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Nigeria: Talks Amid Tragedy?

There is some hope, John Campbell reports at CFR, that the Nigerian government has been involved in talks with Boko Haram, facilitated by a well-known Muslim sheikh in the north of the country. The details of a negotiated deal, in which the government would cease arresting Boko Haram members on condition of a ceasefire, were proposed in an open letter to Boko Haram, but a response has not been publicized.

“Boko Haram is highly decentralized,” Campbell writes, but Ahmad Salkida, a Nigerian journalist widely considered to have inside access to the group’s leaders, says its “30-member ruling council is largely unchanged since 2010 . . . apart from two members arrested by police.”

“It’s clear they [Boko Haram] are winning the war,” he adds.

Abubakr Shekau, a disciple and self-described successor of Boko Haram’s founder, has flatly denied any discussions with the Nigerian government.

Even as discussions with the government have failed to take off, religious leaders—both Muslim and Christian—have condemned the extremists and are mobilizing to prevent further violence.

In an open letter to the federal government released Tuesday, Jama’atu Nasril Islam, an umbrella group for Muslim organizations in Nigeria, condemned the recent church bombings in Jos and Biu that killed three people and wounded 41.

The group said the attacks were “barbaric,” especially since they were carried out only a week after another deadly church bombing in Bauchi and a plane crash in Lagos killed more than 153 people. Jama’atu Nasril Islam called on the government to investigate claims of arms smuggling in Jos, which is known as a “flashpoint” city, nearly torn apart by more than a decade of deadly sectarian violence…

Shuaibu Bel, a pastor in Bauchi State, where a suicide bomber killed 15 people and injured at least 42 others last week, calls the attacks on Christians “incessant.” He says they are a result of, among other things, ignorance and politics.

It is a relief to see both Muslim and Christian leaders responding this way and not as Shekau had hoped—the Boko Haram chief wanted attacks on Christians and churches to provoke a violent backlash and intensify a Christian versus Muslim war, thereby driving more new soldiers into Boko Haram’s army. Via Meadia can only hope that church leaders maintain this initiative and that Boko Haram’s despicable violence does not create a religious war across Nigeria.

Whatever happens: Nigerians, especially in the north, still don’t trust state and federal government; Boko Haram’s attacks are likely to continue or even escalate; and the government still faces major problems relating to corruption and bad governance.

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