Boko Haram: The amnesty option

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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.

Following sustained pressure from notable leaders from the Northern part of the country urging the Federal Government to grant amnesty to members of the Boko Haram sect, there are strong indications that the amnesty option may become a reality as President Goodluck Jonathan recently instituted a committee to consider the possibility and workability of the option.

The president’s fresh consideration of the request for amnesty followed a recent meeting with Northern elders who paid him a visit on the matter in Abuja. The setting up of the amnesty committee has been generating ripples as it represents a remarkable shift from the president’s earlier stance that the government cannot grant amnesty to ghosts or a faceless organisation. Boko Haram insurgents have, however, been reported to have rejected the amnesty option via a recorded message in which its leader, Sheik Ibrahim Shekau, was quoted by Agence France Presse to have insisted that the sect had done nothing wrong.

The president’s decision to consider the possibility of amnesty for Boko Haram members is understandable. It is a welcome demonstration of his openness to suggestions that could stem this mindless insurgency that has seriously challenged the capacity of his government to secure the nation.

Although it has been said in some quarters that Jonathan’s new conciliatory attitude to Boko Haram and the setting up of a committee to consider the amnesty proposal is a fallout of his desire for re-election in 2015, the president really has no choice but to consider every suggestion that could end the ferocious activities of the sect that have reduced the Northern part of the country to a hotbed of violence.

The consideration of amnesty is, therefore, a good first step in the effort to make the sect unmask itself and engage government in productive dialogue that could lead to the end of the crisis. The institution of the amnesty committee has, however, not gone unchallenged in the country. Notable Nigerians, among them the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), have been in the forefront of the opposition to the consideration of amnesty for Boko Haram members.

The association, whose members have been the primary targets of Boko Haram attacks, has querried the wisdom of granting amnesty to a group that is responsible for the killing of people, most of whom are Christians. The amnesty proposal is one option that requires smart thinking by the Federal Government. While it is necessary to consider all avenues through which Nigeria can end this insurgency, the amnesty option has the potential to embolden ethnic militia from other geo-political zones in the country to take up arms against the nation in order to get their share of amnesty programmes.

It is doubtful if the government can afford to implement the Niger-Delta style amnesty in all geo-political zones of the country. Northerners asking for amnesty for Boko Haram members have always cited the amnesty granted to Niger Delta militants by the late president, Musa Yar’Adua, as an example of what Jonathan should do. But, it should be pointed out that there is a huge difference between the Niger Delta militants’ agitation and those of this Islamic sect. While the militants fought over the apparent neglect and environmental degradation of the oil producing areas, the Islamic sect is waging a sectarian war.

Niger Delta militants did not engage in mindless killing of Nigerians and unprovoked bombing of religious places of worship like the Boko Haram sect. The militants also accepted amnesty when the late President Yar’Adua offered them the olive branch. Let Boko Haram members do likewise. In addition to unmasking themselves, the sect members should demonstrate readiness to dialogue with the government. They should be remorseful for the killings and destruction they unleashed on the nation.

Though the sect may have some grudges against the government, dialogue still remains the best way to get redress for their grievances. In this new consideration of the amnesty option, government should note that amnesty should not necessarily involve huge financial payouts to insurgents and formation of commissions and ministries to address the perceived wrongs, as was the case with the Niger Delta militants. Amnesty means forgiveness of wrongs done to the state by certain groups. Making amnesty a money-disbursing venture will breed more insurgencies.

It will make the menace a profitable venture that will be replicated all over the country. This will not augur well for peaceful co-existence of the nation. Let governors of the Northern States play an active role in getting Boko Haram to embrace dialogue. Let government identify all the people and issues involved in this insurgency, preparatory to the proposed amnesty.

The planned healing process will, however, be incomplete if victims of the sect’s violence are not adequately taken care of. Perpetrators of the Boko Haram killings cannot be rewarded with compensation while their victims are ignored. We heartily welcome any move that will bring peace to Nigeria.


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