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Amnesty for Boko Haram

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The announcement the other day from the presidency that Boko Haram members willing to surrender their arms could be granted amnesty should be treated as a national security issue that should not be politicised.

President Muhammadu Buhari mulled the offer while receiving 105 Dapchi secondary schoolgirls and two Dapchi Primary School pupils earlier abducted by the insurgent group at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

The insurgents had invaded Government Girls Science and Technical College (GGSTC), Dapchi, Yobe State on February 19 and abducted 115 girls.
Specifically, while receiving the girls in Abuja two days after the deadly insurgents returned them, President Buhari said the Federal Government was ready to rehabilitate penitent members of the sect and reintegrate them into the society.

He said: “While further efforts are being made to secure the release of every abducted citizen in Nigeria, government is ever ready to accept the unconditional laying down of arms by any member of the Boko Haram group who show strong commitment in that regard…We are ready to rehabilitate and integrate such repentant members into the larger society…This country has suffered enough of hostility. Government is, therefore, appealing to all to embrace peace for the overall development of our people and the country.”

This offer is not a new deal by the government. On Thursday, April 7, 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan made what many saw as a policy somersault when he approved the setting up of a committee to consider proposals for granting amnesty to members of the Boko Haram sect to end its uprising that had then left thousands of people dead since 2009.

Almost all of the killings and maiming had occurred in the North, most especially in the North Eastern states. The then Jonathan government’s decision was announced after a meeting of the National Security and Defence Council in Abuja, which had in attendance the military Service Chiefs, Police Inspector General, National Security Adviser, Director General of the State Security Service, Police Affairs Minister, Minister of State for Defence as well as the President and Vice President.

The decision then was sequel to the then President’s meeting with the Northern Elders Forum, which had earlier submitted a memo, containing, among others, a suggestion on possible amnesty for the Boko Haram insurgents to the then President.

It is still germane to note that in the previous administration, the issue of amnesty for Boko Haram gained much traction then too when Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad added his voice to the clamour after a meeting of Northern Emirs in Kaduna within the same period. The Sultan spoke on the eve of President Jonathan’s trip to Borno and Yobe states. Community elders in both states added their voices to their clamour, which the president somehow rejected when he noted that government would not negotiate with ghosts.

That was the official line until Thursday, April 7, 2013 when the president set up the Amnesty Committee following pressure from the northern elite. The terms of reference had then shown that the matter was far from decided. The official also said, “It is a complex situation, but government had obligation to respect public opinion, especially with the increasing clamour for amnesty from various quarters.” 

As it was then, so it is today when most critics of the amnesty proposal for Boko Haram seem to be saying that amnesty should not be granted, for Boko Haram’s crimes are too many. However, proponents have even dangerously sought to draw a parallel between amnesty for Niger Delta militants and this proposal.

It must be noted that the amnesty granted to Niger Delta militants was borne out of a different paradigm. The Niger Delta militants began their agitation for attention to their area, easily Nigeria’s economic base. Theirs has been an agitation for a fair deal and special attention to development. But Boko Haram decided to wage a religious war against the people of Nigeria. Any comparison between the Niger Delta militant setting and Boko Haram’s is therefore misleading and fallacious.

Given Boko Haram’s quasi-religious outlook, the higher scale of its atrocities and its international connections, there have been reasons to doubt that it will easily forsake its philosophy, end its armed campaign and surrender its weapons.

But the government is very well advised to try this option and offer an amnesty for past crimes to all fighters who are ready to lay down their arms and embrace peace. In other words, this newspaper believes that if this option would lead to peace in the North East, it should be embraced without reference to the Niger Delta variant. Boko Haram insurgency that has been claiming lives and destroying property has led to more than a couple of millions of citizens being rendered homeless.

So, the president may wish to fast-track the process and move sincerely on this idea, in hopes and prayers that it could be the solution to a debilitating national tragedy. This stance should not be seen as defeatist or a sign of weakness. Despite all suggestions that there should be more strategic engagements, the federal government had surprisingly reduced the fight against terrorism to only military operations and failed to address the roots of the problem.

It is now apparent that despite repeated claims that the insurgency had been degraded and technically defeated, the Dapchi schoolgirls’ abduction has obviously put a lie to the claim. It is obvious that government, in calling for a comprehensive amnesty for the insurgents as the only means to end the insurgency, would seem to have accepted to widen the options. This should be supported with a caveat that the insurgents would renounce wickedness, surrender their arms and embrace re-orientation so that Nigeria can face other development efforts.

Meanwhile, this amnesty should not be given another meaning: Amnesty is amnesty. It is no more than an official pardon for people who have been guilty of offences against the state. Therefore, the gesture to the Boko Haram insurgents should not be twisted by any means to mean payments to them in any form. Nigeria has suffered enough in their hands.


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