Boko Haram threatened Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan this week. Speaking in an audio message that was posted online, rebel leader Imam Abubakar Shekau said that he was willing to martyr himself to make Jonathan see.
If Jonathan does not repent as a Muslim, even if I die myself, Jonathan's going to see. He's looking at me like I'm nobody, but he'll see, Shekau said in the video.
Shekau also denied killing any civilians during last Friday's coordinated attacks in the city of Kano, in which 185 people were killed. Although he admitted to the attack, which targeted the city's police stations, the rebel leader blamed the civilian deaths on state security officers.
But, Shekau did admit to killing civilians in the past and noted that if attacks on Muslims in the south didn't stop, Boko Haram would soon be going after secondary schools and Universities.
We're killing police officers, we're killing soldiers and other government people who are fighting Allah and Christians who are killing Muslims and talking badly about our Islamic religion, Shekau said. I am not against anyone, but if Allah asks me to kill someone, I will kill him and I will enjoy killing him like I am killing a chicken.
Jonathan said on Thursday that he is prepared to negotiate with Boko Haram, a notable change in his strategy that generally involves sending a mix of police and military troops into the north to do battle with rebels. The president acknowledged that military confrontation alone will not eliminate terror attacks, and added that nothing would change until Boko Haram members identified themselves and their demands.
If they clearly identify themselves now and say this is the reason why [they] are resisting, this is the reason why [they] are confronting government or this is the reason why [they] destroy some innocent people and their properties ... then there will be a basis for dialogue, Jonathan told Reuters.
We will dialogue, let us know your problems and we will solve your problem but if they don't identify themselves, who will you dialogue with?
A Nation Divided
The Boko Haram group killed more than 500 people last year, and, with its tactics evolving, it has already killed another 250 in the first three weeks of this year.
The name Boko Haram means Western education is a sin in the Hausa language, and the group, which was officially listed as a terrorist organization by the United Nations on Friday, aims to turn Nigeria into an Islamic state.
Nigeria is even split geographically and religiously, with about 75 million Muslims in the impoverished north and 75 million Christians in the oil-rich south. This divide has fueled Boko Haram's fiery campaign. While 12 Nigerian states are already under sharia law, Boko Haram's attacks are primarily restricted to these regions, where they have targeted police stations, government buildings and churches in an attempt to destabilize the government and expel their religious rivals.
This divide is also one reason why Jonathan fired Inspector-General Hafiz Ringim, Nigeria's top police commander, and replaced him with Assistant Inspector General Mohammed Abubakar, a Muslim from Bauchi State. The move shows that Jonathan is ready to work with Muslims and make his cabinet more diverse, and also puts someone with regional experience at the head of his Joint Task Force.
His first day on the job, Abubakar pledged to combat the rebels with full earnestness.
“We shall fight crime and criminality in all ramifications -- whatever name you give it whether Boko Haram or armed robbery,” the new Inspector General stated.
“We shall go to every nook and cranny of this country to fish out these criminals that have been troubling this country; they will not sleep as we will continue to pursue them.”
Abubakar also vowed to stamp out corruption, a important battleground in the war against Boko Haram. Because the north generally feels disenfranchised by the government and by Jonathan, a southern Christian, Boko Haram is believed to have some popular support, as well as alliances with some politicians -- indeed, the governor of the state where Abubakar used to serve has been charged with funding the insurgency.
For this reason, Jonathan says that Boko Haram operate without a face, they operate without a clear identity, and why they are a much different, and more serious, threat than the militant Niger Delta separatist groups.
Muslim leaders have shown their support for Jonathan and are encouraging not only dialog between Boko Haram and the government, but a greater dialog between the country's Christians and Muslims. Similar to Jonathan's comments, religious leaders have called for Nigerian citizens to come out from under the shadows of Boko Haram.
I encourage Nigerians to work with government because when we work together collectively, we will get over it. The terrorists are human beings, they are not spirits, they live with us, they dine with us. We know them, people know them, said Nigeria's Islamic spiritual leader, the Sultan of Sokoto, after a meeting with Jonathan earlier this month.
This terror attack is new to us but I can assure you that we are doing our best to make sure that we get over it.