Nigerian government welcomes Islamist ceasefire offer

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AFP) - Nigerian Vice-President Namadi Sambo said on Saturday that his government is ready to consider a ceasefire offer by the extremist Islamist group Boko Haram.

Mr Sambo, speaking during a visit to the northeastern city of Maiduguri - the Islamists' stronghold - said "we welcome the ceasefire offer announced recently by the Boko Haram group and we will do everything as a government to see that we achieve a lasting peace in Nigeria."

Since 2009, violence linked to Boko Haram's insurgency has claimed some 3,000 lives, including killings by the security forces. A recent ceasefire proposal, made by a man claiming to represent Boko Haram, received a lukewarm reception in Nigeria.

Although the army welcomed the offer by Sheikh Muhammed Abdulazeez Ibn Idriss, he may be an impostor, and violence has not ended since his announcement.

On Friday, the Nigerian army also declared that it had killed 17 Islamists in raids that destroyed two Boko Haram camps in the state of Borno, where Maiduguri is the capital.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has been criticised for not visiting Borno, one of the main targets of Boko Haram attacks, since he took office in May 2010.

Mr Sambo's stay is also the first official visit by a vice-president since the rebel group resumed its insurgency in 2009.

Nigeria is Africa's largest country with a population of more than 160 million. It is also the continent's top oil producer. The country is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.

Nigeria's riches are mainly concentrated in the southern Niger Delta, where the oil is produced, and in Lagos, the country's economic capital. The rise of Islamist extremism is widely blamed on poverty in the north.

Mr Sambo on Saturday said prospects for change were bright with the start of oil exploration in Borno.

"I am happy to inform you that three oil blocks have been identified and I believe that by the end of this year or first quarter of next year, there is going to be oil exploration in Borno."

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