Contrary to claims that the dreaded Boko Haram Islamic sect is a faceless group, Sunday Trust has exclusively gathered that there was indeed a high-level discussion between a government delegation, led by Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State and 11 field commanders of the Boko Haram, held under top secrecy and amidst intense security at the Lagos House, a government lodge for visitors, in Maiduguri.
An impeccable top security source revealed to Sunday Trust in Abuja that the meeting took place in early May 2012, at the instance of Governor Shettima.
But in attendance was a representative of Inspector General of Police Mohammed Dikko Abubakar, Borno State Director, Department of State Security Service, the state’s Commissioner of Police, an intelligence officer from the military along with the state deputy governor, Mustapha Umar Zannah. All these top government functionaries were said to have been physically present at the talks.
The source told Sunday Trust that: “One of them was named Sheikh Asheku, a leader of the Boko Haram, who is believed to be a field commander. I don’t know if he is in charge of Borno.
“I think he is the one contacted by the governor’s agents. Based on an understanding, the Boko Haram leaders checked into one hotel in Maiduguri. Asheku was the first person to check in. The others came in at different times and were moved into different rooms. Their leader called later in the evening and disclosed their location. After that, one white air-conditioned bus was sent to them, while our security men kept surveillance, monitoring every step, in case they were up to some games.”
The source explained further that, “I learnt that initially, they were very worried for their safety,” the source continued. “I don’t know how the governor was able to convince them. I think they just took the risk because amongst them was a wanted man. All the security officers saw him, but there was no way he could have been arrested because the governor made everybody to agree that the sect leaders must safely leave the venue of the meeting. During the meeting, the governor interacted with them and asked them the conditions under which they would halt the bombing and killings.”
Sunday Trust learnt that the field commanders said they wanted their mosque, which was destroyed in the 2009 crisis in Maiduguri, reconstructed. They also wanted the killers of their leader, Mohammed Yusuf, to be prosecuted and their properties seized or destroyed by the authorities to be returned or built back. The field commanders added further that they wanted their wives and family members who have been arrested to be released, and their freedom of worship, based on their ideology, guaranteed and respected.
The Boko Haram members further demanded that their members who are under custody be released. According to Sunday Trust’s source, the field commanders agreed to drop their arms after their Number One Imam may have been reached.
The governor was said to have promised that government could pay for every gun returned by the fighters, and that they will be trained and given funds to start any business of their choice. The governor was said to have promised that the Boko Haram mosque will be rebuilt and their houses given back to them, but as for other demands, they were beyond his office as governor of Borno State. He was said to have, however, promised to contact the president on those issues.
“But there was a problem along the line,” the source pointed out. “One of the security agencies, the JTF’s representative, was not comfortable with the talks. Maybe, they didn’t get orders from the Chief of Army or Defence Staff. But like you know, soldiers are trained to destroy opponents. They regard anyone that carries arms against them as enemy. They are not trained to go into discussion with their enemies; they only crush.
“But I think the problem in Nigeria is that security agencies have no synergy. We operate at different levels; sometimes, we even sabotage each other. There is rivalry at all levels between soldiers and police and between police and SSS and also between SSS and the military.”
The security source remarked that “if government wants dialogue with Boko Haram, all it should do is to assure the sect leaders that their security will be guaranteed.”
Sunday Trust gathered that before the meeting, heavily armed security agents, police armoured tanks were deployed to the Lagos House, and visitors were prevented from lodging there 24 hours to the meeting, as security officials took control of the entire building, to forestall any funny game by the Boko Haram field commanders.
Checks at the police headquarters in Abuja did not yield much fruits as no top official was prepared to speak on the issue.