Is Amnesty the Panacea to the Insecurity, Terrorism & Boko Haram Crises in Nigeria?
Food for thought: While attempting to broker a deal with Napoleon, Pope Pius VII (1742-1823) said, ‘’we are prepared to go to the gates of hell- but no further’’.
In a country renowned for thunderous bandwagon sycophancy and where dissenting opinion or criticism is seen as ‘’Opposition’’, let me quickly point out that this treatise is apolitical and is devoid of tribal or religious inclination. It is out of profound Love for country, Patriotism and Passion that I undertook to invest my time in articulating these views. This is not aimed at traducing anybody, organization or section of the country.
Lately there have been so much brouhaha and well-orchestrated angling for Boko Haram to be granted an amnesty. The Sultan of Sokoto tested the waters and since then notable Nigerians mostly drawn from the north have also added their voice.
Rather than pestering the federal government to grant amnesty to impenitent Boko Haram members, let the Sultan and other prominent northern leaders persuade the leadership and members of Boko Haram to embrace peace, surrender their weapons and plead for clemency.
If Boko Haram wants amnesty, they must come out, show remorse and ask for pardon. They cannot get an amnesty by proxy. They must yearn for it and demonstrate it by ceasing wanton killings. It does not behove the government openly beseeching Boko Haram to negotiate or accept an amnesty. It portrays sheer helplessness and weakness. Boko Haram is playing a dangerous psychological war with the government. It will be very embarrassing to the Goodluck Jonathan government if Boko Haram snubs its overtures. I deduce they are lackadaisical over this amnesty thing, so why force it down their throat? It is a waste of time reciting poetry to somebody who does not appreciate poetry. It is human nature not to appreciate something one did not ask for or pay a price for. If the body language of the Presidency cum Political expediency/2015 election permutations is anything to go by, Aso Rock will sooner than later succumb to this wishy-washy exit strategy.
Let’s get something clear here. There is a parallel between the agitation of the Niger Delta militants and that of Boko Haram. The motive, ideology, philosophy and modus operandi of these two groups contrast. Niger Delta militants were fighting for equitable distribution of Oil Money and environmental protection of their communities while Boko Haram says they abhor Western education and that Nigeria must become a full-fledged Islamic country. The activities of the Niger Delta militants largely involved sabotage/bombing of Oil installations in the creeks while Boko Haram is kamikaze and undiscriminating: they target everybody- School children, fellow Muslims, Christians, foreign doctors, Youth Corpers etc. The Niger Delta militants had a semblance of a Unified Command and Control Structure whereas Bokites have a very loose structure, splinter groups and purportedly affiliated to Al-Qaida.
Contrary to widespread believe and in fairness to Boko Haram, the sect may not after all be responsible for all the acts of terrorism and atrocities credited to them. People settle scores somewhere and the Sect basks on it. An example is the sporadic clashes in Plateau State (Jos) and other places involving Fulani herdsmen.
Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Iran are the bastion of Islam yet these countries don’t witness the unprecedented and sporadic killings that we have in Nigeria. There are also Muslims in America, Ghana, Cameroon etc and these places are relatively calm. Let’s stop this window dressing and get to the root of this matter.
Beyond the guise of religion and politics, there must be a strong force that will galvanize an individual to waste his life and that of others as a suicide bomber. That strong force is the trio of abysmal poverty, hopelessness/frustration, and joblessness. It’s not simplistic! A hungry man is an angry man. It will take an amazing brain-washing prowess to convince a gainfully employed young man or somebody with a thriving business to abandon the trappings of his work or business and be a slavish stooge for kidnapping or terrorism.
Nigeria and Nigerians exigently yearn for good governance and a no-holds-barred restructuring. I dream of a Nigeria that is SAFE, PEACEFUL and where ALL her citizens irrespective of their ethnic and religious background, have a sense of belonging. We want a Nigeria where JUSTICE and EQUITY reigns supreme; a Nigeria that has a zero-tolerance for CORRUPTION, NEPOTISM and TRIBAL JINGOISM. We want a Nigeria where merit is not sacrificed in the altar of mediocrity and godfatherism. We want a Nigeria where some people are not above the law. If I may borrow a word from Barrister Onyekachi Ubani, I dream of a Nigeria where a private citizen will write a letter to a governor or a minister and get a prompt reply.
Beyond the razzmatazz of an amnesty, it is high time Nigeria articulated a ‘’Coherent and Comprehensive Terrorism, Counter-terrorism Policy/Strategy cum a National Defence/Military Policy/Strategy’’. I also advocate an ‘’Extensive Vulnerability or Resilience Test/Audit of Strategic Public Infrastructures in Nigeria’’. Let us do away with our fire-brigade approach and mentality. Let us do away with our predilection for randomly setting up committees and sub-committees every time something happens. Every thoughtful and security-minded country or individual, hopes for the best but prepares for the worst. A wise saying goes, after a battle, sharpen your sword.
We want lasting peace in Nigeria not a simulated/semblance of peace. We want lasting peace not sustained deferment of the evil day. Amnesty is tantamount to treating the symptom of a disease rather than exterminating the latent causative agent. The Boko Haram miasma is the butterfly-effect of a dysfunctional society. Something is not right with the foundation and structure of Nigeria. Urgent action must be taken against unprecedented corruption, acute poverty, culture of impunity/arrogance of power, soaring unemployment rate and whittling radical religious fundamentalism by run-of-the-mill clerics. Good governance will largely nip growing insecurity, instability and terrorism in Nigeria in the bud. Former President Obasanjo stated the obvious when he recently opined that, ‘’rising unemployment in Nigeria is a time-bomb’’.
