Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Of Dialogue, Amnesty For Boko Haram

Photo of what the Nigerian state said were suspected Boko Haram

Written by Gregory Austin Nwakunor
Nigerian Guardian

IT may not be the last laugh, but the Jamatul Ahlul Sunnah Liddaawati Wal Jihad aka Boko Haram sect is surely laughing out loud. Though, in the past few months, the group has been flayed with a series of expletives over its continuous killings and misery callously distributed to innocent souls, it has remained resolute in its quest to redraw the landscape of the country at all cost.

   In the last two years, the group has made Nigeria to become Africa’s newest battlefield, with arms, assegai and bombs being deployed at reckless abandon. So determined has the group been in its roughening of the country’s military, that the pride of the once famed force has become tainted.

   In his May 29, 2014 national broadcast, President Goodluck Jonathan announced that the government was ready to pardon members of the group, who lay down their arms. He has gone further to set up a committee that would steer the process and articulate programme designed at drawing a framework for the process.

   Prior to the broadcast, Jonathan had affirmed the belief of his administration in the rights of Nigerians to discuss how they will continue to live in peace and unity. He admitted that there have been discussions within his government on how to create an acceptable and workable platform for a dialogue with Boko Haram that will reinforce the ties that bind the country’s peoples and ensure that Nigeria’s immense population continues to be a source of strength and greatness.

   The Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Saad Abubakar (III), at the central council meeting of the Jamaatul Nasril Islam (JNI), in Kaduna, in March 2013, had called for an amnesty to be granted to the group.

   Though a clutch of disgruntled profiteers, politicians and tribal men have rallied behind Jonathan on the decision, many others are still wary of what the likely effect would be, especially, if amnesty offers a straight choice between terror and peace. They question the rationale behind such a decision, considering that the sect took up arms against their fatherland, not only that, they have not come out to say what their grouse was, so, why think of forgiveness of sins.

   Also among their greatest worries is its capability of resolving the condition that led to the conflict. Will the amnesty bring long-term peace or it is just a break or respite? Can amnesty recreate sociological conditions for members of the group to live normal lives? Should it be modelled after that of Niger Delta, which many argue has only succeeded in throwing up new sets of militants? Or should a new model be evolved? If a new model is accepted, will it not further empower profiteers, who see the practice as a project, and as such are driven by the profit and commerce of amnesty?

    The general feeling is that amnesty should not be seen as a project aimed at temporarily buying time. Leading the charge against the move to declare amnesty to members of the group is the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). The Christian body, while expressing regrets over President Jonathan’s turn-around on no amnesty for Boko Haram members, stated that the modalities for amnesty should be wide-ranging, to include those clamouring for it leading the dialogue in fishing out those behind the several violent acts in the country.

     In a similar vein, the pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, described the amnesty plan as unfortunate and a surrender to brigandage and madness. The group observed that the sect is evil and members should be identified and severely dealt with according to the laws of the land.

   Those arguing this view believe that you don’t give amnesty to people you don’t know. If those people who are calling for the amnesty know these people called Boko Haram, and they are seeking peace, let them come out and say why they are killing people; especially innocent people.

    They also point to the fact that the leaders of the sect had rejected the idea of negotiations and the amnesty itself in the past. The President had, in 2011, set up the Ambassador Galtimari committee to propose solutions to the menace and even gave the committee two weeks to submit its report as a show of ‘seriousness’ on his part. In the report submitted to President Jonathan, the committee recommended dialogue and amnesty for Boko Haram.

   Nigerians like the idea of peace, but hate the thought of insurgent groups escaping punishment as part of a settlement. This suggests why many raised eyebrow when they thought the idea of exchanging the captured girls from Chibok with members of this group. Now that the Federal Government is mulling the amnesty option, the window of opportunity for surrendering of arms, should not be for too long a time because anyone who genuinely wants to surrender does not need a long period to do so.

   Talks, and eventual amnesty, are essential for permanent peace. The situation this time around is propitious for more talk and eventual amnesty. The cost of victory far outweighs that expended on war. For the people canvassing this view, military option is not the solution to insurgence. The option is negotiation and dialogue through an unconditional amnesty offer. The use of force has only worsened matters, as there has only been an upsurge of Boko Haram attacks on daily basis.

   Even if the past attempt had been aborted, as it is assumed in several quarters, because instead of implementing the report and possibly saving the several lives that were lost afterwards, the president kept that report for almost a year after which he set up the Boko Haram committee to look at the recommendations of the Galtimari report and issue a ‘white paper’.

   Nigerians cannot wait too long for the war against terrorism in the country to be over. They are not even ready to know whether the country’s might was deflated. However, every of this unsettling feeling hold short-term assessment of what the country has become.

   The call for a dialogue revolves around the reality and issues in the country, and the means to forge ahead: how new ideals and principles towards living together can be worked out, and the need to accept the fact that there exists injustice, structural defects in the federation, which previous administrations have refused to acknowledge.

   No nation that can progress without peace and stability. The country needs peace and all hands must be on deck. Those who are aggrieved for one reason or the other should come forward and be able to resolve this crisis, such that the nation and its people can progress and develop rapidly.

   There are good reasons for backing the amnesty deal. First is to give succor to the ordinary people in the states where the activities of the sect are prevalent. People in the area have suffered grievously in the past two years. The insurgence has brought massive unemployment and fear in the country. There is mass hysteria in the air and many are catching on this to steal.

   For a genuine programme of amnesty, the onus is on the Federal Government to create the right atmosphere for the Boko Haram to come out. That the late YarAdua came out for talks created the right atmosphere for the Niger Delta militants. He even sent private jets to ferry Militant leaders such as Ateke Tom, Tompolo, Asari Dokubo to the Presidential Villa, Aso Rock, where the late president shook their hands and had dinner with them.

   But the group has to change. It has to cease hostilities, disavow violence and accept whatever agreement that does not humiliate government. And as early token of good faith, students of the Government Girl’s Secondary School, Chibok, still held captive should be released immediately. They should not be part of bargaining chip because in the first place, they are not war spoil.

   The right weapon to weed out this growing monstrosity is for government to offer amnesty and release some of their members, as they have always demanded, United States of America recently did this with Taliban in order to effect the release of one of its soldiers in Afghanistan.

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