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Possible Talks between Nigerian Government, Boko Haram

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (file photo)
ABUJA - Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan appears to be once again preparing to negotiate with the militant group Boko Haram, after a man claiming to be a spokesperson for the Islamist group called for renewed talks.

Many people in Nigeria have expressed anger and frustration with the government’s failure to stop the relentless deadly attacks blamed on the militant group known as Boko Haram. Some now say it is time to find out what Boko Haram wants and negotiate.

Less than two weeks ago, an anonymous man claiming to be a spokesperson for the militants apparently opened that possibility. The man called a television station and said Boko Haram was ready to talk with President Jonathan, demanding he conduct the negotiations personally. The man also threatened attacks in Abuja and Lagos, the country’s financial capital.

While it is not clear whether the caller actually represented Boko Haram, the call sparked an apparent interest in talks by the government. The Nigerian Tribune reported Defense Minister Bello Haliru Mohammed said the government wants to negotiate. On Wednesday, President Jonathan’s office said it was willing to work with northern leaders interested in facilitating the talks.

Dr. Kabir Mato, the director of the Institute for Anti-Corruption Studies at the University of Abuja, says negotiations with Boko Haram could be difficult, since no one really knows who, or where, they are.

But, he says, finding out could be the first step toward ending the violence.

“You hear other people say who are they? What are the issues they are talking about? How do you negotiate with someone that is invisible?’ But what has become visible today is the destruction of life and property is a reality. And someone is definitely responsible,” said the director.

Mato says if negotiations do begin, it would not be realistic for Boko Haram to demand an Islamic state in this pluralistic country. However he says, the government could re-examine cases against alleged Boko Haram militants now in custody - something that is believed to be a top priority of the militants.

"I really don’t know how many they are and I don’t know how they were arrested, so if that is part of their demand probably it is something that can be negotiated," said Mato. "But you cannot negotiate on the basis that you have to have everybody of the same faith."

Meanwhile, the Arewa Consultative Forum, an association of northern leaders, says it will lead efforts to begin talks, and has already formed a committee to report back to the president. The group says a negotiated settlement is a normal part of any conflict.

Boko Haram has been blamed for over 1,000 deaths since 2009, including attacks on churches, schools, newspapers, the U.N. headquarters in Abuja, security forces, government offices and marketplaces.