LAGOS Nigeria is "at war" with Islamist sect Boko Haram and should not negotiate with its leaders who are "mass murderers", Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka said on Friday.
President Goodluck Jonathan said earlier this year his government was open to dialogue with the sect, whose insurgency has killed an estimated 2,800 people since 2009.
The sect is styled on the Afghan Taliban and while it usually targets security and government officials, it has also struck churches, mosques and universities, becoming the biggest security threat in Africa's top oil producer.
"Don't talk to mass murderers. You are not obliged to talk to those who made the killing of innocent people their philosophy," Soyinka told reporters at a conference in Lagos.
"This is a security issue. It becomes a question of who goes down: is it the community? Is it society? is it the nation? Or is it a bunch of killers who are totally beyond control?"
Soyinka, 78, who sports a distinctive white Afro hairstyle, is a playwright and one of Africa's leading intellectuals. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986.
He said the violence in the north of Nigeria was the fault of religious "extremists" who had "brainwashed" youths who were now out of control. He also blamed the government for "abysmal" leadership, which he said had left vulnerable youths in poverty.
A purported spokesman for Boko Haram told reporters in the sect's stronghold in Maiduguri, in the northeast, it would be willing to talk if its members were released from prison and other conditions were met.
But the sect's leader Abubakar Shekau has said he won't talk with the government, saying he wants to impose sharia, Islamic law, on the country of 160 million people, around half of whom are Christians and the other half Muslim.
Rights groups have said the military committed human rights violations during their campaign against Boko Haram, including executing unarmed people on the street and torturing suspects.
"The military has never had to cope with this kind of insurgency and so the military is making a lot of blunders," Soyinka said. "There have been incidents of the violation of fundamental human rights, absolutely."
"We are at war and a lot of horrible things happen."
Soyinka has been an outspoken critic of governments in Nigeria and elsewhere. He was arrested during Nigeria's civil war in 1967 and spent two years in solitary confinement.
(Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Andrew Osborn)