Nigeria to tackle northern crisis

2012-08-23 09:06

Abuja - State governors from Nigeria's north, which is grappling with a violent Islamist insurgency, formed a body aimed at holding "dialogue" with groups fuelling the crisis.

The statement announcing the new committee did not mention Boko Haram, the radical Islamist group blamed for more than 1 400 deaths across northern and central Nigeria since 2010.

The mandate of the 35-member Northern States Governors' Committee on Reconciliation, Healing and Security would be to "dialogue with any identified groups with a view to negotiating the way out of the menace", the statement said. The panel was expected to report within 90 days.

Last week, Nigeria's government signalled that it had held some form of talks Boko Haram, but the details were vague and the extremists have repeatedly ruled out dialogue.

The governor's initiative was said to be independent of the federal government's efforts.

Boko Haram is believed to have a variety of different cells, including an Islamist wing and it is not clear if the group has leaders who can credibly negotiate on its behalf.

Some argue that the best strategy to stamp out the Boko Haram menace is to address the deep-seated poverty and rampant unemployment plaguing the north.

To that end, the governor's panel hopes to address "youth restiveness and unemployment in the region", the statement said.

Niger state governor Babangida Aliyu said the panel should also look "at the issues of religious extremism, intolerance and mutual disrespect... that are further separating us from one another".

Nigeria, Africa's most populous country and top oil producer, is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and mostly Christian south.

Boko Haram has repeatedly targeted Christians in church, but its victims have also included scores of Muslims as well as members of the security services.