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The amnesty furore

By Donu Kogbara
LAST week, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammed Sa’ad Abubakar III,  condemned the government’s crackdown on Boko Haram and said that President Goodluck Jonathan should grant “total amnesty” to the group’s members.

I imagine that he means well for the country and regard some of the enraged criticisms he has received for suggesting an amnesty as unnecessarily virulent.

But let’s face it: His suggestion was very misguided and Mr President has quite rightly responded by pointing out that “you cannot declare amnesty for ghosts.”

At the risk of sounding sectional, let me say that it was possible to grant Niger Delta militants amnesty in 2009 because they did not make a habit of killing innocent people. Furthermore, their bitter complaints about the manner in which their region had been neglected and exploited made sense to anyone who believed in human rights and natural justice; and these grievances were clearly articulated by leaders who were known and available for discussions.

Boko Haram’s leaders are a totally different kettle of fish.

Firstly, murder appears to be their number one priority. Secondly, nobody is sure who they are or what they want. Thirdly, their backward insistence that “Western education is sinful” – and their occasional demands for their jailed comrades to be released – do not amount to a legitimate moral, social, economic or political manifesto that can be seriously addressed by the authorities.

As His Royal Majesty, Charles Ayemi-Botu, the Pere of Siembiri Kingdom in DeltaState said in this newspaper (in a report by Emma Amaize on March 7):

“…I condemn the call by the Sultan. We have come to know Boko Haram as a faceless group with links to Al Quaeda….Their agitation…should not be compared to the Niger Delta struggle in which youths took up arms for equity in the distribution of wealth from oil explored in their domain…”.

Ayemi-Botu, a onetime National President of the Traditional Rulers for Oil Minerals Producing Communities of Nigeria, TROMPCON, went on to direct a very pertinent question at the Sultan: “Let me ask…who he has identified as members and sponsors of Boko Haram that he wants the Federal Government to grant amnesty to?…Who will the government dialogue with…?”

Meeting of religious leaders

The Sultan has said in the past – at a meeting of religious leaders in July 2011, for example – that “we cannot solve violence with violence.” And I must say that such pacifist sentiments sound odd coming from a man who was a senior army officer before he became the spiritual boss of Nigerian Muslims in 2006.

Longstanding readers of this column will know that I initially saw Boko Haram as a crusade that is more about desperation than religion. I thought it was being driven by angry, poverty-stricken young fellows who had turned to extremism because their minds and hearts had been warped by hunger and unemployment.

Nigeria had never experienced suicide bombing before and I thought the jihadists were ready to die because they’d lost all sense of hope and had nothing to lose. I blamed their selfish elders for betraying an entire generation. I was convinced that they’d quit their savagery if they were offered a fairer deal.

How wrong I was to adopt such a naïve, rose-tinted, liberal stance!

I now regard Boko Haramists as cold, calculating terrorists who don’t lack funds and have an anti-progress agenda and can never be placated.

They even brutally attack their own kind and have probably despatched more fellow Northern Muslims than Southerners or Christians to early graves.

Assassinationof imams

A Fulani friend recently told me that he is shocked whenever Northern VIPs are accused of secretly supporting Boko Haram “because Northern VIPs have no reason to support a group that is eagerly killing Northerners of all classes”.

“They have even,” my friend sadly informed me, shaking his head, “assassinated several imams in the Maiduguri area, which proves that they have no real respect for Islam, despite their claims.”

One would have thought that a former soldier like the Sultan would understand the need to aggressively and uncompromisingly pursue these shadowy terrorists who have wreaked so much havoc and wiped out so many of their compatriots. But he’s recommending surrender rather than war

The President has said that he is not ruling out an amnesty deal for Boko Haram in future, if circumstances change. And I urge him to rule one out permanently!

As far as I’m concerned, the government has the upper hand and should not rest until this evil organisation has been completely brought to its knees.

And, yes, it IS hard to eliminate guerilla fighters who operate underground and are such zealots that they don’t fear death. But it CAN be done. And President Jonathan has the ability to do it. He just needs to work with the right military and counter-insurgency experts.


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