A purported second-in-command in the Boko Haram sect yesterday declared a ceasefire and urged the Federal Government to immediately release detained members of the group.
Sheik Mohammed Abdulazeez Ibn Idris, who personally appeared before journalists at a location in Maiduguri, said he was speaking on behalf of sect leader Abubakar Shekau.
He said the announcement followed extensive deliberations between the sect and officials of the Borno State government.
Abdulazeez, who was accompanied by some of his lieutenants, told journalists that he is the Boko Haram commander in charge of southern and northern Borno.
Local sources say he is a sect member, but it is unclear if he really is speaking on behalf of Shekau, or whether he represents a faction in the Jama’atu Ahlil Sunna Lidda’awati wal Jihad.
Abdulazeez twice made statements last year saying Boko Haram is ready for peace talks with the government.
Shekau himself has not been seen in public since the sect launched a campaign of deadly violence more than three years ago, though he had made occasional internet video speeches.
In his reaction, spokesman for the Joint Task Force (JTF) in Borno State, Lt. Col Sagir Musa, said in a text message, “Conflicts are resolved through dialogue. Hence, the declaration of ceasefire by the sect’s leader is a welcome development. Be that as it may, the JTF will still remain in a staging position to continue maintaining law and order as well as protecting lives and properties of citizens in its area of operational responsibility.”
Earlier at the briefing, Abdulazeez read a statement in the Hausa language saying: “We recently had a meeting and dialogued with the government of Borno state where we resolved that given the prevailing situation, there is the need for us to cease fire.
“We, on our own, in the top hierarchy of our movement under the leadership of Imam Abubakar Shekau, as well as some of our notable followers agreed that our brethren in Islam, both women and children are suffering unnecessarily, hence we resolved that we should bring this crisis to an end.
“We therefore call on all those that identify themselves with us and our cause to from today lay down their arms. Let every member who hears this announcement relay it to the next member who hasn’t heard.
“We have met with the Borno state government on two occasions and the fallout of the meeting is to ceasefire. We are going to comply with the ceasefire order and by the time we are done with that, then security agencies can go ahead and arrest whoever they find carrying arms or killing people under our name.
“We are very much aware of the fact that some criminals have infiltrated our movement and continued attacking and killing people using our names. We have also told the government to try to live up to our demands that our members in detention should be released.
“We hope the government will not betray us this time around, because we all know that it was because of the continued detention of our members that this crisis continued for this long. And if government fails to do as it promised, then this conflict will never have an end.
“Of course there is a faction within us, but the larger faction of our movement is the one in support of this ceasefire initiative. Moreover, once top members of our group including Imam Abubakar Shekau are in support of the need for ceasing fire, other smaller factions can be dealt with easily.”
Abdulazeez spoke just a day after the beheading of eight people in Magumeri LGA. Asked if this does not contradict his cease-fire declaration, he said most of the recent attacks were carried out by different groups of insurgents and not his group.
But a source that has been closely monitoring the activities of Boko Haram expressed skepticism on Abdulazeez’s declaration, saying a weighty issue like cease-fire should have been announced by no other person than Shekau himself.
Meanwhile, the Borno State government said it will not comment on the declaration because the issue concerns national security but added that it would welcome any move towards ending the violence.
Governor Kashim Shettima’s spokesman Isa Umar Gusau said, “I am not competent to speak on national security issues…. no governor will speak on such critical security issue, so I cannot speak on the matter.”
He added that the governor “has regularly advocated that unless we want to engage in an endless war, the best way out of the crisis is dialogue towards a peaceful resolution.
“I can confirm to you that Governor Shettima has consistently been exploring different ways to establish means of negotiation for a fruitful dialogue to end the challenges.”
There was no reaction from the Federal Government yesterday.
But a senior Presidency official who does not want to be named circulated a message to journalists, saying: “All facets of governmental apparatus would be consulted before a final decision would be taken on the matter. We are not in a hurry to jump at their offer.
“Government will not negotiate with any group on a position of weakness and proactive security measures would continue to be taken to safe guard the lives and properties of Nigerians.”