Monday, February 18, 2013

Nigerian Government Gives Terms for Talks With Boko Haram

Govt gives terms for talks with Boko Haram

MONDAY, 18 FEBRUARY 2013 00:00

Nigerian Guardian

• Islamic group claims kidnapping seven foreigners

• Jonathan orders rescue of victims

FOR the Federal Government to engage in direct negotiations with Boko Haram, the group has to constitute a credible leadership or its leader Ibrahim Shekau has to publicly renounce violence and embrace dialogue as a path to peace.

This was the position of the Federal Government as articulated Monday by the National Coordinator of Counter Terrorism and Insurgency in the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj.-Gen. Sarkin Yakin Bello.

Besides, an Islamic group, Ansaru, Monday claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of foreigners on a construction site in Bauchi last weekend.

Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan has ordered the nation’s security agencies to take “all necessary actions” to locate and rescue the abducted foreigners.

Jonathan also commiserated with the family of the guard who was reportedly killed in the attack on the site.

Bello also disclosed that the country would soon set up a National Counter Terrorism Centre that would serve as a processing centre for all intelligence, which would address the peculiar security challenges of the country.

Bello said at the National Defence College, Abuja while addressing visiting top United States military leaders and their Nigerian counterparts that Nigeria had a primary interest in the containment of the terrorists in Mali as the country had been providing safe haven for the Boko Haram elements in Nigeria.

Noting that membership of the terrorist groups also included nationals drawn from Niger, Chad and Cameroun, Bello declared that “to finally solve the Boko Haram challenge in Nigeria, the umbilical cord between it and other terror groups need to be broken. And that is what is happening right now in Mali. Most of the insurgents in Northern Nigeria come from Mali. So, we have a primary interest to contain the terrorists in Mali. There is a containment interest, which is in our national interest. That (Mali) is where Boko Haram members get their training, funding and bases. They are well established there.”

Explaining that the Federal Government was not averse to negotiating with the terror group as a way of bringing peace, Bello said that “if a credible leadership shows itself, government is ready to negotiate with them. If (leader of the Boko Haram sect, Ibrahim) Shekau can come out, using his usual medium, to renounce violence, the government will be ready for the dialogue.”

He stated that of all forms of terrorism in different parts of the world including the United States of America and Israel, that of Nigeria was peculiar. “I have not seen any country as challenged as Nigeria. For Nigeria, it is people like me, people like you, living in the same area, with same language that are the members of the Boko Haram. They live among us. Some are our cousins”, he said.

However, the anti-terrorism chief disclosed that “in the last two months, the nation’s security agencies have been able to sufficiently degrade the Boko Haram group such that they are incapable of carrying out coordinated attacks in various cities in Nigeria.”

He added that “the challenge of terrorism is for all and it requires all Nigerians for it to be resolved. To contain terror, there is need to up the capabilities of the security and defence agencies.”

He said that in addition to setting up the National Counter Terrorism Centre, the Federal Government would soon launch a policy to tackle unemployment especially in the North as unemployment had provided a ready pool for recruitment of terrorists.

Yesterday too, the Chief of General Staff (CGS) Lt. General Azubuike Ihejirika, assured that the Nigerian army would continue to beef up security in Anambra State to sustain the gains recorded in tackling security challenges in the State.

Also, the new Commissioner of Police in Edo State, Foluso Adebanjo, yesterday, assumed duties in the state pledging to tackle kidnappers and armed robbers.

In a related development, the Bayelsa State Government is to install central high-tech digital equipment that would help monitor activities going on in every part of the state electronically.

According to the Agence France Presse (AFP), Ansaru is considered a new group with a rising profile after it claimed the abduction of a French national in December.

Some view it as being directly linked to Boko Haram, the group blamed for killing hundreds of people in northern Nigeria since 2009.

In an e-mail statement sent to journalists, Ansaru said it had “the custody of seven persons, which include a Lebanese and their European counterparts working with Setraco,” the Lebanese-owned company targeted in the attack.

