Olalekan Adetayo and Hindi Livinus
President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday said his administration was open to continue talks with Boko Haram, provided the sect agreed to involve international agencies.
Buhari spoke while granting audience to the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mr. Peter Maurer, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The President commended the role played by the ICRC in the release of 21 of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls.
While urging it to sustain humanitarian interest in Nigeria, Buhari said he would only continue talks with the Boko Haram sect if agencies like the ICRC were involved.
“Our administration is prepared to continue talks with the Boko Haram insurgent group as long as it agrees to involve international agencies like the ICRC. We’ve seen the result of recent talks, 21 of the Chibok girls are back,” the President said.
Buhari said Nigeria’s biggest problem was perhaps the issue of Internally Displaced Persons, whose population he put at over two million.
“The IDPs are made up of over 60 per cent women and children. About 60 per cent of the children don’t know their parents, or where they come from. It is weighing heavily on the government,” the President said.
Buhari added that the rebuilding of destroyed infrastructure remained his government’s priority.
He noted that the G7 had also indicated readiness to support the government on this.
“We appreciate all your efforts. I am pleased that you recognised that our military is cooperating with civil authorities and respecting humanitarian issues. It is a difficult time for Nigeria.
“About 27 of our 36 states couldn’t pay salaries when we came last year, and we are still struggling with that. But we will get out of it,” the President said.
The ICRC president said his organisation’s operation in the Lake Chad region was the second largest in the world after Syria.
He added that there were nutritional, health, water and sanitation issues in the North-East in addition to rebuilding of infrastructure.
“We are ready to engage and play supportive role in responding to crises in Nigeria. Security is a lot better than it was a year ago, but humanitarian problems are serious and don’t disappear so quickly,” Maurer said.
The ICRC president commended Nigeria for granting increased access to detainees.
“Detention facilities have improved. There are fewer deaths and things are better health-wise,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Adamawa State Governor, Jibrilla Bindow, has commended Buhari for putting smiles on the faces of the parents of the rescued Chibok girls.
Bindow spoke in Yola on Monday through his deputy, Martins Babale, at a retreat for senior government officials.
The governor said a lot of Nigerians were delighted with the release of the 21 Chibok girls and steps being taken by the administration to have the others, who are still being held in captivity, released.
Bindow noted that Buhari had put smiles on the faces of Nigerians with the release of the schoolgirls, calling for prayers to make the freedom of the others possible.
“We want to also urge that prayers should be made for the President as well as the government so that it will continually put smiles on our faces,” he stated.
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