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August 27, 2012

Nigerian Presidency Announces 'Backroom' Talks With Boko Haram

by Heather Murdock

ABUJA — Nigeria's government says it is in negotiations with Islamist militant group Boko Haram. Some analysts are skeptical the talks will end the violence blamed on the group in northern Nigeria.

There has been a lot of debate among Nigerians recently about the militant group known as Boko Haram. Are they, or are they not holding peace talks with the government?   

On Sunday, the government emphatically said "Yes, they are." Presidential spokesperson Reuben Abati told state-house reporters negotiations are taking place through “backroom channels,” not at a formal table in an air conditioned office.

But there are still doubts. Some analysts say the government could be negotiating with one faction of people claiming to be Boko Haram, while angering another.  

"We do not know who Boko Haram really is, but we have seen some statements in the media by Boko Haram indicating that they actually are not involved in any talks with the government," says Clement Nwankwo, the executive director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center in Abuja. "So it is still very unclear to us who is having the conversations with the government.”

The statements he mentions came in the form of an e-mailed press release from the group last week. Boko Haram generally talks to the public by calling journalists from blocked phones or sending untraceable e-mails.

The group has claimed responsibility for many deadly bombings and shooting attacks, mostly in the north, the mainly Muslim part of the country. Human Rights Watch says Boko Haram has killed more than 1,000 people since it began violent attacks in 2009.
 
Nwankwo says as long as crushing poverty grips Nigeria’s north, whomever claims to be Boko Haram will be able to recruit young men willing to die for small amounts of money.

“The government needs to take away the fuel from the insurgency, which means that you need to look at providing development, investing in people, creating jobs, reducing corruption levels,” he says.

The militants say their goals are to establish Islamic law in Nigeria and free imprisoned members. Their targets are usually markets, schools, churches, security forces and government buildings.

Sunday marked the first anniversary of the Boko Haram bombing of the local United Nations headquarters that killed at least 25 people.