Nigerian Government, Boko Haram in Talks; Can Islamist Extremists Be Reasoned With?

The government of Nigeria has revealed that it has finally established contact with Islamist extremist group Boko Haram and hopes to start peace talks – although some members of the international community remain skeptical that the internal crisis can be resolved through talks.

"The Nigerian government has actually engaged in talks in the past. This is actually their third attempt on undertaking dialogue," a spokeswoman for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom said Tuesday in a phone interview with The Christian Post.

She noted that other talks in the past have not been fruitful. "We'll just wait to see if these talks lead to progress, we can't predict what's going to happen, but I think these talks are going to continue."

Boko Haram has been targeting Nigeria's Christians and attacking churches using guns and car bombs on almost a weekly basis for over a year, trying to force followers of Christ from the Northern provinces, where many Muslims reside. They have made it their specific mission to remove Christians by any means necessary and have stated their desire to establish Sharia law in the nation, subjecting all Nigerians to Islamic rule.

Statistics provided by Human Rights Watch reveal that the extremist group has killed more than 1,000 people since 2009.

The USCIRF spokeswoman believes the attacks on Christians in Nigeria will continue, and expressed skepticism that a peaceable solution could be found during talks with the terrorist group.

"I don't know if they can be resolved. From what I understand of Boko Haram, there is a real view that they believe government representatives are illegitimate – so I don't know how you can hold talks with people you do not respect – where that would lead to," she noted. "As for any negotiations, Boko Haram has called for Sharia law, and for a large part of the population, that is just untenable."

Nigeria's citizens have increasingly grown frustrated with the government's failure to offer any real resistance against the terrorist organization, but Voice of America shared that some "backroom channels" had opened up for negotiations with Boko Haram.

Presidential spokesperson Reuben Abati apparently confirmed the talks to state-house reporters, although details of what exactly is being discussed remain vague.

"We do not know who Boko Haram really is, but we have seen some statements in the media by Boko Haram indicating that they actually are not involved in any talks with the government," said Clement Nwankwo, the executive director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center in Abuja. "So it is still very unclear to us who is having the conversations with the government."

Nigeria remains divided on religious lines – about 40 percent of the citizens identify as Christian, while another 50 percent are Muslim.

"I think we will see what are the demands, if there are any leaks about what the demands are from Boko Haram – how secret they stay as well. I think it's really too soon to see what happens, but this is the third time this has happened, so we'll see if there's any further progress," the USCIRF spokeswoman added.

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