By Aminu Abubakar (AFP) – May 11, 2011
KANO, Nigeria — The governor-elect of a Nigerian state said Wednesday he would push for an amnesty deal with an Islamist sect blamed for scores of attacks in a bid to end unrest in the country's northeast.
The sect known as Boko Haram, which has pushed for the creation of an Islamic state, has been blamed for shootings of police and community leaders, poll-related bomb blasts, and raids on churches, police stations and a prison.
It also launched an uprising in 2009 put down by a brutal military assault that left hundreds dead.
"They have taken up arms against the state and they are blamed for a series of killings which are treasonable offences," Kashim Shettima, elected governor of Borno state last month and due to take office May 29, told AFP.
"But my government will offer them amnesty as long as they lay down their arms and embrace peace."
A man claiming to be a sect spokesman has however ruled out an amnesty deal.
Most of the attacks have occurred in the Borno state capital Maiduguri, where the sect's mosque and headquarters were located before being destroyed by the military in the 2009 uprising.
Among the killings the sect claimed responsibility for the January assassination of the governorship candidate from the All Nigeria Peoples Party, which controls Borno state. Shettima replaced him as candidate following the killing.
Shettima and police have said they believe some of the recent killings blamed on the sect may have been politically motivated.
He told AFP that violence linked to Boko Haram could only be solved through political means and not with the use of force.
"The members of this radical sect are our sons," he said.
"We will therefore invite them to a negotiating table as soon as we are in office to find out from them what their problems are and find solutions to them."
Shettima, currently finance commissioner in the state, said he would like to emulate aspects of the amnesty programme offered to militants in the country's oil-producing Niger Delta region.
The 2009 amnesty in the Niger Delta, which includes stipends and job training, has been credited with bringing a sharp decline in unrest, though sporadic violence still occurs.
Some analysts say underlying issues such as poverty and unemployment that have yet to be addressed will eventually lead to a new crop of militants.
Many of the same issues are believed to have led to the growth of the Islamist sect in the north.
"The two groups might be different in many respects, but the same strategy could be applied in both cases," Shettima said.
But someone claiming to be a sect spokesman, identifying himself as Abu Darda on the Hausa-language service of the BBC, ruled out an amnesty.
"We don't need amnesty from anybody. We are fighting for the enthronement of an Islamic State. We have gone beyond the stage of dialogue and negotiation with government," he said.
"We have one condition: abolition of the secular constitution and its replacement with Islamic sharia law for us to lay down our arms."
Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation with some 150 million people, has a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.
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