Nigeria's president, visiting the region at the heart of an Islamist insurgency for the first time since he was elected in 2011, yesterday rebuffed calls for an amnesty deal for the extremists.
President Goodluck Jonathan's visit came amid mounting political pressure for him to travel to the region and followed calls this week from Nigeria's top Islamic figure for an amnesty deal for insurgents.
Jonathan landed in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state and considered the home base of Islamist extremists Boko Haram. He travelled by helicopter to neighbouring Yobe state, also hit by repeated attacks.
Security was tight, with soldiers stationed along roads and movement restricted.
The president said he could not rule out an amnesty deal, but it was impossible to negotiate an agreement with Boko Haram because their identities and demands remained unclear.
"You cannot declare amnesty for ghosts," Jonathan told politicians and dignitaries in the Yobe capital Damaturu. Jonathan made reference to a 2009 amnesty deal for militants in the oil-producing Niger Delta region, where the president is from.
The deal has been credited with greatly reducing unrest in the Niger Delta, but criminality has since flourished, including the theft of crude oil on a massive scale, costing Nigeria an estimated US$6 billion per year.
"In the Niger Delta, if you call them, they come and they will tell you their grievances," he said. "But Boko Haram, I don't see anybody who says they are Boko Haram."
The visit came as Jonathan faces political pressure to visit the northeast, the target of scores of bombings and shootings blamed on Boko Haram. The military has been accused of major abuses in response to the insurgency.
It is also the region where seven members of a French family were believed to have been taken after their kidnapping on February 19 just over the border in Cameroon. Their whereabouts are unknown.
Boko Haram claims to be fighting for an Islamic state in Nigeria though its demands have repeatedly shifted.