Maiduguri - The leader of Muslims on Friday announced plans to host a national day of prayer in the capital as part of an effort to overcome Boko Haram's brutal Islamist insurgency.
The Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar III, has invite prominent Muslim leaders to the National Mosque in Abuja on Sunday.
The "National Muslims Prayers for Peace and Security in Nigeria" aims to help the country in "overcoming the current security challenges facing the country" a statement printed in several national newspapers said.
The call follows an open letter to the Sultan written by Shehu Sani, a prominent northern rights activist and author who has been part of several past efforts to end Boko Haram's five-year deadly uprising through dialogue.
Sani said Nigeria's top cleric needed to do more to help secure the release of more than 200 schoolgirls held hostage by Boko Haram, whose mass April 14 abduction from a school in Chibok in the northeast has drawn worldwide condemnation.
"Religious clerics particularly in the north should move beyond prayers and independently move further to reach out to the insurgents and amicably retrieve these girls via means that will guarantee their safe return," Sani wrote this week.
"The Chibok girls have guns on their heads and chains on their hands and we have a dangling sword of posterity hanging over our heads," he added.
In an interview with AFP on Friday in Maiduguri, Boko Haram's historic stronghold, a senior security source said the silence of prominent Islamic leaders such as the Sultan had hindered Nigeria's counter-insurgency effort.
A "factor that that has hampered the defeat of Boko Haram is that the Muslim elite, particularly the religious and traditional figures, have not forged a common front to challenge the insurgents", he said.
"They have not spoken loud enough against Boko Haram," said the source, who agreed to an interview provided his name and title be withheld.
Bolder action required
The United Nations on Thursday imposed sanctions on Boko Haram, blacklisting it as an Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist organisation, following similar moves by Nigeria, the United States and Britain.
Boko Haram has made repeated threats against Nigeria's ancient Islamic monarchies, including the Sultan of Sokoto, the Emir of Kano and the Shehu of Borno, who is based in the insurgent's northeastern stronghold.
The Kano and Borno based clerics have both survived assassination attempts by the insurgents.
Boko Haram accuses these leaders of betraying Islam by submitting to the authority of Nigeria's secular government.
Some analysts as a result doubt how effective these Islamic monarchs can be in helping stem the violence which has already killed more than 2,000 people this year.
But the security source said bolder action by the Sultan and his allies "would have sent a clear message to Boko Haram that they don't represent Muslim interests".
"Had the Muslim clerics in the north been mobilised by the Sultan to challenge Boko Haram intellectually via a common platform, it would have exposed the emptiness and the folly of (the insurgents) deviant ideology," he added.
Boko Haram has said it is fighting to create a strict Islamic state in mainly Muslim northern Nigeria but the group's demands have shifted throughout the conflict.
Abubakar has called on all of Muslim governors, as well as Vice-President Namadi Sambo, clerics and traditional rulers to attend Sunday's event.