A Child of Controversy

President Jonathan
President Jonathan

Regardless of the controversy surrounding it, President Goodluck Jonathan inaugurates a committee on Boko Haram amnesty and one other

By Maureen Chigbo  |  May 6, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

AMIDST the controversy trailing the idea of granting amnesty to members of Boko Haram whose insurgence has claimed more than 3000 lives since it started in the North, President Goodluck Jonathan has inaugurated two committees that will help to douse tensions. On April 23, the eve of the committees’ inauguration and the day after, there were reported massacres in Borno and Yobe states in which hundreds of people were killed in the cross-firing between Boko Haram and members of the multinational Joint Task-force. The federal government is investigating the Borno massacre where about 185 persons died while official statistics put the number of the dead at 25. Twenty-five people also died in Yobe.

Taminu Turaki
Taminu Turaki

The committees inaugurated by Jonathan in Abuja, on Wednesday, April 24, were the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North (Amnesty committee) and the Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapon. The 26-member amnesty committee, chaired by Taminu Turaki, minister of special duties has, three months to complete its work while the committee on small arms is a standing one.

The terms of reference of the amnesty committee include developing a framework through which disarmament could take place within a 60-day time frame; developing a comprehensive victims’ support programme and developing mechanisms to address the underlying causes of insurgencies. Four of the members were absent at the inauguration including Shehu Sani, human rights activist and Datti Ahmed, who had earlier rejected their nominations as well as Ibrahim Tahir.

The inauguration of the committee which was greeted by another outbreak of violence in Yobe on Wednesday where many people were killed shows the enormity of the assignment the committee has on hand. Perhaps, this prompted the chairman of the committee to solicit prayers from Nigerians for the success of their assignment. Turaki said members of the committee were prepared “to bring our diverse experiences, our education, professionalism, tactics, skills and above all, our integrity to bear on the task given to us. We are not under any illusion that this will be an easy task, but we are resolute; we feel challenged by this enormous responsibility that has been given to us”. According to him, “Nigerians should show a lot of understanding and patience and pray so that we will succeed in carrying out this gigantic assignment.”

The success of the amnesty committee may be germane to ending the violence which has thrown a lot of families into mourning since the insurgence began in 2010, especially with the recent incident in Borno and Yobe. With this recent development, there is the fear that it might derail the proposed amnesty for member of the sect.

Not everybody will like to pray for the success of the amnesty committee. Among such groups are the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans, CANAM, and some US- based groups which are renewing the call for the US government to designate Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation, FTO. The US groups also reacted to a recent report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, USCIRF, that the Nigerian government has not been prosecuting perpetrators of religious violence and want the Commission “to make its concern concrete by including a recommendation to the US State Department to designate Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation”

Shehu Sani
Shehu Sani

According to a recent joint press release and petition issued in Washington DC, the groups want Senator John Kerry, the new US secretary of state, to designate Boko Haram as FTO. According to them, doing so, “is the most logical next step in view of the current situation in Nigeria and USCIRF’s advisory role to the US government. He should also recommend that US urge Nigeria to provide compensation and humanitarian assistance to victims instead of to perpetrators.”

Up till the end of last year, several US departments including the FBI, Justice Department and several US Congressmen had called for the designation of Boko Haram as an FTO. But the State Department which is empowered by the US government to make such a decision, has refused to do so. Instead, it designated only three leaders of the group as global terrorists. CANAM officials said their hope is that with the assumption of office of Kerry, the US government should update and review it’s policy decisions on the matter. Also, in the statement, the groups also objected to the inaccurate characterisation of religious violence in Nigeria, by a statutory commission recently.

According to the press release, CANAM and the other US groups including Justice for Jos, Jubilee Campaign, Institute for Religion and Democracy, Westminister Institute among others commend the statement of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, USCIRF, criticising the absence of meaningful prosecutions of Boko Haram member two years after. “We are concerned the dangerous moral equivalence expressed in a press release issued by USCIRF alleging “Ongoing attacks and retaliations by Muslims and Christians in Nigeria’s…Middle Belt.”

According to the US groups, “The data is clear that Christian villages have overwhelmingly been targets of multiple midnight massacres — 36 in 2012 alone — resulting in hundreds of deaths of Christians in the last couple of years. Blaming the victims, who by far come from the Christian community, is grossly unfair. “

Datti Ahmed
Datti Ahmed

The release explained that what has been deemed a reprisal attack by the Commission was an uncoordinated defensive action forced by the failure of the Nigerian government to provide security of lives and property of its citizens. Said the press statement: “The rare instances where villagers were able to engage in defensive action in a context of state security failure have been broadly termed “reprisal attacks” without acknowledging that Christians have exclusively been at the receiving end of systematic genocide in Plateau State of Nigeria.

According to the US group, the USCIRF has been rehashing Boko Haram’s unsupported claim that it attacks Christians in retaliation for attacks by Christians “but Boko Haram has unequivocally stated that its goal is to exterminate Christians in the north and impose Islamic rule in Nigeria. It has consistently bombed churches and killed Christians to this end, with occasional collateral damage to or targeted assassination of Muslim critics. “

CANAM and the other groups then added that the USCIRF moreover undercounted the number of churches attacked in 2012, even though available data shows that more Christians were killed in Nigeria in 2012 than were killed in the rest of the world. Calling the commission to be alive to its responsibility, the US said that “It is hoped that USCIRF which has generally fared better in fulfilling its statutory reporting requirements than the State Department is not regressing following last year’s reorganisation of the commission.”

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