The choice of Saudi Arabia for the proposed peace talks with the Islamist sect, Boko Haram, is sitting well with the Federal Government following consultations over the last 48 hours, The Nation can disclose.
However, government is keen on the sect inaugurating its own team of negotiators including former military head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari before making fresh commitments.
And with the weekend murder in Maiduguri of civil war hero, Major General Muhammed Shuwa by gunmen suspected to be members of the sect, it is understood that the Federal Government is not disposed to the withdrawal of the Joint Task Force (JTF) from Borno and Yobe States in the foreseeable future.
Boko Haram had on Thursday offered to dialogue with the Federal Government through eminent Nigerians like Gen. Buhari, a former Governor of Yobe State, Sen. Bukar Abba Ibrahim, Ambassador Gaji Galtimari and Aisha Wakili and her husband, Justice Zanna Wakili.
General Buhari-led Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) denounced any attempt to link him with insurgency or insurrection in the country.
The Nation gathered that President Goodluck Jonathan and top government officials have been consulting in the last two days on the conditions set by Boko Haram for peace to reign.
Although the consultations were held in confidence, sources said government has decided to dialogue with Boko Haram especially after openly declaring in the past of its readiness to discuss with the sect as long as the faces behind the mask of the sect can come out.
A top government source said: “In principle, we agreed that there is nothing wrong with dialogue. After all even in war you still find time to come back to the table to negotiate peace.
“What has been a major challenge borders on the criticisms and protestations that greeted some of those nominated by the sect to lead the peace talks. Some people (mostly outside the government) are uncomfortable with Buhari because he had been threatening violence.
“A few others faulted Bukar Abba Ibrahim for having not done much to address unemployment (as a three-term governor) which is one of the factors behind the violence in the North-East.
“Although Amb. Galtimari once headed a panel on the crisis some stakeholders in the North-East still begrudge him in one way or the other. I think so far, no one has raised any eyebrow against Zanna Wakil who appears to be the most acceptable. His wife was once targeted by the sect.
“The attitude of President Jonathan is that those selected are first and foremost Nigerians who should be supported to facilitate the proposed dialogue with Boko Haram. He has adopted a large heart attitude to this offer. During consultations, he believes members of the sect are Nigerians who should be encouraged to make the dialogue work.
“So, the Federal Government is looking beyond sentiments or personal scores in holding talks with Boko Haram.
“The government believes that Boko Haram has its reasons for choosing these eminent Nigerians.”
Asked how the government will approach the dialogue, the top source said: “We have accepted the choice of Saudi Arabia as convenient for the sect. In dialogue, you choose the most secured and safe place. We have good ties with Saudi Arabia too.
“But the government is looking forward to Boko Haram to inaugurate its committee, led by ex-Head of State, Gen. Buhari, as a sign of its readiness for the dialogue. Once these eminent Nigerians accept this onerous role, the Federal Government will also define a course for the dialogue.
“We are really watching whether these facilitators would be ready to serve or not. Their acceptance will be a major breakthrough and a defining moment.”
Responding to a question, the source gave insight into the thinking of the government on how to approach the ceasefire thus:
*When will these killings stop?
* What is the take-off point for dialogue when some eminent people like Gen. Mohammed Shuwa are still being killed?
*If you want to negotiate, how do you control some armaments with these boys?
*Must all the conditions be accepted at all cost for peace to reign?
*Will the JTF still be allowed to remain in the North-East until the ceasefire is concluded?
The source added: “The Federal Government is not in a hurry to withdraw JTF from the Borno-Yobe axis. The killings have continued and the government cannot abdicate its primary responsibility of protecting lives and property.
“The killing of Gen. Mohammed Shuwa has reinforced the position of the government. We will retain and strengthen the JTF until the peace talks have been held and all the parties show commitment to peace.”
Culled from Nation