By Emmanuel Edukugho
Speaking recently at the annual central meeting in Kaduna of Ja’matu Nasril Islam, JNI, the umbrella organisation of all Muslim associations in Nigeria, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, president of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs also President-General, JNI, he called on President Goodluck Jonathan to declare total amnesty for the Boko Haram combatants without thinking twice and that it will make any other person who picks up arms to be termed a criminal.
According to the highly respected traditional ruler and spiritual head of Nigeria’s Muslim population, “If amnesty is declared, it will give so many of those young men who have been running and hiding to embrace that amnesty”, adding, “Some of them have already come out, because we have read in the papers that some have already come out.”
His words: “Even if it is only one person that denounces terrorism, it is the duty of the government to accept that person and see how he can be used to reach out to others.”
In an apparent response to Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar III’s demand, President Jonathan, in the epicentre of Boko Haram deadly operations, flatly rejected granting of amnesty to the insurgents.
Speaking during a town hall meeting in Damaturu, YobeState, Jonathan was blunt to the Islamic and political leaders, government functionaries, and stakeholders, telling them: “you cannot declare amnesty for ghosts. Boko Haram still operates like ghosts. So you can’t talk about amnesty for Boko Haram now until you see the people you are discussing with.”
He explained that amnesty for the Niger Delta militants was possible because the militants came out of the creeks to meet late President Umaru Yar’Adua in Aso Rock (laying down their arms). But not so for Boko Haram Islamic sect as no leader of the group has showed up for dialogue.
A political analyst, Mr. Mustapha Mohammed, wondered why President Goodluck Jonathan could now be saying that Boko Haram leaders or members are ghosts or faceless when at the beginning its leader from Borno State (a former commissioner) was summarily executed by police after his arrest in what looked like extra-judicial killing.
Many of suspected Boko Haram members have been arrested and kept in state custody said to be awaiting trial, a few are believed to be on trial, two senators are being charged on terrorism offence, the JTF are killing suspected Boko Haram members in gun battles and capturing several others, raiding their hideouts in their strongholds in Yobe, Borno, Kano, Bauchi, to mention a few of the northern states held captives by the sect.
The question asked is whether all these persons arrested and killed are ghosts or faceless?
Was amnesty worth it?
While the question may have some relevance to our policy options in respect of amnesty with reference to the Niger Delta militants granted amnesty to free our oil wells from blocade, amnesty provides an important framework in looking at future peace and security in the north.
“There is need to find a lasting solution to the problem of insecurity caused by Boko Haram Islamic insurgency in which about 5,000 lives have been lost in the last three years and properties worth billions of naira destroyed,” said Mojeed Karim, a human rights and social justice crusader.
The federal government was at one time reported to be receptive to having dialogue with Boko Haram, but President Jonathan has denied the existence of any kind of discussion with the sect.
Analysts believed that what the president meant by labeling Boko Haram leaders as ghosts or faceless was that they’ve not been able to make themselves available and come to negotiation table.
Northern elders and traditional rulers can help in bringing the Boko Haram leadership to the discussion table.
“Not until the leaders come to the table for negotiation and strike a deal with government that an agreement to cease hostilities would be binding. Those arrested by JTF, police and other security agencies are not the real leaders of the sect”.
In the case of Niger Delta, leaders of the militants like Tompolo, Boyloaf, Government, and others, came out with their fighters from the creeks and negotiated with the federal government on amnesty.
Therefore, the Sultan of Sokoto, demanding amnesty for the Boko Haram combatants who are still killing people indiscriminately is like encouraging the sect members to continue with the bloodshed unleashed on innocent people with Christians as target. Army Barracks, police stations, churches, mosques are not spared of Boko Haram attacks.
Where does the solution for peace can be found? The same Sultan who recently, blamed the woes afflicting the north on the people of the north themselves has turned round to demand amnesty for Boko Haram insurgents mainly responsible for the woes including destruction of the northern economy.
While former Minister of Defence Gen Theophilus Danjuma raised alarm recently that the northern part of Nigeria is in the “middle of a civil war”, Afenifere, the Yoruba socio-cultural and political forum has called for a national security summit. Afenifere scribe, Yinka Odumakin, in a statement, said the proposed summit would bring leaders and statekholders together from across the country to deliberate on the cause (s) of the virtual security collapse in Nigeria and proffer solutions to resolve them.
Also reacting to the Sultan’s amnesty call, Bishop Ola Makinde of MethodistChurch, reportedly expressed disappointment that terrorists should be granted amnesty. He wondered why the Sultan believes amnesty can be granted when Boko Haram sect has killed so many Christians and destroyed several churches.
He warned: “We must be very careful that we don’t have religious war in this country.”
Speaking in a Television programme in Lagos, former FCT minister, Nasir el-Rufai said the Federal Government should not claim ignorance of not knowing Boko Haram members, moreso when several of them are in security custody.
“It is ingenious for security agencies to say that they don’t know these people. Over 1,000 Boko Haram operatives are in custody of State Security Services (SSS) in Abuja. The government has a lot of information. What is lacking is the will to address this issue.”