It's difficult to get Boko Haram for talks- Jonathan

THE PUNCH Newspaper

PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday said members of the violent Islamic sect, Boko Haram, were difficult to negotiate with because they lacked identity.

Jonathan said this during an interview conducted by Reuters in the Presidential Villa.

The violent Islamic sect launched coordinated attacks on Kano on Friday over killing of 186 people.

Jonathan said, “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 of some innocent people and their property … then there will be a basis for dialogue.

“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?” (sic)

He, however, added that talks with the group could be difficult because the Islamic sect doesn’t have a clear public figurehead that could be invited for talks.

“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. There is no clear thing to say: this is what we want.”

While deconstructing the problem, the President told his interviewers that the North’s high unemployment pushed many youths into the ranks of the sect.

He said, “Military confrontation alone will not eliminate terror attacks. 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.

“There is a lot of evidence, there are linkages … no doubt about that. Meetings are being held in North Africa, the movement of people in these places have been monitored and noticed. The level of involvement and probably in terms of funding and equipment, I do not know.”

Asked to comment on the recent warning by Professor Wole Soyinka that Nigeria might be headed towards a civil war, the President replied that this was unlikely.

“There is no way Nigeria will go into civil war. These are different situations,” Jonathan said, adding that violence in modern day Nigeria was conducted by “pressure groups” using it to intimidate and threaten rather than full blown armies.

As for the service and security chiefs, the President said, “They are trying. Terrorism is new in Nigeria, and since it’s new, the security services have to change their methods. You cannot change methods overnight. But we will do more.”

The journalists asked the President if he subscribed to the widespread idea that some northern politicians disgruntled at the election of a Christian southerner were trying to destabilise his government.

He said, “I will not rule out that maybe some politicians get close to some members of Boko Haram, but I will not say that Boko Haram is a political group trying to undo Goodluck Jonathan.

“I cannot say it’s because a southerner and Christian is president that the Boko Haram saga comes up.”

On the fuel subsidy crisis, Jonathan said reports of corruption in the oil ministry and elsewhere were being investigated. He, however, said that he would not sack anyone in the ministry until he saw proof of misconduct.

He said, “Nigerians are angry about certain things government has not been able to conclude very quickly … You cannot sentence a person without trial.

“I believe that before the end of February, I’m very hopeful, we’ll submit it to the national assembly.”


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