. Factionalisation of sect blamed for violation of ceasefire
The Principal Secretary to the President, Ambassador Hassan Tukur, has hinted at wider negotiations with Boko Haram that involve Chad, Cameroun and Nigeria to strengthen the ceasefire and lead to the cessation of hostilities between Nigeria and the sect.
The Nigerian military and federal government had announced Friday that they were in talks with Boko Haram leading to the declaration of a ceasefire on both sides and possible release of the 219 Chibok schoolgirls still in the custody of the insurgents.
However, less than 24 hours after its declaration, Maikadiri village in Abadam Local Government Area of Borno State and Sina and Grata villages in Michika Local Government Area in Adamawa State, came under attack.
This was given a fillip on Sunday following the reported capture of Abadam after a two-day siege on the Borno council by the sect, which has been blamed by security sources on its factionalisation.
Speaking on Arise Television , Tukur said negotiations with the sect, brokered by the President of Chad, Idris Derby, would continue with Boko Haram this week and he had no reason to believe that the terrorist group would renege on its promise to abide by the ceasefire.
“The sect honoured its first promise to Cameroun which was also brokered by the president of Chad. This led to the release of the wife of the deputy prime minister of Cameroun and the Chinese nationals.
“Since it delivered on its promise to Cameroun, we expect Boko Haram to deliver on the release of the Chibok girls and the cessation of hostilities in North-eastern Nigeria,” he said.
Also commenting on the weekend attacks on Borno and Adamawa communities at the weekend, Tukur, who is also one of the leading government figures in negotiations with Boko Haram, said the federal government would verify if there was any violation of the ceasefire agreement with the sect.
Tukur said yesterday that even though he was not in a position to speak on what decision the federal government might take on the reported attacks, he explained that there are various cells within Boko Haram which might want to flout the directive of their leaders.
He said: “We have to verify where the attacks are coming from. As you know, it is difficult to have a ceasefire in an organisation that has many members and cells/units. So we have to verify what is happening on the ground.
“We have to examine the situation first and we cannot take any decision yet (in the eventuality of the attacks being true). So I don’t want to comment on what government would do if the ceasefire is to be violated because I am not the government spokesperson.”
Tukur had in an exclusive interview with this paper on Saturday disclosed that the ceasefire agreement was reached with Boko Haram led by the “dead sect leader Abubakar Shekau.”
He explained how members of Boko Haram, who claimed to have been sent by one “Imam Abubakar Shekau”, sent an emissary to the Chadian government to initiate discussion with the Nigerian government on how to end the insurgency.
On the expected release of the Chibok girls, the presidential aide had said Boko Haram had given assurance of their safety and eventual freedom even though no date had been fixed for their release, adding that this would be discussed when negotiations start this week.
On the same note, the Director-General of the National Orientation Agency (NOA) and Chairman of National Information Centre (NIC), Mr. Mike Omeri, has said the federal government will thoroughly investigate the weekend attacks in violation of the ceasefire agreement.
Omeri informed this reporter Sunday that the suspicion, according to information available to the government, is that some of the attacks were carried out by thieves and other criminal groups.
He further confirmed that discussions with Boko Haram would commence this week and this would verify if the group is serious or not about reaching a peace accord.
He said: “I just got information that there was even another attack on Damboa and we are investigating the claims. You know they claimed that some of these attacks might be undertaken by thieves or by others who hide under the group to perpetrate crimes. If you notice, those who went to Abadam mainly went to shops to loot.
“Therefore, investigations will be conducted. However, what you must know is that the president is involved and this was also at the instance of the President of Chad who said they had investigated thoroughly the authenticity of who is conducting negotiations on behalf of the sect.
“By this week, we will know whether there are different factions or the same and we will know how to tackle the issue. We got news of attack on Damboa, and most of these attacks will be investigated.
“We were also informed that some of these attacks might come from thieves and other criminal gangs hiding under the Boko Haram banner to commit these crimes. One thing that is certain is that the federal government and the Government of Chad have agreed to hold discussions with the group after having studied the issues.”
