WE have noted understandably the increased support for the call for amnesty, principally from some elders and opinion leaders in Nigeria; coming after the President’s rejection of the call made by His Eminence and Supreme Monarch, the Sultan of Sokoto.
A few weeks have passed since President Goodluck Jonathan made his famous patriotic proclamation before the distinguished gathering of Borno Elders in Maiduguri.
From the President’s statement, three things are very clear and self evident, namely:Mr. President insists rightly that the leadership of the Boko Haram must be identifiable and must come out and confirm their leadership of the sect unequivocally, so as to make it clear who the government is dealing with;Mr. President and the administration is not ruling out the possibility of an amnesty totally, but condition precedent must be the identification of authentic insurgent leadership.
Though not explicitly stated, but nevertheless implied, is the requirement that the leadership need to assure the nation of their willingness to dialogue with the government and an irrevocable commitment to amnesty terms when granted.
For the avoidance of doubt, President Jonathan has nothing to gain, but quite a lot to lose, by the unnecessary prolongation of the wanton destruction and pain caused by the activities of the insurgents. He, no matter what it may seem, means well and cares deeply for the people of the affected areas. But as President, unlike those who are personally involved, he must be able to critically look at the best option in the most dispassionate manner. And that is what he has done.
There is, therefore, no need for the over politicisation of the demand for amnesty, nor to blackmail the President for taking strong, patriotic but contrary views to those of some of our respected elders. Such, sometimes is the nature of statecraft and in many parts of the civilised world, situation like this are handled with equanimity and further deepening of consultation, certainly not acrimonious misunderstanding or open hatred.
The true expectation is that our respected leaders will go back to the drawing board and increase internal consultation and networking with the aim of reaching out to the leadership of the insurgents and convincing them to do the needful and step out to be counted.
The arguments being proffered by major protagonists are that the insurgents are not ghosts since, several of them are in Police custody across the region and also because the President was alleged to have said that Boko Haram existed in his government, Police and other security agencies.
These interpretations of the purported statements by Mr. President are too simplistic and pedantic. Admission of the existence of fifth columnists in a government, as the speech may portend, is not the same as being in possession of actual knowledge of who the culprits truly are.
Secondly, the arrest and detention of low level operatives is not the same as knowing the identities of the true leadership. It is common knowledge that these organisations thrive and succeed on high degree of compartmentalization and secrecy.
The truth is that our leaders and elders to whom much has been given ought to stop playing “high wired” politics with this potentially dangerous and confounding situation but rather work assiduously, and internally by doing everything possible to bring the scourge of Boko Haram terrorism to a quick end.
It is also important for our elders to recognise that while some consider the amnesty option as being highly recommended, the other notable and eminent Nigerians who also for good reasons vehemently oppose this proposition; and in a nation where equity must thrive, the merits of these contrary views and opinions also require understanding by the government.
The comparison of the Boko Haram with Niger Delta militancy is unfair and may be taking things totally out of context.
During the Niger Delta militancy, the demands were clearly stated and they had to do with unjustifiable perpetual and insensitive economic deprivation coupled with oppressive and socio-economically strangulating environmental degradation.
The Niger Delta struggle did not witness killing of innocent Nigerians. There was no religious colouration or any over-riding nationally unacceptable ideological demand comparable to demands of the Boko Haram which include rejection of modern education, imposition of Sharia law and rule nationwide and wanton destruction of lives, properties and institutions, including, international agencies, Police Headquarters, and places of religious worships.
Some have even suggested that Government should just accept as many as may decide to lay down their arms and embrace peace. This looks like a reasonable proposition on the surface. But it is fundamentally flawed in practice. Any amnesty that is not endorsed by clearly identifiable leadership is an exercise in futility and a waste of scarce resources. This is because, this gesture is open to flagrant abuse since anybody on the street of Kano, Maiduguri or Damaturu can just pick up some arms and claim to be Boko Haram when in fact they have no link with the sect whatsoever!
This was not what happened in the Niger-Delta. The late President Yar’Adua did not announce an amnesty programme until the leaders from the Niger Delta had gone into the creeks to confer and convince the militants virtually in every camp to lay down their arms and embrace the amnesty when announced.
In fact, it is on record that DSP Alamieyeseigha was recruited by the late President Yar’Adua to mobilise support for the proposed plan by his government to grant amnesty to the militants. DSP Alamieyeseigha went to the Niger-Delta and slept in ALL the various camps, talking to the militants to embrace the government’s proposed amnesty plan.
Many local leaders and stakeholders bought into the government’s amnesty programme. It was carefully planned, properly structured and effectively implemented with co-operation and willing support of elders, stakeholders and well known and nationally acknowledged open leadership of the militants.
It is for these reasons that there is need for a great restraint when we advocate for amnesty for those amongst us who have actually, through criminality, engaged in wanton destruction of innocent lives, public and private properties; especially when their activities are based on ethnic and religious ideologies that actually strike at the foundation of our mutual co-existence. We also need to be mindful that we have other ethnic militias in the country who have remained essentially peaceful, and who may by these calls for amnesty be encouraged to now pursue violence.
Dr. DOYIN OKUPE is SSA to the President on Public Affairs.