The Federal Government said yesterday that it is willing to accept the ceasefire offer of the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, also called as Boko Haram, and grant amnesty to members of the sect if their leader Sheikh Abubakar Shekau publicly renounces violence.
National Coordinator of the Counterterrorism Centre retired Major General Sarkin-Yaki Bello disclosed this at an interactive session with top US military (Capstone course) personnel led by Admiral (rtd) Henry Chiles at the National Defence College Abuja.
He said government is prepared to accommodate members of the group in a rehabilitation programme being proposed, but Shekau must come out through the medium he has been using, Youtube, to renounce violence as a precondition.
“Government is also working to ensure that an opportunity will be created to embrace extremists who renounce terrorism to come forward for rehabilitation,” he said.
General Bello also said government is prepared to meet the demands put forward by the group which included the release of its members in detention; the rebuilding of its mosque (Markas) which was destroyed by a military operation in Maiduguri in 2009 and allowing sect members to practice their religious beliefs freely.
Boko Haram commander who acknowledged himself as Sheikh Muhammed Abdulazeez Ibn Idris told reporters in Maiduguri last month that following consultations with some individuals and groups, the sect had decided to halt its three years old insurgency.
Since the declaration, there have been incidences of attacks in many parts of the north, but the group has not come out to claim responsibility as it was the practice.
Shekau is one of three members of the group on United States’ terror list. Sometime last year, the Joint Task Force claimed that it injured him in one of the major attacks it launched on the group in Damaturu, Yobe State.
This is the first time that the federal government is making a public commitment, involving Shakau in the quest to resolve the conflict which has claimed thousands of people since 2009.
General Bello said government will adopt some socio-economic measures to address extremism in the north and members of the sect who renounce violence will be granted amnesty.
He noted that since the high unemployment rate, especially in the north is a major multiplier of terrorism in the region, “the federal government in conjunction with state governments will soon officially launch a coordinated programme aimed at addressing unemployment in the region.”
“This will help reduce the pool of recruit for the Boko Haram sect. Additionally to this, the federal government will reform and regulate the hitherto unregulated Madrasa schools, popularly called the Almajiri system of education that has prevailed in the northern part of the country.
General Bello said Nigeria is collaborating with other neighbouring countries to prevent terror attacks. He said a number of foreign nationals were identified as Boko Haram members.
“We have citizens of Niger Republic who are members of Boko Haram we have Chadians; we have Cameroonians as member,” he said.
According to him, the federal government has long realised that Boko Haram has affiliation with Mali, and to solve the problem, the umbilical cord between the sect and the other groups in northern Mali needs to be cut.
He also said the sect got arms from Libya after the fall of Gaddafi regime.
“The major source of arms for Boko Haram comes from Libya through Chad,” he said, point out that the federal government has evolved approaches to deal with the problem.
He said Boko Haram attacks, maritime insecurity and kidnapping are the major security challenges facing the country.
But he emphasised that Boko Haram is the most dangerous because “its members live within the society and its difficult to spot them.”
“The sect has grown in sophistication from when it emerges in 2009 and is now capable of carrying out coordinated attacks in many cities in northern Nigeria.
He said Nigerian security forces have had to review their tactics and modus operandi to address the new security challenges, adding that security forces operations will now be aligned to suit overall government effort to eradicated terrorism.
“In conjunction with other stakeholders, a draft National Counter Terrorism Strategy which will soon be approved by our president has been produced. The idea is to have an all embracing approach toward handling counter terrorism issues.
“Other measures include advance plan to set up National Counter Terrorism Centre which further ensure coordination and synergy among all agencies. A Fusion Centre will be a key component of Counter Terrorism Centre which will serve as a processing point for all source of intelligence, he added.”
General Bello said Boko Haram’s capacity has been weakened substantially.
“In the last few months, the security forces have been able to strategically degrade the leadership of the Boko Haram sect; this has considerably reduced the capacity of the sect to undertake coordinated large scale attacks, unlike in the past. We are working assiduously to maintain the tempo of our effort in order to sustain gains that have been made,” he said.
Speaking at the event, Commandant of the National Defence College Rear Admiral Thomas Lokoson said the US team was in the College to acquire leadership skills at the strategic level.