The 28 January ceasefire declaration by purported Boko Haram commander Muhammed Abdulazeez Ibn Idris, on behalf of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, led to mixed reactions from security analysts in Nigeria. While some welcomed it as a good step towards peace others dismissed it as a ruse.
Since 28 January there have been several kidnapping attempts, an attempted suicide bombing in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, and the killing of polio immunization workers in Kano.
Idris claimed the ceasefire was the outcome of meetings with Borno State government officials at which Boko Haram (BH) demanded the release of hundreds of its members who had been detained by the authorities since June 2009. He linked the call to the level of humanitarian suffering the four-year violence has wrought on women and children.
However, on 20 February, leaflets linked to Shekau were distributed in Maiduguri disassociating him from the ceasefire declaration and vowing to continue deadly attacks, according to military spokesman in Maiduguri Lt-Col Sagir Musa, as well as residents.
Idris had previously made a ceasefire offer to the government on 1 November 2012, based on conditions, including the arrest and prosecution of former Borno governor Ali Modu Sheriff over the killing of sect leader Mohammed Yusuf and sect members during the 2009 BH uprising in Maiduguri when Sheriff was governor.
Idris requested that retired military general and presidential candidate for the All Nigeria' People's Party Muhammadu Buhari serve as a negotiator in the talks but Buhari and his party dismissed the request, accusing the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) of deliberately using Idris to portray Buhari as a BH sponsor to discredit him politically.
Sources close to BH said Idris was a close ally of Shekau and tried to talk him into accepting dialogue with the government as he became increasingly concerned about the mounting death toll. According to the same sources, Shekau rebuffed him and Idris decided to approach the government unilaterally, hoping that a good deal – including the release of hundreds of detained sect members – might change Shekau's mind.
"I don't think Abdulazeez [Idris] is representing BH," said Maiduguri-based lawyer Mustapha Zannah, who stood as defence counsel to BH members arrested during the 2009 insurgency. "The group attaches much importance to leadership and a declaration as monumental as a ceasefire would not come from anybody other than Shekau," he said.