Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan challenged the violent Islamist Boko Haram sect on Thursday to identify themselves and state clearly their demands as a basis for talks, while acknowledging that military confrontation alone will not end their insurgency.
In an interview with Reuters at the presidential villa in the capital Abuja, Jonathan also said there was no doubt that Boko Haram had links with other jihadist groups outside Nigeria.
The sect killed more than 500 people last year and more than 250 in the first weeks of 2012 in gun and bomb attacks in Africa’s top oil producer, Human Rights Watch said this week. Coordinated attacks in the northern city of Kano killed 186 people on Friday in its most deadly strike to date, prompting Jonathan to visit surviving victims.
“If they clearly identify themselves now and say this is the reason why we are resisting, this is the reason why we are confronting government or this is the reason why we destroy some innocent people and their properties … then there will be a basis for dialogue,” said Jonathan.
“We will dialogue, let us know your problems and we will solve your problem but if they don’t identify themselves, who will you dialogue with?”
Jonathan, who won an election last year that observers said was Nigeria’s cleanest since the end of military rule in 1999, has been criticised for dealing with the insurgency in the north using purely military means.
But in this interview he made clear there was a need to bring development to the remote, semi-arid corners of the country where high youth unemployment has provided easy recruits for extremists.
“Military confrontation alone will not eliminate terror attacks,” he said, adding that an “enabling environment for young people to find jobs,” was also needed.
“Our commitment is to make sure our irrigation programmes are all revitalised so most of these young people are engaged in productive agriculture and … will not be free for them to recruit,” Jonathan said in an ornate diplomatic meeting room adorned with pictures of Nigeria’s heads of state since independence in 1960.
Wearing a dark grey kaftan and his trademark fedora hat, the former zoology lecturer and governor of Bayelsa state in the oil rich southeastern Niger Delta cautioned that the Boko Haram crisis would be much harder to resolve than the Delta conflict, which was largely defused in 2009 under an amnesty he helped broker.
That was because the Islamist militants do not have a clear public figurehead or negotiable aims, he said.
“If anybody invited Osama bin Laden (to talks), he wouldn’t have appeared … Boko Haram, if you invite them, they will not come. They operate without a face, they operate without a clear identity, so it is difficult to interface with such a group.”
“That is the greatest difference between Boko Haram … and the Niger Delta issue,” he said.
Boko Haram was formed in 2003 in the remote, northeastern city of Maiduguri. It launched an uprising against the government in 2009 that security forces crushed in days of fighting with the sect that killed around 800 people.
The sect’s leader Mohammed Yusuf was captured and died in police custody during those battles, triggering vows of revenge from surviving members of the sect which they now seem to be honouring in increasingly lethal attacks on security forces and authority figures.
Jonathan added he was confident that a final version of a long delayed bill aiming to completely overhaul the oil industry would be put before the national assembly by the end of February.
Culled from AP. (Writing by Tim Cocks)