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Nigeria launches fact finding mission to develop Boko Haram strategy

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In late July, the Federal Government of Nigeria announced the creation of a special fact-finding committee on Boko Haram, the Muslim rebel movement in the country’s northeast. This committee was charged with submitting a report that would guide the government’s strategy in dealing with the movement, including the possibility of pursuing dialogue with militants in order to broker a political solution to the conflict.

The submission of the final report has been delayed, but the government committee has now submitted an interim report, the contents of which are not yet public. A final, public report is expected soon.

Government officials have tried to manage expectations about a possible dialogue with Boko Haram, but the possibility is still on the table:

[Secretary of Government Anyim Pius] Anyim, at the inauguration of the panel, had said that the government will not negotiate with the Islamist sect Boko Haram, blamed for scores of attacks in the region, but will instead recommend whether talks should be opened.

“This is not a negotiation team,” he said. “It’s a fact-finding team. It’s a forum to identify a solution.”

But Anyim’s office had earlier issued a statement saying the panel’s duties would include acting “as a liaison between the federal government… and Boko Haram and to initiate negotiations with the sect.”

The panel could recommend at the completion of its work to open negotiations with the sect, he later clarified.

Reuters has more:

The head of the committee, Usman Gaji Galtimari, said it had produced a preliminary report which included urgent recommendations for the government but no details of its findings would be publicly released until the final paper was given to Jonathan in two weeks. The original deadline was August 16.

“We have been able to go round all the states within the northeast and we have been to Kano and Kaduna,” Galtimari told reporters after handing the preliminary findings to Nigeria’s secretary to the government of the federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, who inaugurated the committee on August 2.

“We have had meetings here with stakeholders, agencies, governors, and we have collected a lot of information to assist us in making recommendations to the federal government,” Galtimari said.

The panel has reportedly even succeeded in talking to some members of Boko Haram.

I would not be surprised if the final report recommended some form of dialogue – an idea, after all, that both President Goodluck Jonathan and Northern politicians like Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima have floated in various forms. I do not take the delay in the submission of the report as a sign of sloppiness, but rather as a sign of caution: with calls from some Southern Christians not to open dialogue, and statements from Northern Muslim leaders that violence cannot solve the problem, the issue of a solution to Boko Haram is becoming a) a national question, b) highly politicized, and c) deeply contested. That puts Jonathan and the Federal Government in a sensitive position, and maybe helps explain why the committee is taking its time in issuing final recommendations, and seeking a broad political consensus, especially in the North, to back those recommendations.

Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahel Blog.

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