A phone call to journalists on November 1st may have put a cease fire with Boko Haram on the table. Abu Muhammad Ibn Abdulazeez, who claims to be a spokesman for the group, and “amir” (lieutenant) to leader Abubakar Shekau, laid out conditions for a cease fire and named acceptable mediators. These included former presidential candidate General Muhammadu Buhari (Ret). Talks with the government would take place in Saudi Arabia.
Ibn Abdulazeez’s credibility as a Boko Haram spokesman is not yet established. If he does speak for Shekau, his disavowal of certain recent terrorist attacks in Maiduguri might be a sign that Boko Haram is fragmenting, or merely reflect a highly decentralized structure. The three major Nigerian newspapers reporting the story are treating it with caution. So should we.
The preconditions are broadly familiar: the government should compensate Boko Haram and rebuild its mosques and other facilities destroyed during the 2009 uprising; release all Boko Haram members in detention; “rehabilitate” the families of Boko Haram members; and prosecute and punish former governor of Borno state Ali Sheriff, whom Boko Haram holds responsible for the 2009 massacre.
Acceptable mediators include: Gen. Buhari (probably the political figure with the greatest credibility in the North); Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim (a former Yobe state governor); Dr. Shettima Ali Monguno (the first Nigerian petroleum minister); Ambassador Gaji Galtimari (chairman of the presidential committee on insecurity in the northeast), a husband and wife team of barristers, Aisha Alkali Wakil and her husband Alkali Wakil, and other prominent members of the Borno Emirate.
The delegation from Boko Haram would consist of: Abu Muhammad Ibn Abdulazeez, Abu Abbas, Sheikh Ibrahim Yusuf, Sheik San Kontogora, and Mamman Nur.
Ibn Abdulazeez disassociated Boko Haram from the recent attacks in Maiduguri. Claiming they were politically motivated by power seekers within the Borno emirate council and politicians denied government contacts.
Other aspects of Ibn Abdulazeez’s approach are different from previous alleged Boko Haram spokesmen. He spoke entirely in English rather than Hausa, he did not call for the implementation of Sharia throughout Nigeria, and he is quoted by Leadership newspaper as saying, “we are not actually challenging the state, as people are saying, but the security forces who are killing our members, children and wives.”
Should Ibn Abdulazeez’s credibility as a Boko Haram spokesman be established, he must represent its most moderate tendency. These “preconditions,” could certainly be the basis for negotiations. The next few days may bring clarity on whether this opportunity is sincere. If not, it will flounder in the quagmire of mistrust and suspicion, as have previous initiatives.