The Nigerian government has opened an investigation into allegations linking a former governor of Borno State, Modu Sheriff, with extremist sect, Boko Haram.
President Goodluck Jonathan’s office said Thursday that recent allegations by an Australian negotiator that Mr. Sheriff has been a longstanding financier of the deadly group, is being examined by government investigators.
Mr. Jonathan will not interfere “wilfully” with the probe or its findings, his spokesperson, Reuben Abati, said in a statement.
“President Jonathan is fully aware of the allegation made against Senator Sheriff by Stephen Davis. That allegation is already being investigated by the security agencies who will make their findings known to the public in due course,” Mr. Abati said.
He added: “The president assures all Nigerians that he has not wilfully taken any action that could prejudice the outcome of that ongoing inquiry”.
Mr. Jonathan assured of his “total commitment to doing all within his powers to bring all identified and verified sponsors of terrorism to justice, and ending the menace of violent extremism in the country”.
The comments are the first official reaction from the presidency over the allegations tying Mr. Sheriff to the group.
An Australian negotiator, Stephen Davis, who has worked to help release more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram since April 14, recently accused Mr. Sheriff of being a secret backer of Boko Haram.
Mr. Davis also accused a former army chief, Azubuike Ihejirika, of being a sponsor of the group.
In what appeared the government’s first response to the allegations, the spokesperson for Nigeria’s secret service, Marilyn Ogar, dismissed the claims against the former army boss before an investigation.
Ms. Ogar said Mr. Ihejirika had given so much to Nigeria and fought Boko Haram aggressively to be accused of supporting the same group.
She however disclosed that the former governor, Mr. Sheriff, had been quizzed in the past on allegation of Boko Haram ties, and that he would be invited again for questioning.
Mr. Sheriff himself has denied having any links to Boko Haram.
But while Nigerians called on the government to immediately probe the allegations made by the Australian, the president’s office on Monday released photographs of Messrs Jonathan and Sheriff attending a meeting with President Idris Derby of Chad, in Ndjamena, the country’s capital.
Mr. Abati on Thursday denied that Mr. Sheriff travelled to Chad alongside the president. He also denied there he took part in any important meeting.
He said Mr. Sheriff had already been in Chad ahead of the president’s visit.
“Those who associate with Senator Sheriff know that he has longstanding interests in Chad and often spends a lot of his time there. He happened to be in Ndjamena at the time of President Jonathan’s visit and joined other Nigerian residents of the Chadian capital in coming to the airport to welcome their president,” Mr. Abati said.
“The former Governor’s presence in Chad was certainly not at President Jonathan’s instance and he did not participate in any of the President’s discussions with President Idriss Deby or his other engagements in Ndjamena.”
But the explanation was silent on the nature of discussions Mr. Sheriff had with the two presidents.