By Our Reporters
ABUJA — CHRISTIAN leaders, yesterday, opposed the Federal Government’s plan to offer unconditional amnesty to members of the Boko Haram sect, describing it as a misplaced priority and an unjust cause.
This came even as there is skepticism within the military circle that the amnesty will work out, adding that it may turn out to be a colossal failure and the Federal Government may end up embarrassing itself over its non workability.
The Christian leaders asked the government to take urgent steps to compensate and resettle victims of Boko Haram attacks instead of wasting time and resources on a matter that would not yield any positive results at the end of the day.
According to the leaders, the Federal Government was committing a suicide mission by attempting to appease the sect members without their readiness to surrender arms and seek peace with the rest of the society.
They also stated that granting amnesty to the sect would amount to injustice and encouragement to other criminally-minded groups to strike and seek reward from the government.
The Prelate of Methodist Church of Nigeria, Dr Sunday Ola Makinde, in an exclusive interview with Vanguard was of the opinion that granting amnesty to the sect was like putting the cart before the horse and a step in the wrong direction.
Makinde noted: “They are talking about amnesty without saying anything about their victims. They are still killing people even as the government is fine-tuning ways for amnesty.
“I am not comfortable with the government’s decision because they are putting the cart before the horse. Why can’t we first of all dialogue with these people and find out their grievances? The only thing that I read in the paper is that they want to Islamize Nigeria; we know that there are other grievances, which should be known before amnesty is given by the government.
“Then, before amnesty is granted we want to know what they will do for the family of the widows and widowers, their places they have destroyed, what are they going to do for the victims and so on. Amnesty is not the issue now, but how to ameliorate the suffering of the victims.
“So, setting up any committee for amnesty without first looking into how the victims could be compensated is injustice, and if there is no justice there will be no peace.
We need dialogue
“As condition for peace, we need dialogue; dialogue will lead them to know the group’s grievances and how to go about it. They are politicizing it and we need to be careful, if we are not, it may lead us to unpalatable end.”
Also speaking, the Bishop of Kubwa Anglican Diocese, the Rt Rev. Duke Akamisoko, threw his weight behind any initiative to bring lasting solution to the security challenges plaguing the north but warned against the offer of amnesty to the sect.
“While we are looking at how to solve the problem, the terminology, amnesty, is what I’m not comfortable with. If the government wants to speak with them to know their grievances, fine! But I don’t agree that they should be granted amnesty because of the level of havoc committed by these persons without any remorse. What about the Christians who were slaughtered by the sect? What about the churches that were burnt and destroyed?” Akamisoko asked.
You are on suicide mission —Bauchi CAN
The Christian groups likened the Presidency’s action to a suicide mission, which could at the end consume the whole nation, and asked Jonathan to be cautious with the plan and not allow political gains to becloud his sense of reasoning.
The Bauchi State Secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Rev. Joshua Ray Mains, described the Federal Government offer of amnesty to Boko Haram as a suicidal strategy by President Jonathan for the 2015 election, saying the move would never achieve its goal for peace.
It faulted the idea of granting amnesty to a faceless group that had wantonly destroyed lives and property of Nigerians at every turn. He said amnesty should only be granted to people with known ideology, identities and vision and not a sect whose membership and ideology remain unclear.
The CAN scribe said: “The issue of granting of amnesty to the Boko Haram group should not even arise in the first instance because up till today nobody can actually point out who members of this group are. We have a problem of identifying this group and I don’t think it is rational to give amnesty to group of people you don’t know.”
He said amnesty should be given to a group of individual who had lost a stake like the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, adding that they had their strong reasons for amnesty such as oil exploitation, infrastructural decay, unemployment and land degradation.
Mains asked: “Why should they be given amnesty? Are we congratulating them for the people they have sent to their early graves or are we encouraging them to continue with their acts so that other groups can take advantage of the amnesty and continue to disrupt the peace of the country?”
An exercise in futility
Reacting to the Boko Harm amnesty offer, Pastor Bitrus Bdliya of the Church of Brethren in Nigeria described the offer of amnesty to the sect members by the Federal Government as an exercise in futility, as the offer would not make the boys to stop their bombing campaigns.
He wondered how the government should contemplate amnesty for Boko Haram whose leader, Imam Abubakar Shekau, had come out publicly through the media to reject such amnesty.
He said, it was unfortunate that some people equated Boko Haram with the Niger Delta militias, pointing out that the two scenarios were not the same and should not be juxtaposed for any reason.
Bdliya pointed out that while the Niger Delta militants fought for a share of the oil being exploited in the region, Boko Haram merely wants to kill Christians and islamise the country by force.
Also speaking, the Yobe State CAN Chairman, Reverend Idi Garba, noted that the Federal Government attempt would amount to a waste of time and resources as long as the sect members had not sought repentance and forgiveness before the offer by the government.
Adamawa Christians divided over amnesty
Reverend Phineas Padio of Dunamis International Gospel Centre, Yola argued that Amnesty for the group was long overdue.
He reasoned that from all indications, the Federal Government lacked the capacity to crush the group, so it has no alternative than to grant amnesty for peace to reign in the land.
According to Padio, since 2010 when the President made pronouncement that the sect would be crushed in a couple of weeks, their atrocities had continued unabated across the north.
Phineas Padio said most of those opposing amnesty do not live in the North, saying those that are resident in the Northern States that “wear the shoes know how it pinches”.
On his part, Prophet Samson Sam of Christ Solution Power Chapel, Yola, said he did not support amnesty for the Boko Haram sect.