Speaking further, Omeri said he was misquoted in news reports that stated that the Chibok girls would be released this week, clarifying that he only said discussions for their possible release would be tabled during this week’s negotiations with Boko Haram.
“I never said the girls will be released the way it was reported. I didn’t give a date and didn’t say that they would be released. However, I did say that we are going to discuss this week; that we are getting closer and closer towards getting the girls released, because I listened to the conversation by the Boko Haram person and everything I said was what they had said (earlier),” he stated.
Factions Blamed for Fragile Ceasefire
However, the factionalisation of Boko Haram, resulting in fierce infighting and a leadership tussle among the hardliners and moderates in the sect, has been blamed for the violation of the ceasefire brokered by the Chadian president between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram.
Intelligence sources confided that the ceasefire was already under threat because of the many competing units within the terrorist organisation, with some of them said to be fiercely opposed to negotiating with the federal government or cessation of hostilities.
The hardliners, the sources disclosed, want to carry on fighting the federal government and more importantly, avenge the recent heavy losses at the hands of Nigerian and Camerounian forces.
A top security source said: “Some of the terrorist cells which do not want the hostilities to end might want to truncate the ceasefire. This explains the reason for some of these attacks you are seeing now.
“Another thing is that given the fact that terrorists operate in cells, not all Boko Haram members may be aware of the ceasefire agreement. Also, some of the cells might use the opportunity to make their presence felt. That is why it is difficult reaching an agreement with terrorists all over the world.”
All efforts to speak to the Director of Defence Information (DDI), Major-General Chris Olukolade, on the violation of the ceasefire proved abortive, as he could not be reached for comments on Sunday.
Nonetheless, one top military source, who spoke on the matter, said while the military would have to observe the ceasefire to allow for the negotiations, it would not stand by and allow any group or persons to violate the territorial integrity of the country.
“I support the idea of military not commenting on the matter to observe how things unfold, and to allow the government handle the issue. Let’s see how things work out this week.
“Remember also how difficult this can be because these terrorists operate in a loose and semi-independent units. Some might not have agreed with the ceasefire and others may not even be aware or want to prove a point.
“But for strategic and tactical reasons, I think the security and intelligence system wants to watch very closely since the agreement was initiated from their (Boko Haram) side. So if anything goes wrong, at least the whole world will not blame the federal government.
“The main thing is that you are aware that this current ceasefire was brokered by the Chadian government. It is the Chadian President Idris Deby who initiated it,” the military source said.
However, doubts have been cast over the authenticity of the ceasefire announced by the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, on Friday.
Nigeria’s announcement of a ceasefire with Boko Haram has surprised many and convinced few, particularly when talks with the sect on the release of the kidnapped schoolgirls had been at a frustrating standstill, reported the AFP.
According to the French news agency, the announcement has been greeted with scepticism by security analysts, those with knowledge of previous negotiation attempts with Boko Haram and ordinary Nigerians suspicious about the government’s motives.
The main question mark was the identity of the purported Boko Haram envoy, Danladi Ahmadu, who claimed to be the group’s chief of security and to have been involved in talks to broker the deal.
“Danladi Ahmadu is NOT part of #BH Shura (ruling council) or speaks for them as far as I know,” said Ahmad Salkida, a Nigerian journalist said to have high-level contacts among the group’s leaders.
He “does not speak” for Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, he wrote on Twitter on Friday.
Further doubts came after Ahmadu failed to announce explicitly that Boko Haram had agreed to a ceasefire or give concrete details about the girls’ release in an interview broadcast on Voice of America (VOA) radio’s Hausa language service on Friday.
“It is not clear who the said Boko Haram negotiator is and whether he has the mandate of the entire group or just a faction of the entire group,” said Nnamdi Obasi, a Nigerian researcher for the International Crisis Group.
Ordinarily, a clear statement about such a development would be expected from Shekau, who has previously refused to end the violence until strict Islamic law is imposed across northern Nigeria.
He has also said the schoolgirls would only be released if Nigeria agreed to a prisoner swap of jailed militants.
