Olalekan Adetayo, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday said his administration was open to continue talks with the Boko Haram sect provided they agree 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 the 21 abducted Chibok schoolgirls.
While urging it to sustain humanitarian interest in Nigeria, Buhari said he would continue talks with the Boko Haram insurgents if agencies like ICRC were involved.
“Our administration is prepared to continue talks with the Boko Haram insurgent group, as long as they agree to involve international agencies like 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% women and children. About 60% of the children don’t know their parents, or where they come from. It is weighing heavily on government,” the President said.
Buhari also said the rebuilding of destroyed infrastructure remained his government’s priority.
He noted that the G7 had also indicated support, which Nigeria heartily welcomed.
“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 crisis 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 also commended Nigeria for granting increased access to detainees, and exchanges with the Armed Forces.
“Detention facilities have improved, there are fewer deaths, and things are better health-wise,” he added.
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Olalekan Adetayo, Abuja