurgency which has killed hundreds since 2009, but a commitment to impose sharia in the mainly Muslim north has been a constant.

Past public statements from the Islamists have been issued through a spokesman who uses the alias Abul Qaqa.

It was therefore not clear if Abdulaziz was representing Abubakar Shekau, the presumed insurgent leader who has been designated a global terrorist by the United States.

"I have seen the story in which the Boko Haram is reportedly declaring a ceasefire and the opening of dialogue," said President Goodluck Jonathan's spokesman Reuben Abati.

"If what the proposed ceasefire is intended to achieve are the objectives of peace and security, then it is a welcome development," he added in a message sent to AFP.

"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."

Abdulaziz proposed peace talks in Saudi Arabia to be moderated by Nigeria's former military leader Muhammadu Buhari, now a senior opposition figure who lost to Jonathan in 2011 polls.

"We are not actually challenging the state as people are saying but the security (forces) who are killing our members, children and wives," Abdulaziz said.

"We want to dialogue but government must show sincerity in its handling of the situation," he added.

Violence linked to the Boko Haram insurgency is estimated to have left more than 2,800 people dead since 2009, including killings by security forces.

The Islamists have attacked the security services, Christians in churches and government officials among other targets.

Shekau has on several previous occasions ruled out talks with government.

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