He argued that, the group is faceless and is fighting a no just cause.
He stated that the leaders of the Boko Haram should tell Nigerians their reasons for trying to destabilize the country and not this talk of amnesty for the terrorists.
Chairman Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Gombe State Chapter, Reverend Abare Kallah, asked about the churches destroyed by Boko Haram.
According to him, “from the Christian point of view, we have been agitating now that if President Jonathan is going to give amnesty to Boko Haram, what happens to the churches, the people who are victims whose lives, property were destroyed, everything that was affected as a result of their activities.
So, we just want the president to stand on the right side of taking the right judgment about this thing. It’s not about favouring one side. We are also wounded. If they are thinking that amnesty is going to be given to Boko Haram, I am sure that there is going to be another faction or group that the Federal Government cannot contend with”.
What happens to the victims of Boko Haram insurgency
The Northern Christian Elders Forum, NOSCEF, submitted that the decision to grant amnesty to Boko Haram “is a call to other interest groups to rise up in arms against their fatherland, to be blessed when such an action should be treated as treason.
Chairman of the group, Evangelist Matthew Owojaiye argued that intimidating the Federal Government to grant amnesty is the highest display of hypocrisy and lack of patriotism.
He said: “Are such people not indirectly admitting that they are the shadows or ghosts behind the Boko Haram? We totally object to even discussing amnesty when nothing has been done for the victims of the Boko Haram.”
The statement titled; ‘Enough is Enough! Nobody should take us for granted! said that contrary to popular belief in certain quarters, the Christian Community in the North has been the most “marginalized, deliberately underdeveloped group treated like vassals, seriously brutalized and slaughtered under the watchful eyes of this regime more than in any other regime.”
Evangelist Owojaiye alleged that “this government has spent billions of naira on nomadic education, N5 billion on Almajiri schools which is specifically for Muslims, while Christian schools and hospitals taken over by the government without compensations are still held tight by government.
Boko Haram, has tried to annihilate us and our Igbo Christian brothers and now the government is talking about granting the Islamic sect amnesty without saying a word about the people they bombed, slaughtered and traumatized.”
Blame Northern Muslim elite — NOSCEF
The NOSCEF furthered argued that the Northern Muslim elite should be held responsible for the rot in the region and not the present administration. “Who underdeveloped the Muslim North? It is definitely not the Jonathan Government, and neither the Christians in the North! It is the Northern Muslim elite that impoverished the Northern Muslim youth.
The Northern Muslim elite pocketed the largesse that came to the North. Only they and their families benefitted. They turned the attention of Boko Haram to the innocent Christians in the North.
“It is even more annoying that instead of the Northern Muslim elite releasing 50 per cent of their wealth to solve the poverty problem of the Muslim North they are crying and putting pressure and intimidating the Federal Government to set up a Boko Haram commission,” Owojaiye stated.
Military skeptical about success of amnesty
Meanwhile, there is skepticism within the military circle about the success of the amnesty being proposed by President Goodluck Jonathan for Boko Haram terrorists, arguing that it may turn out to be a colossal failure and the Federal Government may end up embarrassing itself over its non-workability.
Indications to this effect emerged following Vanguard’s investigation which revealed that the Boko Haram sect is no longer one body but a fragmented group that has such breakaway group like Ansaru which recently killed two Nigerian soldiers along the Lokoja-Okene road, who were on their way to Abuja to embark on peacekeeping mission in Mali.
The same Ansaru kidnapped a French national in a commando style in Katsina while the most recent one is the kidnap of 11 foreign construction workers, including Lebanese, British, Filipino and other nationals working at a Bauchi construction site.
Aside Ansaru, there are other breakaway factions that broke into and robbed banks and financial institutions while others carried out killings for a price, no matter the individual or his standing in the society.
A security source asked, “Even if you look beyond the fragmented group of the terrorists, what happens if tomorrow, all the almajiris and jobless street urchins troop out in their millions and say they are Boko Haram and they want amnesty, which of course goes with a package of allowances, rehabilitation and training. Does the government have the resources to cater for them?
According to another source, “everywhere in the world where the issue of amnesty for insurgency is brought to the table, that word ‘amnesty’ comes up after negotiation with the known group and its leaders have taken place, the insurgents have agreed to surrender their arms and have been seen to do so, before amnesty is brought in and its implementation discussed”.
“But the situation where amnesty comes first before discussing with those causing problems, killing, maiming, bombing and destroying whole villages, security personnel and their stations is like sending a wrong signal to the other groups who may want to cash in on the action of the government”.
The source added that President Jonathan was able to convince the Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim, Chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Staff, the Inspector General of Police and the DG Department of State Security, DSS, to buy into the amnesty proposition despite the fact that the shoe pinches them directly with the daily killing and bombing of their personnel who are in the front lines of the war on terror by telling them “let us try the option and see the outcome”.
The President was able to placate the military chiefs to further accept and support the amnesty offer because he believes that firstly it will do the nation a world of good if they renounce their insurgency.
Secondly, if after the amnesty is granted the Boko Haram terrorists, its fragmented groups continue the mayhem, the government would have been justified over its earlier stand of not dealing with faceless groups.
“Those questioning military option will then hide their faces in shame. Aside that, politicians who have been feasting on the Boko Haram debacle for purposes of scoring cheap political points and gaining cheap popularity will now know that the bigger picture of joining forces with government and security agencies to ensure peace and stability for the nation will benefit all the most”.