President Goodluck Jonathan has reached out to former President Olusegun Obasanjo for ideas as the deadly Boko Haram insurgency ravaging the North-East region of the country spirals out of control, with the terrorists capturing Gwoza, a Nigerian territory, and declaring it an Islamic caliphate.
The development suggests a rethink by the Jonathan administration which had all along disregarded Mr. Obasanjo’s proposal to commence talks with the extremist Boko Haram sect through an informal channel.
Both leaders, PREMIUM TIMES learnt, met in Abuja Wednesday at the instance of President Jonathan and had extensive discussion on how to tackle the insurgency.
In fact, ostensibly desperate for solution to the problem, Mr. Jonathan offered to fly to Abeokuta to meet with Mr. Obasanjo.
The former President however offered to travel to Abuja to meet Mr. Jonathan out of respect for the office of the president.
Mr. Obasanjo confirmed the meeting on arrival back to his base in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital.
“Yes, I can confirm that I met with Mr. President on his invitation,” he told journalists. “In fact, he had wanted to come down to Abeokuta, but as a sign of respect to the Office of the President, I had to go. We had discussion on the country’s security issues and that is all.”
The former President appreciated Mr. Jonathan’s invitation and assured the administration that, in the interest of peace and progress of the country, he would continue to make himself available whenever solutions are being sought for knotty national issues.
Details of the discussions between the two leaders are unclear.
It is also not clear whether Mr. Jonathan has now given the former President the nod to explore talks with the Boko Haram contacts he has identified.
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Reuben Abati, confirmed the meeting but said he had no details of what was discussed.
“It was a meeting between the two of them and only them can say what was discussed, Mr. Abati told PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr. Obasanjo has for years advocated the use of force alongside peaceful negotiation as a panacea for tackling the insurgency in the North.
In May, Mr. Obasanjo commenced efforts to reach out to the Boko Haram sect, in a series of attempts at negotiating with the sect to free the over 250 school girls it abducted in April from their dormitories in Chibok, Borno State.
At the time, the former leader contacted a go-between, who assisted him in his unsuccessful attempt at mediating with the Boko Haram group in 2011.
The go-between, a lawyer, was led by a prominent civil rights activist, Shehu Sani, to meet with Mr. Obasanjo in his Ota farm in an “exploratory” effort.
After meeting with the go-between, Mr. Obasanjo contacted President Jonathan for clearance to continue with the talks. He was ignored.
“Without a response from the authorities, no one can proceed,” Mr. Obasanjo told PREMIUM TIMES at the time. “If they agree to negotiate then we can begin to talk with them (Boko Haram). Nobody can do anything alone. You cannot do it alone, it is not a one man mission, it’s not even a two man mission. It’s a collective mission. It can even be an international mission.”
Mr. Obasanjo’s 2011 attempt at negotiations with the deadly sect ended on a bloody note with the murder of Babakura Fugu, the man who received him and made effort to establish a link between Boko Haram and the former president.
The effort was reportedly not at the instance of the federal government, officials said at the time.
Mr. Fugu, a brother-in-law of the slain leader of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf, was shot to death shortly after Mr. Obasanjo’s departure from Maiduguri, Borno State, to seek peace talks with the group.
The attack ended one of the best known efforts at reaching out to the deadly sect, which is responsible for thousands of deaths.
Since 2011, the group has killed thousands more, and recently drew the outrage of the international community with the abduction of hundreds of girls from their dormitory in Chibok, Borno State.