Beyond the Amnesty Mantra

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Goodluck Jonathan
Goodluck Jonathan

Amnesty for Boko Haram has become a potent weapon in the hands of some politicians who want to use it to manoeuvre their way towards 2015

By Maureen Chigbo  |  Apr. 22, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

SINCE 2010, when Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, a.k.a Boko Haram sect burst violently into the consciousness of the nation, several attempts have been made to contain the militant group. But none of the attempts or ideas geared towards containing them has been so politicised as the call for amnesty. Prior to the amnesty rouse, other efforts to checkmate Boko Haram ranged from violent containment by the security forces, dialogue to diplomatic manoeuvre among the ruling elite.

Sa'ad Abubakar
Sa’ad Abubakar

For instance, under the government of President Goodluck Jonathan, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo went as an emissary to the family of Mohammed Yusuf, founder of the Boko Haram, who was slain in police custody under a controversial circumstance. Shortly, after Obasanjo left the enclave of the family, his host, an in-law to the founder of Boko Haram, was gunned down. The federal government, in its wisdom, has said severally that it would dialogue with Boko Haram if they could come out of hiding and cease fire. There were also attempts to negotiate a truce but the sect denounced the negotiators.

But the recent call for an amnesty to the sect, which has caused untold havoc to innocent victims has also provoked myriads of reactions depending on which side of the divide one is.  Some people are against it while others are for it. But the seemingly amenable disposition of the federal government to the amnesty deal after Jonathan said that it cannot grant amnesty to “Ghosts”, by setting up a committee to look into the matter has equally been politicised to an unimaginable height. Surprisingly, Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram Leader said April 11, worsen the controversy when he said that the sect was not seeking amnesty from the federal government. Instead, he  said that the federal government should be asking the sect to forgive it.

However, some politicians from the left have tied Jonathan’s recant on amnesty to the 2015 ambition of Jonathan to run for a second term. The politics of amnesty for Boko Haram was also stretched when the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, denounced the warning by security agencies that Boko Haram actually planned to attack Lagos. Lai Mohammed, spokesman for ACN, said that the Jonathan administration wants to set the West against the North in its ploy to rig election in 2015 and declare a state of emergency in some states.

In all the politicisation of amnesty for Boko Haram, not a single thought is being spared by some of the political gladiators on the fate of the innocent victims of Boko Haram, including hundreds of women and children who have been displaced. According to Amnesty International, more than 3000 people have died since the Boko Haram insurgence. But how did the country get to this sorry pass? Is the call for amnesty actually the solution to the Boko Haram impasse?.

Babaginda Aliyu, governor of Niger State thinks so. He was among the first champions of amnesty for Boko Haram. In his view, amnesty will solve the problem of Boko Haram. Before his call, some Northern leaders were purportedly nominated by the sect to negotiate with the federal government. The proposed talk collapsed because the nominated participants could not trust one another. Mohammadu Buhari, former head of state and presidential candidate of Congress for Progressive Change,  CPC, in 2011, was one of the people named to negotiate on behalf of the sect but he declined to participate.

Muazu Babangida Aliyu
Muazu Babangida Aliyu

The most recent effort to contain the sect and end the violence inflicted on the North and the citizenry, is the call for amnesty which was given impetus when Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto, endorsed it by asking Jonathan to grant the sect amnesty. The federal government may have had reason to initially remain mute on the matter. For one, the sect had unleashed a worst form of terrorism on the country. It all started with the bombing of the Police headquarters. The faceless group upped the ante when its members attacked the United Nations building in Abuja. Hitherto, their attack had been limited to security outfits especially the police. The sect, which abhors western education, had said that it wanted to avenge the death of its founder hence the attack on security forces. When their attack on UN building which claimed more than 30 lives and attracted international and national condemnation, did not shift the determination of the government to use force to exterminate the group, the sect embarked on wanton attacks on defenceless citizens in churches, market places and so on.

The worst of the attack happened on Christmas eve in 2011 when the sect pounced on worshippers at Saint Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla. Shortly after, they struck in Kano, where many people died. The most deadly and callous attack happened recently in a Motor Park in Kano, where passengers were mostly south bound. The unprovoked suicide bomb attack claimed more than 30 lives and damaged property including luxurious buses worth millions of Naira.

The attack came in the wake of the strident call for amnesty for the sect by every conceivable Northern leader including Garba Mohammed, president, Nigeria Union of Journalists, Turai Yar’ Adua, widow of late president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Buhari.

