Nigeria panel seeks talks with Boko Haram

President Goodluck Jonathan tasks committee to carry out negotiations with Islamist group and report back by mid-August.

Goodluck Jonathan
Boko Haram has carried out a string of bombings against outdoor drinking venues in northeastern Nigeria [Reuters]

Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian president, has set up a committee to negotiate with a radical Islamist group that has claimed responsibility for a string of almost daily shootings and bomb attacks in northeastern Nigeria, the government has announced.

The committee was set up on Saturday after a meeting between Jonathan and local leaders in Borno state, which concluded that the military’s strategy against Boko Haram, the group in question, has done more harm than good.

The committee will hold talks with Boko Haram and report back to the federal government on, or before, August 16, a statement from the office of the federal government’s secretary said.

Jonathan, who began his first full term in office in late May this year, has previously supported dialogue with the group, but Boko Haram has said that it will only come to table if all of its demands are met.

Among those demands is the resignation of the Borno state government.

Jonathan has named the seven members of the panel, which includes the ministers of defence, labour and the federal capital territory of Abuja, the statement said.

It said that the panel would act “as a liaison between the federal government … and Boko Haram and to initiate negotiations with the sect”.

The panel will work with the national security adviser to ensure that the country’s security forces were acting with “professionalism”, the statement said.

Security forces criticised

Boko Haram has carried out attacks in around Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, with strikes mainly targeting police posts, churches and outdoor drinking areas such as beer gardens.

Rights groups say that more than 250 people have been killed by the group, whose name means “western education is sinful”, since July 2010.

The seven-man committee will be inaugurated on Tuesday, and is to be led by Usman Gaji Galtimari, a Borno civil servant who previously headed a committee that produced a report on a Boko Haram uprising in 2009.

Hundreds of people were killed during that period.

The committee will review security problems in the area and make recommendations for bringing a timely end to the crisis, a government statement said.

‘Brutalisation of suspects’

Amnesty International says that the brutalisation of suspects by security forces in Borno, as well as unlawful arrests, killings and disappearances have become standard operating procedure in Maiduguri in the last few months.

The Nigerian security forces have earlier admitted that the police have been “overzealous” in the past.

Thousands fled the city earlier this month after clashes between Boko Haram fighters and the security forces intensified.

On Saturday, petrol station workers went on strike following the relocation of a fuel depot, prompting a further exodus.

Borno is located in the remote northeast of Nigeria, bordering Cameroon, Niger and Chad. It is one of the poorest regions in the country.

Boko Haram has not limited its attacks to Maiduguri in the past few months, striking as far afield as Abuja, the Nigerian capital.

Source: News Agencies