26 November, 2012
A purported senior member of Islamist
militant group Boko Haram has distributed a letter requesting talks with the government, a day after a double suicide bombing blamed on the sect killed at least 11 and wounded 30 in an army barracks.
The letter was signed by Sheik Abu
Mohammed Ibn Abdulazeez, a man known by local security sources to be a
sect member but considered to be a
moderate. If the letter is genuine, it would appear to mark a change of tack for the Islamists that fits ill with a spate of violent episodes, including the bombing of the military church on Sunday. That bombing showed a degree of sophistication not seen from Boko Haram for months.
Nearly 3,000 people have died violent
deaths related to the conflict since the
sect launched its uprising in 2009,
according to a count by Human Rights
Watch. Boko Haram has replaced
militancy in the oil-rich Niger Delta over that time to become the biggest security threat to Africa’s top energy producer.
The letter was handed to the national
head of the union of journalists, Aba
Kakami, who has often received and
distributed statements from the sect,
usually claiming attacks against high
profile targets or warning of them. Communication with the shadowy
Islamists, who are fighting to impose
sharia, Islamic law, on Nigeria, has been
even more sporadic than normal since the military killed their spokesman Abu Qaqa in September in a gun battle.
Abdulazeez first contacted journalists in
Maiduguri earlier this month, setting
conditions for peace talks in
teleconference and nominating former
military ruler and northerner Muhammadu Buhari as a mediator. Buhari has since declined the offer.
“We are by this letter of invitation to our
respected elders proving to government
that we are not joking with the
government, but we are awaiting the
response of those concerned,” the letter
said. Abdulazeez said he was speaking on behalf of Abubakar Shekau, the sect’s
But even if Abdulazeez does represent
Shekau, the extent to which Boko Haram
is controlled by Shekau is in doubt, and
analysts think military pressure has
The letter nominated as mediator Imam Gabchiya, an official from the university in the city of Maiduguri, in the heartland of the Islamist insurgency against President Goodluck Jonathan’s government. There was no immediate reaction from government officials, but Jonathan said on November 18 that no talks were going on with Boko Haram while they remained faceless and in the shadows.
The handover of the letter came three
days after Nigeria’s army offered a 290
million naira ($1.8 million) bounty for
information leading to the capture of 19
leading members of the sect.