Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Boko Haram Amnesty: The Limits Of Appeasement
Map of area where people are being kidnapped in Nigeria.
Written by Armsfree Ajanaku
Nigerian Guardian

PERPHAPS tired of the repeated characterisation of his Presidency as the impotent institution that has been unable to stem the tide of violence threatening to consume the very existence of Nigeria, President Jonathan recently brandished the amnesty carrot to members of the Boko Haram sect. The explanation was that sect members willing to lay down their arms, would be see their heinous crimes, including mass murders and criminal attacks on state and private property, summarily forgiven, just as they would be integrated back into society.

  There is nothing new about this approach; the only dismal reality being that the last time government offered this olive branch, the terrorists spat in its face, and even went further to humiliate the whole of Nigeria by declaring that it was Boko Haram that should rather be granting the government amnesty. It would seem the authorities are yet to learn from that volte-face by the group precipitated by the last amnesty offer.

  Rather than provide a platform for discussions that would lead to a peaceful resolution of the conflict, the offer provided an opportunity for the brigands to rub salt into the nation’s wounds with the mind boggling assertion that it was Boko Haram that was better placed morally, and otherwise to grant the government amnesty. With that exchange alone, the terrorists showed they are capable of taking the initiative, and even turning the tables against government in the information turf of the war.

  There were security experts who worried that rhetorical victories such as the sect clinched when the government made the amnesty offer could bolster the propaganda and recruitment drive of the terrorists. These worries were founded on the notion that statements that present the terrorists as invincible would continue to attract to them impressionable young men, whom would be further used as canon fodder in its violent campaign of hate. Continued talks of amnesty are sure to win more recruits for the extremists because such talks reinforce the notion that government is weak and incapable of defeating the terrorists. The eagerness with which government is begging these bloodthirsty hounds to come to the negotiating table is to say the least most embarrassing to the country.

  This same amnesty offer was on the table when the Kabiru Turaki led Federal Government Committee went round the North East and attempted to woe the terrorists with government’s designs for peace and cessation of hostilities. Detained relatives of many of the Boko Haram terrorists were even released in some cases to placate the terrorists and bring them to the negotiating table. All of those efforts ended up being exertions in futility as the bloodthirsty vandals continued with their savagery. They have continued to spill the blood of innocent citizens, resulting in a situation where Nigerians now have to look perpetually over their shoulders whenever they are in any public place. The World Cup, a powerful instrument of Nigerian unity and a football carnival, which ordinarily provides some relief from the lacerating exigencies of being Nigerian, can no longer be enjoyed by the ordinary people in those crowded viewing centres, all because of the fear of Boko Haram.

   And true to its threat to its threat to ensure that the blood of mostly innocent Nigerians would be flowing daily in the land, the blood thirsty operatives of the sect have stepped up their killings, ensuring in the process that Nigerians now have to constantly look over the shoulders wherever they are. A country which was once so peaceful and contended in spite of its many challenges is now a theatre of the bloody absurd, where life, limb and property no longer have any meaning whatsoever to these blood sucking monsters. Things have become so terrible that Nigeria, which deployed its manpower and resources to help restore law and other in many parts of the West African sub region in the 1990s and early 2000s, is now cowering in the face of this criminal challenge to the authority of the State.  

  At the heart of the matter is the apparent weakness of the Nigerian State and its inability to evolve and reinvent itself in order to cope with this latest threat to its existence. Although the Nigerian state has over time demonstrated its capacity to unleash brute force, even during moments that require meticulous and cerebral forms of intervention, it nonetheless back tracks in the face of more serious challenges. This is one of the symptoms of a wobbly entity, which is in dire need of an overhaul.

  This inherent instability has largely been accentuated by the multipolar expressions of discontent among Nigeria’s many ethnic groups. Consequently, what a dissatisfied ethnic or sectarian bloc needs to do is to tug at the system and cause some disruption, and the ill prepared, largely incompetent centre would suddenly be on the back foot, willing to hold on to any straw in order to douse the fire. Since the advent of the country’s democratic dispensation in 1999, sustained cries of marginalisation have been followed by a violent challenge of state authority. This is the precedence from which the Boko Haram hounds have taken their cue, and with its amnesty talk, the government has continued to play into the hands of the terrorists.

