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Nigerian Agreement Enhances Rebel Group’s Stature, says Analyst

FILE - People shout slogans and hold a banner during a demonstration in Abuja, Nigeria.
FILE - People shout slogans and hold a banner during a demonstration in Abuja, Nigeria.

Militant group Boko Haram and the Nigerian government have reached a cease-fire agreement that calls for the release of more than 200 girls the militants kidnapped from the town of Chibok in April.

The two sides reached the agreement Friday at talks in Saudi Arabia that involved Chadian President Idriss Deby and high-level officials from Cameroon.

Nigerian chief of defense staff Alex Badeh issued an order today, telling all service chiefs "to comply with the cease-fire agreement between Nigeria and Boko Haram in all theaters of operations." The text went out after Danladi Ahmadu, who calls himself the secretary-general of Boko Haram, told VOA that a cease-fire agreement had been reached.

It's also reported that the agreement includes the release of more than 200 girls kidnapped by the Islamic radicals six months ago from Chibok.

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Clement Nwankwo, the executive director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center in Abuja, says that the negotiations increase the stature of the group:

“It would mean,” he said, “that Boko Haram has sat at the table with the Nigerian government; it has acquired its own status that puts it on its own pedestal. But the reality is there a lot of people in northeastern Nigeria who have an incentive to join Boko Haram because of the failures, corruption and the inability of the government to exercise transparency and good governance in governing Nigeria.”

On the other hand, he says he’s worried that Abuja’s willingness to negotiate with Boko Haram in talks in Chad and in Saudi Arabia may reflect “desperation on the part of the Nigerian government to bring to a close the Chibok girls abduction. It would appear they have negotiated with Boko Haram to find a venue for this, [though] I don’t think the Saudi government is necessarily acting in recognition of Boko Haram but are just providing a venue [for the talks].”

Nwankwo says he’s also concerned that the Islamist radical group may not have full control over the fighters.

“If there are talks going on, it would be with a view to bringing the whole insurgency to an end, but I worry whether Boko Haram has full control over the kinds of atrocities perpetrated in the northeast. The question is whether there are other groups outside of the insurgency that also have their own agenda, and whether Boko Haram as presently constituted has a full hold on all of these tendencies. I worry about that.”

The analyst says it’s clear that a lot of Nigerians are losing confidence in the government’s ability to end the violence. “There has been real worry,” he says, “that the military has not been very effective in combatting the Boko Haram menace, and clearly the government hasn’t shown a capacity to use military force in tackling the problem. I would think [the public would] prefer a final negotiated settlement to this rather than take military action to bring this to a halt -- which is what they should do.”