Mitee: govt should come out clearly on amnesty for Boko Haram
Ledum Mitee was chairman of the Technical Committee on Niger Delta, which proposed amnesty for Niger Delta militants. He spoke with KELVIN EBIRI on the need for a discourse to understand what Boko Haram is all about before any amnesty is proposed?
The Defence headquarters has indicated government might grant amnesty to repentant Boko Haram members; what’s your take on this development?
I have not heard of any government statement indicating an amnesty offer has been given to the Boko Haram sect. Amnesty, in my view, presupposes ‘I’m not going to punish you for the crimes that you have committed’ — the sort of thing offered in case of the Niger Delta militants. I think there is need for government to come out clearly with a policy, whether it is offering militants or Boko Haram terrorists’ amnesty.
However, I do not think the situation is completely the same compared with what we had in the case of Niger Delta militants, because the news, as at now, is quite sketchy. I do not know what the details are. But first and foremost, does it mean that who just comes to say I killed, I bombed and all that is granted amnesty? Is that enough to say I am not going to prosecute you? Admission of crime, does it, on its own now, mean that you are absolved from that crime? I do not know. So, there needs to be formal declaration of some sort of amnesty, which can now be said to have concretised into the situation that you will not be punished.
Are there instances around the world when a State has offered amnesty to terrorist groups?
I do not know of any one, but that is not to say that if somebody says I have completely repented and you are sure that the issues that led him or her in the first place have been removed, you cannot offer the person amnesty, nothing wrong with that. But my worry in this case is, in the world over, there is something called DDR, which is when you demobilise a people, you commission and then you rehabilitate.
I do not know whether it is just enough to say I will put you in a camp, and then teach you, maybe a trade. I had my concerns, even when it came to the Niger Delta issue. I think Nigeria ought to learn from the mistakes that happened. Some fundamental questions were not asked, such as, who were the ex-militants? So, in this case, who is a Boko Haram member? Is it any person that comes to say ‘I’m a former Boko Haram; I don’t want to do it again,’ you then put the person in a camp and train?
There were common criminals that ended up being given amnesty in the case of the Niger Delta. If someone committed rape, and the person went to the camp, he became a militant for the purposes of amnesty. My classic case is from what I saw in those days. Armed robbers robbed me on my way from Akwa Ibom. Somehow, I recognised distinctive mark in the face of one those who robbed us, because they put up a roadblock.
By the time we asked questions based on my description, we identified that individual, and when we took security to arrest him, the man was already in one camp, and they said he could not be touched, because he was now on amnesty. That was how they exonerated him from the crime he committed. And I had my concern over that sort of situation. Fortunately, it didn’t take two years after that he was involved in another criminal activity, and in a shoot out with the police, he was killed.
Now, when you look at this sort of situation, you need to ask who is a Boko Haram for the purposes of this? Is it everybody that turns up that is one? What of the arms? Have they asked if the guys in camp have been completely decommissioned? What about the guns they have? Are we sure that they have turned up all their arms? These are things that should be dealt with in some way. And the lesson is that, sometimes, you need religious leaders, community leaders and some interface and not just the security people.
People need to know what they (terrorists) have and that they have put what they have beyond their own use. So, these are best practices in the world, which were not followed, and it seemed to me from the sketchy news that I got that we are almost making the same mistakes we did in the situation of the Niger Delta, which, in my view, could only transform the problem into another. I am one of those who still see some nexuses between the faulty amnesty and some of the things we call illegal refinery and some other related crimes in the Niger Delta.
I think we need to be very careful, especially, when we are dealing with a terrorist’ group that has links with other international terrorists all over the place. How do you know those links have been broken? What is it in the first place that pushed them into terrorism? What is it that they are agitating for? I have not been able to know. Is it to Islamise all of us? Is it to takeover the country? Is it to have their own version of ISIS, to have their own Islamic Republic as part of Nigeria?
We need to get to the bottom of all these, because it is not as easy to say we have some people out there who needed amnesty. There are people, who might feel that since they are not working, and some people are going to be trained in the camp, they will just turn up to say they are members of Boko Haram. It happened in the case of one of my friends, who were running a hotel, and he had someone whom he was paying N15,000 per month. And when they were taking militants for amnesty, he saw the person on the queue on television as a repentant militant. He called the man to say you have not come to work for a while now, the guy responded that in the amnesty programme they were paid N60,000, so, why should he waste his time working in the hotel.
We need to be very careful before we take some steps, but that is not to say we should not respond when there are genuine cases of those who want to say they are no longer fighting. But we have to be very careful.
Some hardliners think terrorists should be crushed and not offered amnesty; do you support this view?