  Comparisons have been made between the proposed amnesty for Boko Haram and what was packaged for the militants in the Niger Delta. The challenge of state authority by the Niger Delta militants was based on legitimate claims of exclusion, exploitation and marginalization. The central theme of the Niger Delta struggle including the insurrection that later followed can be encapsulated in the quest for resource control. When the state refused to listen, the militants then sought to force the hand of history by attacking the oil industry, the apple of the state’s eye.

   All the militants needed to do was to deal a severe blow to the very heart of the oil economy, and the state was beaten. It pacified the warlords, by packaging an amnesty programme that discounted and erased all the crimes they had committed. The state even went on to reward those who had mounted a sustained challenge against it with the aim of bleeding it to death. The facts on the ground suggest that equating the experience in the Niger Delta and what is currently happening in the north cannot be tenable. Boko Haram may have been caused by irresponsible governance, poverty and marginalization, but the reaction of its arrow heads have not focused on these issues. What the Boko Haram information machine has tended to do is to come up with a mystifying religious narrative that has further muddied the waters. Also, the Niger Delta amnesty and the Boko Haram reality could be differentiated by the political firmament, as well as the attitudes of key actors and opinion leaders to the question of how to solve the crisis. Although the amnesty to the lords of the creeks also amounted to a reward for violent agitation and impunity, there is no doubt that there was a historical trajectory to the agitations, spanning over five decades. In the case of the Niger Delta, the militants could be reasonably described as off springs of the revolutionary firmament that enveloped the region right from the 1960s in reaction to the envisaged neglect and actual domination of the region, made up of minority groups by the majority ethnic groups.

  These irritations could be seen in the historic declaration of the seven day republic by Isaac Adaka Boro, the agitations for self determination by the Ogoni people, which culminated in the Ogoni Bill of Rights, and the brutal killing of Ken Saro Wiwa, as well as the Kaiama Declaration, wherein impatient young Turks from the Niger Delta decided to use “whatever means necessary” to reverse the neglect of their regions. As such, there were well documented and articulated demands that focused on the material conditions of the people, which served as a basis for the insurrection against the state, when it turned deaf ears to the reasonable demands of the people of the region.

  It is in this regard that the militancy in the Niger Delta has been referred to as a historic reaction of violence, after years of nonviolent agitations had been either ignored or suppressed by a state that lacks the mechanism for feedback. The militants did not go about bombing churches, mosques, bus parks or beer parlours, the way the Boko Haram terrorists have been doing. In the Niger Delta, it must be conceded that at some point, criminal elements hijacked the genuine agitations and caused many innocent people to lose their lives. But the real agitators did not adopt the strategy of mass killing of non combatants and innocent Nigerians, the way Boko Haram has been doing.

  Moreover, the declaration of amnesty for militants of the Niger Delta was only made, after a comprehensive legwork by leaders and key figures in the region, to reach out to the militants. Stories abound of how eminent Nigerians had to spend long hours in the creeks, persuading the warlords to give peace a chance. In the case of the north, all there has been is a long scene of finger pointing, wherein elites of the region blame government for not tackling the crisis. Beyond engaging so adeptly in this blame game, northern leaders have not provided real initiative that could get all parties involved to travel on the road to peace. All of these conditions are not present with respect to amnesty of Boko Haram.

  Since the sect has repeatedly shoved government’s overtures for peace in its face, the only alternative left is for the government to get its strategy right in the battlefield, such that the terrorists will feel the heat and then be the ones to call for negotiations. In this regard, government must fish out the sponsors and other financiers of the sect, and expose them. On the battlefield, there must be a boost in the morale of the gallant men of our armed forces who are risking their lives to battle the insurgents. The vibrations coming from the field in recent times have not been encouraging. Elements within the armed forces that have been aiding and abetting the enemy must be smoked out and dealt with. Since the abduction of the Chibok Girls, that is an outpouring of international goodwill and support, which Nigeria must leverage on now to defeat these agents of destruction.

  Intelligence gathering, boosting troop morale and building confidence and trust in communities of operations are some of the ways in which the Nigerian military can begin to restrategise to win this war. The war against Boko Haram is a fight between the people of Nigeria, and unrepentant insurgents and their sponsors. Amnesty is not the answer, especially when the enemy has made it clear that inflicting sorrows on Nigerians is its mission statement. The government should smell the coffee and begin to work for victory against this rag tag army of criminals at the war front. If the terrorists feel the heat of battle, they will be the ones to beg for amnesty.

No comments: