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AMNESTY FOR BOKO HARAM: The Price of Reckless Engagement

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By Jide Ajani

Visualize a prison cell! You may not have been a guest there or entered one before; but just visualize an 8 x 8 feet room with no proper ventilation; no bed; no chairs; maybe a two-foot wide slab, like a ledge, fixed to the walls of the room at a height of 25inches. What passes for ventilation is no more than a 2 x 2 widow with bars, no glass or wood covering – just five or six bars.

Then visualize one alleged criminal, leader of a sect, the Jamaatul ahlil sunna lidawati wal jihad, otherwise known as Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf, in hand-cuffs.  He was apprehended by the Nigerian military after a gun battle which lasted a whole weekend, some time in December, 2009, and handed over to officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force, NPF.

There, right there in the police cell, he was killed in cold blood.  Whether he was asked to turn his back, or whether whoever committed the act looked him straight in the eye, or whether he was told to run and then shot from behind, or whether there was indeed another gun battle there, the constant consequence of what happened thereafter was that he was killed.  This, after the sect members had created maximum crisis in Yobe and Borno States that weekend of December 2009.

President Goodluck Jonathan and the 'ghosts'
President Goodluck Jonathan and the ‘ghosts’

Nobody cared that a man had been killed extra-judicially at that time. As far as the nation was concerned, it was good riddance to bad rubbish!  But that was a reckless response from a largely reckless nation. However, the recklessness did not stop there.

This was a time when the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua suffered his health crisis leading his aides to smuggle him to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment; a time when a clique within Aso Rock Presidential Villa appropriated Nigeria’s presidency and treated a certain Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as a factotum that did not amount to anything (Jonathan was Nigeria’s seemingly putative Vice President); a time when there was controversy over the acceptability of the doctrine of necessity; and, also, a time when the brothers of Jamaatul ahlil sunna lidawati wal jihad were mourning the killing of their leader, Yusuf.

The then National Security Adviser, NSA, behaved as if nothing significant happened because the primary concern then was how protect the health crisis of Yar’Adua.  That was recklessness in high official quarters.

From that moment, members of the group that had become so scattered made a forced retreat while some others were held in detention.  Most of the remnants of the membership retreated to Yobe State.  It was not obvious that there was a post-battle mopping up exercise.  Neither did it appear that there was any co-ordinated effort at engaging a policy of containment.  Nigerians, being happy people, went about their businesses, happily.

And for the members of the sect, their attachment to Yobe State dates back to sometime between 2004 and 2007. Investigations by Sunday Vanguard within the intelligence community revealed that members of the group are very familiar with Yobe State.  The group set up a base in Kanamma, a remote part of the state, from where the then seeming rag-tag followers of the brotherhood operated.

The camp was aptly named Afghanistan.  The man in charge at that time, Mohammed Ali – Yusuf, founder of the sect, had traveled abroad for treatment.  It was from that camp that they were first dislodged.  But they only scattered; the group refused to disband.  Indeed, it waxed stronger by attracting more members.  Before Yusuf’s return, the group moved from the camp and headed northwards, towards Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, and set up a new camp.

Therefore, when the sect decided to re-group and launch, it was with a vengeance. Firstly, the group members invaded the prison in Bauchi and set free its members. For regaining freedom, they pledged eternal loyalty to the group.

One of the first demands of the group was that the killers of its leader should be tried.  Government ignored the demand.  This was 2010, a year when Jonathan had to begin his own plot to undo his Peoples Democratic Party, PDP’s zoning formular.  The killings continued with reckless abandon and no one in government seemed to care.  Sheer recklessness!

But some people outside government cared.  Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which has its North African headquarters in Algeria, cared so much that it got in touch and began collaborating with Boko Haram members.

Although Sunday Vanguard could not establish the exact year, there was evidence, according to security sources, to suggest that the group sent some eight persons to Algeria to go and learn how to make Improvised Explosive Device, IEDs. From all indications, those they sent learnt well.  They perfected the art of making IEDs and also passed on the knowledge.

Late Boko Haram leader, Yusuf
Late Boko Haram leader, Yusuf

It was not until sometime in mid-2011 (some 18months after the killing of Yusuf and when the sect had become deadlier, bombing the UN House in Abuja and the Police Force Headquarters there) that the Federal Government of Nigeria arraigned some policemen for the killing of Yusuf.  Even at the time of writing this report, the case is enmeshed in a web of legalities that is only going to delay justice.

Make no mistake, the bestiality of the group cannot and should not be condoned under any guise and this piece is not about to make any case for such.

And this brings us to the amnesty proposal being worked on by President Jonathan!

On the face of it, with a long, hard look, Mr. President has embarked on a fool’s errand – pure and simple.

In a polity of clashing socio-political economic and religious interests, throwing the bait of amnesty at a dare-devil group only suggests one thing:  A hopeless and helpless leadership.  Whereas Sultan Saad Abubakar, who voiced it within a particular context, can be excused, jumping into the mix of amnesty, barely a month after the selfsame President Jonathan described members of the group as ghosts, only signposts a massive deficit in statecraft at the highest level.

In the instance of Niger Delta, there was palpable sobriety in the air when the militants were offered amnesty. Yar’Adua did not start working on amnesty without feeling the pulse and seeking the support of leaders of the region.  In this case, President Jonathan appears to have engaged a panic nay pacifist mode when he made the push, though, he alone should not be blamed.

Enter the so called Northern Elders Forum, NEF.  It was after the group’s meeting with Jonathan that amnesty for Boko Haram gained traction. Two weeks later, the same NEF came out with a shopping list, a to-do list for President Jonathan which, in their own view, should possibly solve the problems in the North.

Pray, what sort of country is Nigeria? Some (not all) leaders, who are vicariously liable for the plight of their part of the country, have come to town with their own version of a Marshall Plan to be funded with tax payers money from other parts of the country!

Those who appear opposed to amnesty for Boko Haram are doing so from a less strategic standpoint.  Those who are equally swimming with the tide of amnesty for the sect are even making the case worse.  Into this mix is a President whose underhand agenda in all of this is no more than how 2015 can be guaranteed.  To make matters worse for Jonathan, two very important – in fact most important – personalities who could have made massive the difference in the 26-man committee set up (Ahmed Sani and Dr. Datti Ahmed) have turned down the request because they see through the gambit.

It is reckless to expect that amnesty for Boko Haram members would bring peace to Nigeria’s North, just as it is reckless for the sect members to continue wallowing in a delusory sense of omnipotence. When you play a weak hand, your opponent will capitalize on it.  That is why Boko Haram can throw amnesty back in the face of Jonathan and making a mockery of it by saying it is government that deserves amnesty.

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