No. I don’t think so. You have to balance what I call the hard with soft power. Even when the Americans were fighting in Afghanistan, they were dropping bombs and dropping foods. So, you are trying to see that there are some people on the borderline, who you can easily coopt to your side. It is combination of both force and soft power that might come through some persuasion, some indoctrination and so I do not think completely that it is easy to crush Boko Haram as people say. Mind you, we are talking about a territory, where the national boundary is very fluid. They can go as far as Libya and come in. They can pass through all sorts of places quite unidentifiable from other people. It is like putting a rat poison in your house, most of the rats go to your neighbour’s place and comeback when the effect of the poison has diminished. When there is so much heat on them (terrorists), they can move to other countries and as soon as the heat evaporates, they come back and attack, especially, when they have links with international terrorists. So, it is not easy to crush them. I believe that the days of thinking of only hard power is gone and the world has realised that. There must be some way of coopting them, especially, through very good intelligence so that you can know what they are up to next.
Obviously, in the case of Niger Delta militants, the number of so-called ex-militants was over bloated for pecuniary reasons. How can the government ensure that only genuine insurgents are admitted into the camps?
That is the point I am making. Clearly, the hasty way this so-called amnesty is being carried out, the lack of information and lack of some discourse about the issues, give cause for concern. In the case of the Niger Delta, there was first a committee, which I headed, that analysed the situation. We met the militants, and talked with their leaders. We went to all the camps and engaged them and decided at the end of the day about certain things that should be done. We talked about amnesty not in the manner it was executed. We also thought that some of the soldiers also needed amnesty, because there were huge human rights violations committed by these soldiers. Bombs were dropped on villages and we thought they also needed some amnesty, because amnesty strictly, as I said, is that I am not going to prosecute for the crime you have committed.
In this sort of a situation also, there is need for discussion so that people can understand who a Boko Haram is. What is it that they want? What has made them to say they are no longer fighting? What is the information they have? How is it that they are not going to come back to terrorism? Are you going to put up a camp like Guantánamo Bay where they cannot move out or they will still meet their old friends? Will they not communicate with their former people? It is a very dicey situation, which I do not think we have had a good conversation to come to a decision on what to do.
It is a national issue that people should look at. Some people have blamed Boko Haram insurgency on poverty in that part of the world. Some say it is a matter of religion. I am one of those who have not bought the argument, because if you look at even the budgetary allocation, Borno State is not the least, they get far ahead of what maybe Sokoto gets. If it is the Muslim religion, I think Sokoto is the seat of the caliphate.
Even the Borno population, if you look at the stratification by religion, it is not overwhelmingly Muslim. So, you cannot say Borno is where poverty is prevalent when you compare them to, maybe some states in the Northwest, so, how come that this menace is prevalent in that part of the world? I think that has not been clearly analysed. Some people are quick to say there is poverty in that part of the world. Have you not seen poverty in other areas? The thing is not as easy as it is being presented yet from my own perspective.
How do we ensure this amnesty for Boko Haram is not riddled with corruption as alleged in the case of Niger Delta?
One of the things that you find in this country that, sometimes, is quite stunning, is, that in every crisis, people see it as a means of making money. The amnesty came and became a money making tool. Overnight, many people became experts in providing vocational training to militants. Some became contractors to go abroad to find where they would be trained and all sort of things were thrown up.
In a country that is not the best in accountability, that opened the floodgate for corruption and all that. You can also see that the Boko Haram thing also provides another problem that many people now see this is another area to make money.
Even people there in Borno State, for instance, feel this is an opportunity to get what the Niger Delta got and these underpinnings are also some attraction that could also bring corruption in this area. I think until we are able to deal with this thing with less of emotion and decide to say let us go and deal with issues, we will continue to have challenges.
What happens when their kingpins fail to embrace the offer?
That is even if we know the real kingpins, because everyday we hear they have caught a kingpin, I have never heard what follows. In dealing with terrorism, especially, the type we see in this place, every step has to be taken very carefully. So when you set up maybe a camp for instance, how do you determine that this person is a Boko Haram member? How do you determine that he has actually given up on what he was doing, cut the links with compatriots that they were fighting with yesterday? And how do you sustain the situation where they are, because out of frustration some people can go back to what they were doing.
So, in this sort of situation where none of the leaders have surrendered gives cause for concern. The linkages they have with international terrorism network makes this very dicey case that should be approached clearly. It is like you are dealing with a gang that is not just operating, but doing so, because somebody said, do it and that person might even not be in Nigeria and gives an order that they should hit and someone or somewhere is hit.
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