Talks on that issue broke down in recent months over Abuja’s refusal to accept such a demand, several sources involved have indicated to AFP.
“There are no immediate details about what Boko Haram is getting out of the deal — and it is unlikely that it would give up all the girls for nothing,” added Obasi.
“If we see Boko Haram getting a major prisoner swap as part of the deal, that would dampen some of the excitement,” he said.
Claims of amnesty deals in the past with Boko Haram to end the five years of violence have come to nothing and exposed the apparent factional nature of the group, several analysts noted.
Previous military statements about the conflict that have been contradicted by reports on the ground have also increased doubts.
In the days after the mass kidnapping, for example, defence officials maintained that most of the girls had escaped but were forced to retract.
Many observers viewed the announcement as politically motivated, with President Goodluck Jonathan expected to announce that he will stand for re-election in coming weeks.
Positive news about the insurgency and the kidnapped girls — whether true or not — would likely give him and his ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) a political boost even if violence continues.
Ahmadu indicated in his interview that any further violence would be perpetrated by “hooligans and thieves” and not Boko Haram, which could sow enough doubt to get the government off the hook.
The timing also comes just days after the six-month anniversary of the girls’ abduction, with renewed domestic and international attention on their plight.
But Ryan Cummings, chief analyst for sub-Saharan Africa at risk consultants Red24, said even if confirmed, Boko Haram’s upholding of a ceasefire should be seen as temporary.
“Boko Haram has not been pressured in any way to lay down their arms and it remains highly unlikely that the Nigerian government would accede to all of the sect’s demands,” he said in an email exchange.
Borno Town Captured
Meanwhile, following a two-day siege on a border town with Niger Republic, the outlawed terrorist sect was reported to have captured Abadam on Sunday.
The town was said to have added to the list of conquered territories, after it was attacked for several hours by the insurgents who had a field day, as no Nigerian troops were on hand to engage them.
Borno towns and communities already under the control of the sect include Dikwa, Gwoza, Marte, Damboa, Banki, Bama, Wulgo and Kirenowa.
It was gathered from a security source that over 100 heavily armed suspected Boko Haram members, in a convoy of about 50 Toyota Hilux vehicles and motorcycles, invaded Abadam on Friday evening.
The terrorist group was also alleged to have attacked the town with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and petrol bombs on Saturday night before it was captured.
It had on Friday, a few hours after the announcement of the ceasefire, attacked a neighbouring town, Mallam Fatori, where the sect was alleged to have killed 10 persons.
Mallam Fatori also borders Niger Republic and is a few kilometres from Abadam.
It was learnt that the sect, as with other places it had captured, flew its black and white flag, preparing to declare the town part of its “Islamic caliphate”.
A resident of the area, who called journalists in Maiduguri on Sunday, said after the occupation of Abadam, the flags of Boko Haram were hoisted in three strategic parts of the town.
He expressed fear that with the town’s capture, the sect would enforce strict compliance with the Sharia law.
Abadam is the second largest town after Baga in northern Borno and is 265 kilometres north of the state capital, Maiduguri.
One of the residents of Abadam, who fled to Maiduguri, told journalists on the phone: “Boko Haram gunmen entered Abadam town on Friday night; and shot at any resident sighted for almost two days until the early hours of Sunday when many of us started to flee for safety in farmlands, bushes and the border area of Bosso town in Niger Republic.”
He said there was no security presence in the town throughout the duration of the attack and subsequent capture, stressing:
“The security operatives are in Mallam Fatori, the council headquarters of Abadam and they had not arrived up to the time of the capture of the town by the insurgents.” He added that the town was presently deserted.
“Residents have fled to various directions for safety. I escaped by crossing River Kumadugu to Diffa, and from there I boarded a bus to Damasak, before arriving Maiduguri city today (Sunday),” he said.
He however could not verify the number of people killed in Abadam, saying: “I saw six people killed while we were fleeing the attack.
“Among the people killed yesterday (Saturday) was my friend who was gunned down. My parents and other relations, I believe, are still in the bush and I do not know if they safe.”