John Onaiyekan
John Onaiyekan

Other Nigerians with political ambition have since join the call for amnesty. They include Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State and leader of the ACN, the Northern Governors’ Forum, NGF, the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, the Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, ACN, Afenifere wants the federal government to grant amnesty to Boko Haram with conditions. Yinka Odumakin, national publicity secretary, Afenifere said: “It is a development that portrays our capacity to think through issues before we make public remarks. The President would have underscored a better mileage if he had acceded to that gesture when he visited Maiduguri and offered it conditionally for Boko Haram to come forward and lay down their arms. Also, Gani Adams, leader of the militant arm of OPC has okayed  amnesty for Boko Haram.

Some Christians have also joined the call for amnesty. Notably amongst them are Mathew Hassan Kukah, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, who think, that amnesty will bring a new dawn. Kukah brought the politics of the amnesty game to the fore when he said that those who have rejected amnesty have focussed more on how the issues are involved with the survivalist instinct of the president and his ruling party. Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, also lends his support saying that it is quite appropriate and even necessary.

However, the die hards against amnesty are of the view that it will set a bad precedent as there is no guarantee that the sect will sheath its sword. Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, son of late Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, founder of the Izala sect, has dismissed the amnesty call for Boko Haram by the Sultan as hypocritical, according to an Abuja-based Blueprint newspaper. Gumi said that Boko Haram is an ideology that respects no law, not even the Quaran or Hadith or scholarly fatwa. There is no basis for dialogue with its adherents, much less granting them any amnesty. It is a creed that must be crushed.

Ayo Orisejafor, president of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, and its youth wing in the North, also kicked against the amnesty deal for Boko Haram members. Some critics of the amnesty also describe it as blackkmail. Dimgba Igwe, a columnist with the Sun Newspaper, in his column entitled: The Boko Haram Amnesty Blackmail, said that he found Sultan’s call very intriguing. “You do not think twice when an issue is a matter of moral verity like a case of black and white with no gray areas involved.”

Ahmad Abubakar Gumi
Ahmad Abubakar Gumi

The Punch newspaper, in its editorial of Thursday, April 11, entitled the Implications of Amnesty for Boko Haram, thinks that the president is capitulating to terror by setting up an amnesty committee. It based its position on the fact that in the Nigerian context, “amnesty assumes a different meaning from what is generally known of being asked to renounce one’s wayward ways in order to be forgiven; it means showering criminals with public money. If amnesty for Boko Haram takes this tracjectory, as was the case with the equally condemnable amnesty granted to the Niger Delta militants by late president Umaru Yar’ adua, then it will be sending a powerful but wrong message to other criminal groups that they can take up arms against their country or unleash mayhem on any part of its territory, knowing fully well that their actions, instead of attracting condemnation and lawful retribution, will be rewarded with lots of money and lucrative contracts.

“That is in the long run, but in the short run, there is no guarantee that amnesty now will solve the current seemingly intractable security problem in the country, as proponents of amnesty would want everybody to believe.. Like every known terror group, Boko Haram, if granted amnesty and given money, will only use that opportunity and the resources to regroup and re-launch itself afresh. The Nigerian state must take a very clear position of zero tolerance for terrorism of any hue.”

Bola Tinubu
Bola Tinubu

Despite this, the fact remains that the federal government has set up an amnesty committee whose terms of reference are to consider the feasibility or otherwise of granting pardon to the Boko Haram adherents; collate clamours arising from different interest groups who want the federal government to administer clemency on members of the religious sect; and recommend modalities for the granting of the pardon, should such step become the logical one to take under the prevailing circumstance. .The committee is to submit its report in two weeks.

Also, Jonathan has been insisting that members of Boko Haram have to be unmasked. Going by the revelations of Aliyu Tishau, Boko Haram Kingpin, who disappeared after he was arrested by security agencies, “the truth is that politicians are the root cause of this Boko Haram problem. For instance, in Borno State, the governor sponsors a group of armed youths known as ECOMOG to serve as his body guards that transformed into Boko Haram. It is this that the governor looks after above the police, the State Security Service, SSS, and other agencies.

In Gombe State, the governor has the Kalari. I was once contacted by a governorship candidate to kill an opponent for a fee. The security agencies know what I am telling you. In Bauchi, there is the Tarafuka, an armed group sponsored by the government, and the government watches on, even when we have the SSS and the police. That is why our new leader Mallam Abubakar Shekau, is calling on the youths to disregard all governments in the country – a call that has brought him and the group into conflict with the government. Some politicians are now taking the advantage of the conflict between the Boko Haram leadership and the authorities to execute their own agenda.”

While the nation awaits the committee’s report, one thing is certain  –  the fate of the victims of Boko Haram must also be taken into consideration. As the Arewa Consultative Forum put it, the nation must “spare a thought for the victims of Boko Haram. They should be compensated.”

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