by Stanley Azuakola
President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday, began his two-day official visit to the two North Eastern states of Yobe and Borno, the first time he’s doing so as president of Nigeria.
In the last three years, those two states have repeatedly made the headlines for the wrong reasons due to the terrorist activities of sects like Boko Haram.
But despite the unprecedented level of insecurity and the repeated acts of terrorism that befell the two states the president never deemed it fit to visit. He gave reasons like the absence of an airport and important state business for his failure to visit.
However, last week, nine opposition governors from the newly formed All Progressive Congress (APC), visited Maiduguri, the Borno capital, took a walk in the market at the heart of the town, and visited a school. Many are of the view that the visit by the APC governors forced the hand of the president who knew that he stood the chance of losing considerable goodwill by not visiting soon. The president’s special adviser on public affairs, Doyin Okupe, however dismissed that notion, saying the president had scheduled his visit long ago, and the APC governors only undertook theirs first to pre-empt him.
Whatever the real reason, President Jonathan finally arrived Maiduguri today, and travelled via helicopter to Damaturu, the capital of Yobe. He is expected to return to Maiduguri on Thursday evening, pass the night there and leave on Friday.
Tight security measures were put in place for the president’s visit with the chief of defence staff and the inspector general of police both in charge of handling security. Soldiers were stationed along the roads. In Borno, the government has declared Friday as a public holiday.
In Yobe, during a meeting with politicians and other dignitaries, the president ruled out the possibility of offering amnesty to the Boko Haram extremists for now. He said, while it may be possible sometime in the future, it could not happen now because “you cannot declare amnesty for ghosts.”
He said that as long as the identities of leaders and members of the sect remain hidden, discussions with them was impossible.
In his remarks at the event which was broadcast live on national TV, Jonathan drew a distinction between the militants of the Niger Delta and the extremists of Boko Haram, saying: “In the Niger Delta, if you call them, they come and they will tell you their grievances. But Boko Haram, I don’t see anybody who says they are Boko Haram.”
The president’s statement seems to imply that he has no faith in the supposed representatives of Boko Haram who came out recently to declare that after their negotiations with the government of Borno, they were ready for a cease fire. It should be pointed out that a video released this week of the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, dismissed the claims that he was ready to embrace peace.
Jonathan earlier in the day held talks with Yobe governor Ibrahim Geidam.