Areas in the West African state of Nigeria where violence has flared again. Dozens have been killed in sectional strife., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Boko Haram: Jonathan at crossroads
APRIL 24, 2013 · in VIEWPOINT
DATELINE : MAIDUGURI, MARCH 8, 2013. It was the second day of his two-day visit to Yobe and Borno states, the hotbed of Boko Haram insurgency in the country’s Northeast zone. President Goodluck Jonathan had, at a Town Hall meeting in Maiduguri, countered the elders gathered at the parley who were demanding the withdrawal of the military task force from the zone and amnesty for the Boko Haram insurgents.
Jonathan had dared the elders to sign an undertaking guaranteeing the peace, and be ready to be held liable should just one person be killed thereafter, following which he would be willing to withdraw the soldiers, with immediate effect. There were no takers from the apparently stunned gathering. This was not Jonathan, The Meek !
President Jonathan, at the Maiduguri encounter, had played the gung-ho Commander-in-Chief thundering that people in any trouble spot in the country who kill a soldier must be ready to face the consequences of their temerity. He had virtually dismissed the Northeast elders’ charge of indiscriminate killings and arrests against the military in reprisal attacks, especially in situations where soldiers were killed by insurgents.
The President had declared : “I don’t want to hear that one soldier is killed in Borno State or any part of this country. I cannot preside over this country as a president and my security officers are killed… I will not want to hear that one of them is killed … We will not, and I repeat, will not accommodate it”. Then his clincher : If the elders of Borno will not condemn it (Boko Haram insurgency), they will continue to suffer under the terror of Boko Haram.
It was an uncharacteristic BRAVE talk for President Jonathan and those with law and order bent had whooped that, perhaps, Mr. President was ready to draw a line in the sand, which people cross at their own peril. But, it was not to be as what followed the BRAVE talk was capitulation. Talk, somebody said, is cheap.
For while President Jonathan came out smoking and combative in Maiduguri, the aggrieved Northern elite simply beat a sulking retreat only to play their ace card in a counter offensive - enter the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence Sa’ad Abubakar , leading the Northern elite’s posse in formally demanding amnesty for the Boko Haram members. An outflanked, flustered Jonathan kow-towed to the demand by precipitately announcing the setting up of a formal committee to consider the amnesty option for Boko Haram. With the Sultan lending the prestige of his office, the call for amnesty for Boko Haram became a stampede, with the high and mighty scrambling to be on the bandwagon.
Some of the latest to lap on the coat-tails of the Sultan are former military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, Turai Yar’Adua, wife of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua; General Muhammadu Buhari; Jagaban Bola Ahmed Tinubu and yesterday’s critic, the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyekan. Perhaps, the Cardinal had a mellowing road conversion – a la Saul/Paul.
Premising his position on the Sultan’s amnesty call, the Cardinal, as reported in THE NATION newspaper of April 3, 2013, had noted : “The call for amnesty would seem to me quite appropriate and even necessary. I see the call of the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar as an invitation …to sharpen the focus of government action in this matter … we should thank the Sultan and his courageous proposal”.
Thank ? Then the Cardinal went into ecclesiastical acrobatics, perhaps remembering that many of the killed and maimed were members of his Christian constituency, and declared : ” How does the state forgive murderers ? How can the government grant amnesty to people who have killed innocent citizens, some in their places of worship ?”. So, where really does Cardinal Onaiyekan stand? Or was he talking in tongues ? He cannot straddle the two divides.
The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, also weighed in on the side of amnesty for the Boko Haram. Information Minister, Labaran Maku, on April 2, 2013, in response to the clamour for amnesty for the Boko Haram had declared : “Right now, the condition for amnesty is not there”. Poor Labaran, barely five days later, an overwhelmed President Jonathan announced the setting up of a committee on amnesty for the Boko Haram.
Of course, several groups have opposed amnesty for the Boko Haram sect, including the Northern Christians Forum, a Northern activist Shehu Sani, ex- militants in the Niger Delta and notably the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN , Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor who, on April 6, 2013, described any planned amnesty for the Boko Haram sect as an act of wickedness by the Federal Government considering the havoc the sect had wrought .
Between the two strongly held positions, for and against amnesty for the Boko Haram sect, President Jonathan stands at the crossroads - which turn will he take, eventually ?
Secondly, compensation demand for hundreds of Boko Haram victims, in cash and kind, poses another crossroads for which we await Jonathan’s turn.
Yet another crossroads for Jonathan is taking a definitive stand on which road to travel to restore law and order -appeasement or law enforcement. His fire-spitting speech in Maiduguri supports force to suppress violent insurgents, while his earlier condemnation of use of force by President Olusegun Obasanjo in Odi indicates accommodation with insurgents. A flip-flop approach does not earn respect.
In 1988, as a Washington-based foreign correspondent, I was witness to how presidential front runner, Gov. Michael Dukakus, lost the U.S. presidential election to George Bush (Senior) just on the single issue that he was soft on crime for granting amnesty to a serial rapist, Willy Horton. Apologists are giving Jonathan the soft touch – that there cannot be a military solution.
But pray, was it not the military’s relentless pummeling, exemplified in the over-run of Gbaramatu in Delta State in hot pursuit of warlord, Tompolo and the wipe-out of Ateke Tom’s camp in Rivers State that persuaded the militants and leaders of the Niger Delta to seek amnesty?
However, in an ironic twist, while the Northern elite were demanding a halt to the military’s pursuit of the sect, they have become pursued by the sect, and are apparently succumbing to the mortal fear of Boko Haram as the insurgents, for whatever reasons, unleash terror on the “untouchables”.
Dr. BISI OLAWUNMI, a lecturer, wrote from Bowen University, Owo.