Imagine the socio-economic transformation that will take place if the N6bn ‘Security Vote’ and the so-called ‘Constituency Allowance’ accruable to all 36 State governors and members of the National Assembly respectively are judiciously utilized and channeled into truly uplifting Nigerians.
A culture, penchant and antecedent of a promiscuous amnesty is a subtle invitation to future anarchy. The Igbo’s have a saying that ‘’aru gbaa afo, oburu omenala’’. In English this roughly translates to ‘’when a crime/atrocity lasts for too long, it becomes a culture’’ With an amnesty, we can presuppose that the likes of Kabiru Sokoto and other detained terrorist/insurgency suspects will now be left off the hook and given a pat on the back for a job well done. Brilliant precedent! Since what is good for the goose is also good for the gander, in the Spirit and Season of Presidential Pardon and amnesty, proponents of the foregoing, should also clamour for James Ibori and Henry Okah to be repatriated to Nigeria and lavished with this magnanimity. Perhaps very soon the United States government will also remove the name of the Boko Haram leader- Abubakar Shekau, from its list of most wanted ‘’global terrorists’’.
Our bane in Nigeria is paucity of healthy debates and our predilection for policy summersault. Recall President Jonathan recently said he cannot give amnesty to ghosts, now he has recanted. I sincerely sympathize with government appointees, especially in Nigeria. It’s not easy being one. Just few days ago, the Chief of Army Staff-Lt. Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika was busy spewing fire and brimstone during the Military-Media Relation Seminar in Lagos. The COAS was reported to have said that, ‘’only force will end the Boko Haram crises’. Now he will eat his words. The Service Chiefs were all smiles aftermath of their meeting with President Jonathan. In an ideal country, you will hear that so and so person has resigned his appointment because he does not agree with the position of the government on an issue. Not in Nigeria, business as usual.
My take is that the malaria drug (amnesty) that was used to simulate Peace in the Niger Delta may not necessarily work for a typhoid fever (the Boko Haram imbroglio). Right now MEND is threatening to resume hostilities. It appears they implemented their threat because a while ago, Niger Delta militants reportedly killed about 13 Police Officers in Bayelsa State. Of course the culprits of this dastardly act are still covered by Presidential amnesty immunity. From the foregoing, one can safely prognosticate that an amnesty for Boko Haram is not a guarantee that they will not relapse in the near future. Is that the type of peace we want in Nigeria? I have been around for a while and old enough to recall when the dreaded Maitatsine reigned terror in the northern part of Nigeria. Was it an amnesty that whittled this group? The symptom of the disease was treated and the disease has metamorphosed again. Empirical evidence suggests a more virulent Sect or breakaway faction of Boko Haram may just be in the offing.
At the risk over-egging the pudding or been dubbed a pessimist, I postulate that with or without negotiation/amnesty, pockets of sporadic terrorist incidents, kidnappings will persist across Nigeria unless far-reaching measures are taken to shrink abject poverty, unemployment, hopelessness, wanton corruption, religion fundamentalism and injustice.
So what is your take, do you think amnesty is the panacea to the Insecurity, Instability and the Boko Haram brouhaha bedeviling Nigeria? Is amnesty the magic wand that will bring lasting peace to Nigeria? Will an amnesty automatically obviate the philosophy and psyche of Boko Haram members? Will Boko Haram members also undergo psychotherapeutic courses abroad as part of the amnesty package to wean them their bloodletting streak? How much will this amnesty Project cost the government or will it be Private Sector driven? Taking a cue from the Niger Delta amnesty package, I am pretty sure that this time too monies will be doled out to Boko Haram amnesty beneficiaries. How will the government decipher real Boko Haram members and impostors that will want to avail themselves of the impending largesse? What happens to families that lost loved ones during the onslaught, will they be adequately compensated? Boko Haram is said to have an unholy alliance with Al-Qaida, if you exonerate the Nigerian elements, what happens to their external allies. Will they be given amnesty too?
With the setting up of the ‘Presidential Amnesty Panel’, what started as a mere speculation and a fairy tale now appears to be a fait accompli.
Given that this amnesty thing is fast becoming an ongoing thriving and money spinning industry in Nigeria, perhaps it is high time the Presidency established a full-fledged ‘Ministry of Amnesty Affairs’.
One of the traits I profoundly appreciate in Western democracies and advanced societies is the profundity of interesting debates on issues of national interest. An example is the ongoing Gun Control debate in the United States of America. Let us replicate the same in Nigeria.
I have noticed a deafening collective apathy towards discussing or debating the far-reaching implications of this blossoming amnesty industry in Nigeria. Please let us have a healthy, matured and intellectual public debate devoid of myopic ethnic or religious leanings before this haphazardly conceived concept is rammed into our throat. I am trying to stimulate a vigorous National public debate on this burning issue in Nigeria. Let superior reason prevail. Let the discussion continue in the streets, markets, on Social Media/Networking Platforms-FaceBook, Twitter, Print and Digital media etc. Stand up and be counted.
No individual or country will make meaningful progress in an atmosphere of unpredictability and wanton killings. Let’s make Nigeria great again! Let’s give peace a chance; nobody or group has a monopoly of wisdom or violence.
God bless Nigeria and Nigerians.
(Security Analyst & Consultant)