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President, Civil Rights Congress (CRC), Mr. Shehu Sani, Wednesday in Abuja, opened up on why he declined to serve in the 26-member Presidential Committee empanelled by President Goodluck Jonathan to engage members of the outlawed Boko Haram sect in a peace parley.
The activist also explained how the presidency frustrated the peace talks he initiated with members of the Islamic sect, who were open to discussions with the federal government on how to end the blood-letting insurgency.
Sani, who spoke at a seminar for judges and journalists organised by Konrad-Adenaver-Stitung (KAS), a German foundation, went down memory lane to recall how he persuaded former President Olusegun Obasanjo to visit the family of the slain leader of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf, in Maiduguri, Borno State on a peace mission.
The activist, who presented a paper on the difficulties of political cases in justice delivery, said he opted out of the presidential committee because given his earlier experience with the presidency on the subject matter; he was convinced that it was not going to achieve anything.
According to him, “I independently reached out to leaders of the Boko Haram and offered myself to mediate on behalf of the federal government. And when they were ready to talk and because I do not have the telephone numbers of President Goodluck Jonathan, I decided to reach out to former President Olusegun Obasanjo who was also the Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
“I called him (Obasanjo) and narrated my encounter with members of the Boko Haram and he said are you really sure of this? I said yes and invited him to Maiduguri.
“Thereafter, I reported back to the leaders of the Boko Haram that I was coming with former President Obasanjo. They agreed and gave us conditions that the meeting should take place in Maiduguri with no security men and journalists involved.
“At the meeting, they came out with photographs and some documents and presented to Obasanjo who assured them that he was going to take their grievance to the federal government after appealing to them to stop the killings.
“Obasanjo took those documents to the Presidential Villa and till that time, nothing has been done. But Obasanjo told me that he has done his best.
“I made a second attempt by involving Dr. Dati Ahmed, who was a teacher to the founder of Boko Haram, the late Mohammed Yusuf when he was a student. We brought him to Abuja to mediate with the Federal government on behalf of the sect.
“We went to see the then National Security Adviser (NSA) to the President, late General Owoye Andrew Azazi, who kept us waiting in his office for over three hours only to call us to say that after consulting with security chiefs, he was told that from information reaching them, the Boko Haram members have run out of weapons and, therefore, can be overrun by the federal government and so there was no need to meet with them. At the end of the day, Dr. Ahmed was frustrated and we all left Abuja.
“We have done this for first and second time and it was frustrated, only for me to wake up one day to hear that my name was among the 26-member Presidential Committee on Amnesty for Boko Haram members.
“So, when I turned it down, some people called me names and said many things about me including the fact that I am not a patriotic Nigerian.
“I cannot think of any patriotism other than the efforts I have made. It took me three months to make contact with the leaders of the Boko Haram. It is not an easy thing because you are dealing with a killer group that even goes after their members.
“When you give a committee two weeks, I know it was not going to work. So, I have done the best I could and I know the committee will not achieve anything.”
Meanwhile, the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, has said the Boko Haram menace is a disgrace to the African continent, adding that at the right time, God will disgrace and expose the sponsors of the terror being unleashed on innocent Nigerians.
Oritsejafor, while discussing some weighty issues brought by a delegation of Kanuri-Fulani Christians, predominantly from core northern states who visited him in Abuja yesterday, observed that the activities of the sect had continued to bring the continent to disrepute.
He said: "Boko Haram started as a group with the aim to Islamise Nigeria. They have caused a lot of damage. It is a disgrace to the entire African continent and at the right time, God will expose the sponsors of this group.
According to him, "I do not toe the same line that other Nigerians will toe," the clergyman said, adding, "I do not care what people think when I talk. People tend to think that I hate people. I do not hate anybody. I believe Nigeria can be strong and Muslims/Christians can work together.
Speaking on some critical issues raised by the group, Oritsejafor revealed how Nigerian refugees are dying of hunger and his personal effort in ameliorating and bringing succour to their plight.
"I did not even know that you existed. That is why today, I feel so happy to know that you exist. I am a human being and every human being needs encouragement. I am one of the most misunderstood persons in Nigeria today. My desire is for the peace and oneness of Nigeria," he observed.
"But the Nigeria we are talking about must be such that everyone is equal. It should be a place where people are not judged by their religion. We should be judged by the contents of our hearts. With your presence, that Nigeria is possible.
"As the President of CAN, promise you that whatever I can do, I will do my best to ensure that we have a level-playing ground for everyone.
"Sometimes, I am troubled when I hear of civil rights groups and I wonder if they really know what is happening in this country. If they do, they should check out some of the issues raised here. I throw this challenge to them. They should take up this challenge."
CAN President, also donated N2 million to "Tarayyamasihiyawan Nijeriya" led by Maj. Gen. Ishaku A. Dikko (rtd). The money is part of his efforts to ameliorate the plight of the people.
In his response, leader of the delegation, Dikko explained that the money would be used as recycling grant for the economic empowerment of the people caught up in the crisis .
Dikko told the CAN President that they were in his office on a solidarity visit and to present some of the issues troubling them.
Dikko stated: "This visit is a solidarity visit to the CAN President. We want to show our loyalty and support to his exalted office and to the churches in Nigeria. We are also here to express our unflinching support to the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan.
"We are predominantly in Borno, Bauchi, Kebbi, Katsina and in other core northern states in the country. We are the most marginalised, oppressed and maltreated in this country. In places of employment and promotion, you hardly find anyone of us in exalted offices.
"When it comes to employment, we are the most marginalised. We have more than 1,400 university graduates. When you go to these states, you can hardly find permanent secretaries and commissioners in these states who are christians.
"Admissions in schools run by states in northern Nigeria, we are being discriminated against. We don't benefit from scholarship programmes. If you apply as an individual or a church to get a land, state governments in these states ensure that we are frustrated.”