The Amnesty Conundrum: A northern problem
Rev. Chris Okotie’s analysis of the amnesty request by Northern leaders in an Article titled, ‘’The Boko Haram Amnesty Conundrum” published in the Sunday Vanguard of April 20, 2013 laid bare the mischief behind the comparison of the amnesty granted the Niger Delta militants and the strident call for same for the Islamists by leaders of the beleaguered region.
An excerpt from that piece would help us place the subject in its proper context: ‘’Generally, Boko Haram is a vampire on the loose whose objective is not just to Islamise Nigeria, but to rid it totally of western influence. The group is now present in every part of Nigeria, getting set for a bloody campaign down south. Talk about a bull in a China shop!
‘’In contrast, the Niger Delta militants are environmental activists and armed campaigners for economic justice for the alienated people of the Delta region, whose lands have been destroyed by decades of oil exploration without any visible positive impact on the people’s welfare. They targeted flow stations, set rigs and pipelines on fire, kidnapped expatriates oil workers for ransom, and generally attacked key oil installations.
‘’The wild boys of Niger Delta never threatened those outside the realm of their agitation. They didn’t bring religious or tribal sentiments into their campaign or align with foreign terror groups to levy war against their own people to attain some mindless, esoteric objectives.
The Niger Delta amnesty cannot possibly be a template any more than the pardon of Abacha’s coupist justifies Alameyesiegha’s clemency.” Sure. It can never, and should not be a template. In fact, it is mischievous for anyone to attempt to promote amnesty for a group that has mocked and out rightly rejected same, even when offered on a platter of gold.
One is baffled that until recently, top northern leaders of thought, who are now clamouring for amnesty did not initially condemn the reckless killings of innocent citizens by the blood thirsty Isamists.
President Goodluck Jonathan is on record as saying in frustration that there are fifth columnists in his government, who are supporting Boko Haram. A serving Senator is facing persecution for his known link with the group. So, that gives credence to the president’s claim. But Mr Jonathan disappoints with his failure to expose the alleged backers of Boko Haram in his government.
Many observers are wondering why he could not get the saboteurs arrested and prosecuted. As president, he is not supposed to be afraid of anyone. In fact, trouble markers ought to be scared of him given the awesome military might at his disposal. A Commander-In-Chief who can’t take out the bad guys in his own government is not worthy of the exalted office.
Jonathan must prove to all and sundry that he is not only in office, but in power as well, like ex-president Ibrahim Babaginda openly declared at the height of the June 12 agitation when some opposition forces began to challenge the legitimacy of his regime.
The former president left no one in doubt that should there be a real threat of breakdown of law and order; he’d not hesitate to roll out the tanks against those who might try to bring down his government. One may say here that President Jonathan should heed the counsel of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo who advocated a carrot and stick approach in dealing with the Boko Haram.
While peace is being pursued via amnesty, government should evolve an effective strategy to paralyse Boko Haram like the United States government did to Al-Quaeda.
In Sri Lanka and India, where terrorist groups have been crushed, our security and intelligence community must learn from the experience of these countries, including Israel, Germany and Italy, how they did it. The security crisis in Nigeria has reached a stage where foreign collaboration in the sharing of information, expertise and intelligence becomes imperative to our prosecuting this endless war.
As we explore ways of defeating Boko Haram and other local terror groups we must never make the mistake of seeing the disparate terrorist organizations from the same binoculars like Rev Okotie warned in his write-up:” Boko Haram and the Niger Delta militants are two of a kind but unique in their different colourations. We know and still know who the Delta militants are; but we don’t know the faces behind Boko Haram. That is why the government is unable to negotiate with them.
“Nobody can justify an amnesty for a group that is not committed to dialogue. If Boko Harams body language speaks of peace, the federal government, tired of battle with the recalcitrant Islamic militants, would have no choice than to bring amnesty as bait on the table.
“Amnesty is justifiable under an atmosphere of jaw-jaw or during a carrot and stick situation, not when one side to the conflict is invisible, implacable and unwilling to accept anything but its own terms, which in the case of Boko Haram, cannot stand on any civilised logic.”
I stand to be corrected; Boko Haram is the nationalisation of a local problem in the north eastern region of the country. A largely local dispute between Islamic groups was mismanaged and it became a problem for all of Nigeria, and the world as a whole. Northern leaders who are seeking amnesty for Boko Haram must guarantee that the Islamists would comply, as Rev Okotie suggested, before being granted clemency.
TAIWO GIDADO, a Public Affairs Analyst, writes from Lagos.