Police in Bauchi said four Lebanese, one Briton, a Greek citizen and an Italian were among those taken hostage by gunmen who stormed the site in the town of Jama’are in Bauchi State. The assailants shot dead a guard.

A Setraco official, who requested anonymity, later told AFP that in fact the Middle Eastern hostages included two Lebanese and two Syrians. Beirut has said that only two of its nationals were abducted.

Ansaru’s two-paragraph statement in English cites “the transgressions and atrocities done to the religion of Allah ... by the European countries in many places such as Afghanistan and Mali.”

The group has previously protested France’s efforts against Islamic rebels in Mali.

Residents in Jama’are, about 200 kilometres (125 miles) from the state capital, said Setraco evacuated all its workers from the company’s premises on Sunday, and a spokesman told AFP that its road project had been stopped.

“There is no way we will continue to work there because the lives of our colleagues are in danger,” John Ogbamgba said yesterday. “We are all in tears.”

Expatriates have typically been kidnapped in Nigeria’s oil-rich south and often released following ransom payments.

But such incidents in the north have been isolated and some analysts fear that Ansaru’s emergence may be a sign of changing tactics among the Islamic groups in the region.

The Setraco spokesman said the firm was especially concerned that the abductions took place in the north, where “you don’t get information”.

If the attack had occurred in the south, “maybe there would be a ransom demand”, Ogbamgba said.

Aside from the French national abducted in December whose whereabouts remain unknown, the three other Westerners kidnapped in the north since 2011 have all been killed.

They include a German engineer abducted last year as well as a Briton and an Italian seized in 2011, in an attack the British government linked to Ansaru.

Britain declared the group a terrorist organisation in November.

Some experts say that Ansaru’s leader may be Khalid al-Barnawi, one of three Nigerian extremists labelled a “global terrorist” by the United States last year, saying he had ties to Al-Qaeda’s north African affiliate.

The governments of Greece and Italy have confirmed that their citizens were among those taken hostage.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said yesterday that London was in touch with Nigerian authorities but did not confirm that a Briton was among the hostages.

In a statement signed by Presidential spokesman, Dr Reuben Abati, Jonathan assured the relatives of the kidnapped foreign workers as well as the governments of their countries that the Federal Government and its security agencies were doing everything possible to find their abductors and ensure the safe release of all those they abducted.

The President further condemned kidnapping of the workers and reaffirmed the Federal Government’s commitment to stamping out all forms of terrorism and criminal abduction in the country.

Ihejirika made the promise at the palace of the traditional ruler of Obosi, Igwe Chidubem Iwaka at the weekend during the admission of Maj.-Gen. David Ndefo (rtd), into the prestigious Ndi Ichie of Obosi community, in Idemili North Local Council of Anambra State.

Ihejirika was also conferred with the chieftaincy title of “Onyeisiagha” (Warlord) of Obosi Land. But according to the traditional ruler, the title will take effect on his retirement from military service.

The promise was in response to the request by Igwe Iweka to the army boss for stepping up patrol in the state, particularly in Obosi to ensure continued peace as enjoyed in the state before, during and after the Christmas and New Year celebrations.

The CGS who was represented on the occasion by the Commander 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, Enugu, Maj.-Gen. Adebayo Olaniyi, and accompanied by the Commander, 302 Artillery Regiment, Onitsha, Col. Taritimiye Gagariga, assured that military personnel would sustain all efforts geared towards ensuring security of lives and property of Nigerians.

Addressing officers and men of the command, the Commissioner of Police noted that “kidnapping and armed robbery are the major crimes in Edo State. I will advise armed robbers and kidnappers to change their ways and be responsible to the society or else they cannot find a home here.”

Briefing members of the National Good Governance Tour in Yenagoa, the state capital during an inspection of the construction of the Integrated Security Control and Communication Centre, the Deputy Governor, Rear Admiral John Jonah (rtd) said the centre would serve as the co-ordinating headquarters of all security operations in the state through an electronic platform.

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