- Published on Saturday, 18 August 2012 21:02
- Written by Elombah.com
Nigeria's federal government signalled Saturday they had held some form of talks with Islamist militants waging a deadly insurgency, but its statement was vague and the extremists have repeatedly ruled out dialogue. The statement from Information Minister Labaran Maku come amidst indications that the police tightened security and
the United States warned of the risk of attacks Friday ahead of this weekend's Eid festivities, which mark the end of the Muslim month of fasting.
Nigeria, struggling with a deadly insurgency by Islamist militants Boko Haram, advised residents to be on alert and boosted patrols, while the US embassy in a statement recalled a suicide attack on the UN in Abuja a year ago and warned that "an anniversary security event could occur".
Young girls walk past a vehicle burnt on a street of Damaturu, Yobe State, northeastern Nigeria
Maku's statement was issued in response to a news report this week claiming that a purported spokesman for Islamist extremist group Boko Haram said direct talks were underway with the government.
The statement from the Boko Haram "spokesman" was given to a reporter in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the report said, which is not the usual way the group communicates with journalists.
"The federal government welcomes any initiative that will usher in peace, security and tranquillity in the country, especially in the light of the security challenges that we have faced in the last two years," the government statement said.
"In this context, we welcome the statement by (Boko Haram) acknowledging that they have been in contact with the federal government through its representatives and have started negotiations with the objective of reaching a final solution to this crisis."
Maku was asked about the reported dialogue earlier in the week and said he could not confirm it.
A previous attempt at dialogue earlier this year broke down when a mediator quit over leaks to the media and a spokesman for what is believed to be the main faction of Boko Haram said the government could not be trusted.
The main faction of the group has accused the government of using propaganda to discredit it and has repeatedly ruled out further dialogue.
Nigeria's recently appointed National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki, a prominent figure in the country's mainly Muslim north, has spoken of dialogue through local institutions, including religious leaders.
Earlier today President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, "on behalf of himself and the Federal Government of Nigeria", congratulated all followers of the Islamic faith in the country who have successfully concluded this year’s Ramadan fast. President Jonathan rejoices with all Muslims in the country as Nigeria joins the rest of the world in celebrating Eid-El-Fitri which marks the end of the month-long annual fast.
In a Press House Press Release, signed by Reuben Abati, Special Adviser to the President (Media & Publicity) and made available to elombah.com, Jonathan "prays that Almighty Allah will grant them all the rewards promised to the faithful for the pious observance of its injunctions of piety, abstinence, self-discipline, constant prayer and charity."
Continuing the statement said: "against the background of persisting challenges to unity, harmony and peaceful co-existence in the country, President Jonathan seizes the opportunity of the Eid-El-Fitri celebrations to reaffirm his administration’s absolute and immutable commitment to the unity and indivisibility of the Nigerian nation.
"The President assures all Nigerians once again that the imperatives of national unity, peace, harmony, collective development and progress will continue to inspire and motivate all policies and actions of his administration.
"President Jonathan who also observed the Ramadan fast in solidarity with Muslims in the country, applauds the exemplary leadership exhibited by Christian and Muslim leaders in the country who showed real commitment to peace and greater security for all by openly sharing the rigours and joys of the Ramadan with each other.
"The President commends the efforts of these religious leaders to further promote national unity and peaceful co-existence by visibly reaching out to those of other faith in the true spirit of all who believe in One God.
"President Jonathan urges all Nigerians to follow the laudable example of such religious leaders by showing more of a similar commitment and willingness to live peacefully with each other in spite of differences of tribe or religion.
"He wishes the entire nation a joyous and peaceful Eid-El-Fitri celebrations," the statement concluded.
Boko Haram has been blamed for more than 1,400 deaths since 2010 in the northern and central regions of Africa's most populous nation.
A centuries-old Eid festival in the major northern city of Kano, famed for its elaborate horse pageant, has been cancelled, officially due to the local emir's health, but residents suspected the worsening violence was to blame.
In the volatile central city of Jos, authorities declared off-limits two main prayer grounds that have been hit by violence in the past over security concerns, but said alternative locations were available.
The authorities' moves were an indication of how badly security has deteriorated in northern and central Nigeria, where Boko Haram has been blamed for more than 1,400 deaths since 2010.
Nigeria's national police chief urged the public to share tips with officers, something many people have been reluctant to do out of fear of both Boko Haram and the authorities, who have been accused of abuses.
The statement said the force had been directed "to take adequate measures to ensure the provision of water-tight security across the country before, during and after the celebration".
In a security message, the US embassy evoked the August 26, 2011 suicide bombing of UN headquarters in Abuja which killed at least 25 people and warned of possible fresh attacks.