Boko Haram: Case of amnesty and justice to the aggrieved

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A picture taken from a video distributed to journalists in recent days through intermediaries and obtained by AFP on March 5, 2013 reportedly shows Abubakar Shekau (C), the suspected leader of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, flanked by six armed and hooded fighters in an undisclosed place.

IN 2009, members of Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lid dawa’ati wal Jihad (Boko Haram) had cause to challenge the Nigeria Police for the alleged extra-judicial killing of their members for ‘refusing’ to obey a simple state law of wearing crush helmet while on a motor bike in Maiduguri.This snowballed to a global disgrace and threat to peace within the West African sub-region.

If the allegation is correct, ideally the Nigeria Police as paid agents of the state who are charged with the responsibility of protecting and defending the security of the people, could have either offered unreserved apology to the bereaved families or defended its action with convincing reason than the cock and bull story issued to confuse the gullible public.

Reports indicate that the Maiduguri Police Command vehemently refused to tender the expected apology and acted as a sadist group on a rampage for the simple reason of their being in possession of state arms and ammunition they can conveniently use even against the innocent without a genuine cause.

That unfortunate incident has served as the springboard to launch series of attacks on Police formations and later formations of other security agencies and places of worship nationwide by the sect as retaliation and a prove to security agencies that ordinary citizens once pushed to the wall for no genuine reason, can always defend themselves. In this case, it was the injustice meted out by the Nigeria Police to the insurgents that caused what Nigerians are passing through. And instead of Nigerians to demand for thorough investigation of the cause to bring the culprits to justice, we deviated in reasoning since the Nigeria Police has not changed in attitude and behaviour towards the weak despite the commendable efforts of the nation’s Chief Police Officer, MD Abubakar.

Writing on the activities of Boko Haram in Nigeria is not the issue at stake for now. The concern is on the proposed amnesty plan to the sect as solicited by a cross section of Nigerians across religious, regional and political divides with the hope that if amnesty is offered, the sect may renounce violence and come out from hiding to embrace peace.

First, let us take the issue of amnesty to the fore and the perception of the President  Goodluck Jonathan administration to granting it to the sect.

Amnesty at this material time is not part of the issue for national discourse as it is not yet ripe for it to be granted to an aggrieved group that has not asked for it or eager to have it without asking. The group has severally called for justice against the killers of their leader and their members which ignited the insurgency. Since the Federal Government seems to be under pressure to grant them amnesty, I suggest a thorough investigation be carried out  before the issue of amnesty can bear fruits. Boko Haram is yet to renounce violence or shows any interest to have an amnesty. It has not indicated any interest to reach out to government for dialogue and once amnesty is announced, the sect may eventually relocate to prepare its ground to enjoying the amnesty while in possession of its deadly weapons.

From general assessment, Boko Haram is neither keen for the so-called amnesty nor is it prepared for now to renounce violence on a platter of gold. The sect looks at the proposed amnesty as one of those gimmicks and tricks used against it by government in past interactions. Amnesty may not be the immediate solution for now until other structures are put on the ground to actualize it. In a conventional setting, government should first convince the sect of its sincerity to hold genuine dialogue to achieving a lasting solution than haphazard amnesty that may be offered under duress through passionate appeals and persistent calls.

Prior to the escalation of violent attacks in different parts of the country, including Abuja and Lagos, several proposals carefully packaged from in-depth investigations carried out were offered to government, including the desperate need to engage the sect in genuine dialogue which were ignored. Government was erroneously advised to declare a war on the insurgents as the only option at its disposal which has not paid dividend.

The declaration of war against the sect not only catapulted the problem to greater heights but afforded the insurgents the opportunity they were looking for to strategize to unleash more attacks in ‘defense’.

Groups in other climes sharing similar feelings and ideology with the sect were eager to offer support while intensive training and recruitment were intensified, including steady supply of sophisticated weapons. Today, the sect claims to be better armed than the Nigeria armed forces and cannot be easily defeated in  guerilla war fare.

True to their claim, so far, Nigeria’s security agencies perhaps excluding the State Security Service, have recorded heavy casualties, lost of arms and ammunition and public property.

As a way to end the insurgency, amnesty should be the last lap of the negotiating exercise if genuine reconciliation and peace is the goal.

In my candid opinion based on past experience and interactions with the insurgents in an effort to broker truce which hit the rocks without convincing reason other than government bureaucracy, I suggest that the committee appointed by the Federal Government to look into the possibility of amnesty, should suggest to government the need to first reach out to the sect leadership in secret to convince it to agree to dialogue. While the dialogue is holding, all violent attacks should be suspended and government should relax its man hunt for the sect’s members. As progress is made, there should be demobilization and disarmament. It is after the disarmament that amnesty should be given to those screened as genuine members of the sect in detention or in the jungle. Government should not be in a haste to declare a blanket amnesty that may cover even armed robbers, bandits and other miscreants who operated under the guise of the sect.

The other point is that if amnesty is to be offered, it should be accompanied with certain economic empowerment initiatives to engage the ‘repented terrorists’ from going back to the desert for business as usual.

Security agencies, particularly the Police should be reorganized and rebranded to meet international standard of policing. Part of the grievances of the insurgents and indeed many Nigerians is bordered on police incompetence, greed, corrupt practices and brutality. Nigeria Police from general perspective needs total overhaul for effective policing.

Nigeria Police and other security agencies should see other Nigerians as equal stakeholders and players than common criminals that can be maimed, brutalized, extorted and killed at the slightest offence.

As the Federal Government prepares its ground for possible amnesty, let it look inward into the modus operandi of its security agencies that are charged with the responsibility of providing security in the country.

When the splinter group of Boko Haram, Ansaru invaded Abuja SARS office in 2012 to free their members from the dungeon, across section of Nigerians jubilated and even congratulated the terrorists for such a courageous operation. The reason is as simple as ABC because SARS office anywhere in the country is seen as an extortion centre rather than a salvation centre just as the present security check points have turned to be.

While possibility of amnesty is being discussed, the Federal Government should start the process of reorganizing the Nigeria Police if lawlessness is to be checked. If any Amnesty Committee is to be appointed, let it have those that have an inkling of the modus operandi of the sect, have accessibility to them and enjoy their confidence. From past experience, Boko Haram respects very few Northern elders and leaders including religious leaders that should not be ignored. That is the bitter truth for consideration.

Mr.  SANUSI MUHAMMAD, a journalist, wrote from Bauchi.



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