By Levinus Nwabughiogu
They were called terrorists, insurgents, religious extremists, political killers, Boko Haram and finally ghosts. They were told that amnesty is for humans and not ghosts. But suddenly, here comes a package for ghosts. Saturday Vanguard’s LEVINUS NWABUGHIOGU in this special piece chronicles the genesis, the politics and latest amnesty offer to Boko Haram Islamic sect.

Who are Boko Haram members? Did they ask for amnesty? To whom will amnesty be given? Has the Federal Government of Nigeria made a U-turn from its earlier position of not negotiating with insurgents, nay, terrorists? Has it lost the fight against insecurity? Have the ghosts been unveiled? Should evil be rewarded with good and what happens to the victims, dead or living, of several attacks of Boko Haram?

File photo: Members of Boko Haram splinter group during a news conference in Maiduguri, recently where they insisted on a cease-fire. Photo: Nan.

Indeed, the questions are legion and they continue to flood every corner of the Nigerian State since the announcement by the Federal Government, last week, to set up an Amnesty Committee for Boko Haram. In fairness to the authorities, inaugurating a Committee does not in essence translate to automatic adoption of recommendations or proposals of the committee but many Nigerians who oppose the amnesty often entertain this fear and concern that in Nigeria, “what goes up does not come down”.

Demands /origin of Boko Haram

Their demands were not clear in the beginning. All what was known was a group of religious fundamentalists who promulgated their beliefs even though they were considered too extreme by many Nigerians. But they were bent on their mission of Islamizing the country via the implementation of criminal Sharia law across the country. In essence, they chose to start from their immediate environments in Borno and Yobe states.

And to make real their pursuits, they arrogated to themselves a name that defines their philosophy: Jama’atul Alhul Sunnah Lidda’wati wal jihad, meaning “people committed to the propagation of the prophet’s teachings and jihad”. That was in 2002.

But not much was heard about the Islamist religious sect until 2009 when a discrepancy erupted between them and the state’s law enforcement agents which culminated in the death of the leader of the
group, late Mohammad Yusuf.

Prior to the time, Mohammad Yusuf had faulted the participation of most leaders of northern states especially the governors who were full blooded Muslims in the affairs of the country. He saw it as illegitimate, non-Islamic venture and considered too secular for their “religious inclinations and preached a doctrine of withdrawal”.
But the lid was to be let open when the group declared that “western education is evil”, a phrase that gave it its popular name ‘Boko Haram’.

Ever since then, Boko Haram began to launch an onslaught against the state, yet that did not define the reasons for their attacks whether it was to avenge the death of their former leader, Yusuf or that the government institutions were fundamentally “haram”.

In the aftermath, the attacks permeated as the sect carried out a number of suicide bombings and assassinations from Maiduguri to Abuja, and staged an ambitious prison-break in Bauchi, freeing more than seven hundred inmates in 2010.

In November 2011, the group staged its most deadly attacks so far in Maiduguri as well as Yobe’s Damaturu and Potiskum, targeting churches, mosques, banks, and police stations. At least 150 people were reported killed. November’s violence garnered more international attention for the group, with condemnations from the head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, OIC; the Pope, the UN Security Council, and the UN Secretary General. Bombings on Christmas Day in 2011 targeting churches and killing dozens raised fears about the possibility of another spate of religious violence between Muslims and Christians.

And of course, it almost climaxed to that as most killings became the lot of Christians in the North. At a time in 2012, the killings apparently took an ethnic dimension that fear of another civil war was felt across the federation. But somehow, the days rolled past by without war.

No Amnesty for “Ghosts”, — President Jonathan

At the Sultan’s call for amnesty when President Jonathan visited the sect’s enclave, the President was quick and unequivocal in his response to the calls for amnesty.

Hear him: “We cannot declare amnesty for Boko Haram because we cannot declare amnesty for ghosts. You cannot liken Boko Haram to what happened in the Niger Delta”.

He identified the essential difference between the Niger Delta struggle and the Boko Haram insurgency.
“Some of these names you hear, Asari Dokubo, Ateke Tom, when I was a deputy governor, I went to a meeting with President Olusegun Obasanjo and I saw Asari and Tom in the Presidential Villa.

“That was the first time I saw them; I had never seen them before, I did not even know them and I was the deputy governor of Bayelsa State, one of their hotbeds. It was in the villa that I met them first during a meeting with the President.

“What I am saying is that in the Niger Delta case, if you call them, they will come and tell you their grievances, rightly or wrongly. They will be there to tell you ‘this is what we want; this is why we are
doing this. But in the case of the Boko Haram, you don’t see anybody who will say he is a Boko Haram member, so we cannot declare amnesty.

For us to declare amnesty, we must be communicating with
people. We cannot declare amnesty for people that are operating under a veil. We can’t even discuss amnesty issue, let them come and tell us their problems and let’s see how we can solve the problem.”

Amnesty deal, its political undertones and reactions

Barely one month after he made the statement, President Jonathan changed his mind and set up a committee for amnesty for Boko Haram. But most people think that is one move that holds more than what could be peripherally discerned.

They argued that if President Jonathan has eventually decided to grant pardon to the sect, it must be a bait to negotiate his second term bid with the North in 2015. One of such persons who share the view included the Second Republic Governor of old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa.

More Reactions

Since the announcement of the deal, a consternation of reactions has been trailing it. While some welcome it, many say it is totally wrong and unfathomable. Some analysts couldn’t also comprehend the rationale behind the move. To them, terrorism and insurgency are twin evils against the state and the government has to fight it with every thing at its disposal.

They argued that the offer of amnesty in any war presupposes defeat by the group.
In this same vein, some relations to victims of Boko Haram’s deadly activities are also pushing for due compensations. But in the first instance, they contended that amnesty to Boko Haram is unthinkable.
Reverend Abare Kallah, the Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN)  who spoke to Saturday  Vanguard said:

“The issue of amnesty needs to be defined. It depends on what it means. Many people have tried to compare the amnesty of the Boko Haram to the Niger-Delta case. They are totally different. And the case of the north is not the Niger Delta issue. People need to understand that.

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, properties 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”.

Amnesty puts Nigeria at crossroad—-Briggs

Speaking to Saturday Vanguard, a Niger Delta activist, Madam Annkio Briggs said that amnesty to Boko Haram may spell doom for Nigeria.

“Nigeria is at a crossroad. Nigeria is at a self distruct crossroad. Wole Soyinka has said a week ago that Nigeria is at the verge of a civil war. Did he not say so? He said that even before the Northern people met with Jonathan. So, Nigeria is at a crossroad, a self-destructive crossroad.

People should stop comparing Boko Haram to Niger Delta agitation. As far as I am concerned, the comparison of Boko Haram to the Niger Delta crisis is not acceptable and can never be acceptable to the Niger Delta people. Our issues are different. Boko Haram has not asked for amnesty.

Buhari’s endorsement

Surprise greeted General Mohammed Buhari’s endorsement of the amnesty offer on Wednesday. From Ogun State where he had gone on condolence visit to the family of HID Awolowo, Buhari said “it is good that they have set up a committee on amnesty. I have not seen the term of reference but it is a right step in the right direction. This is the first time amnesty would be given to a violent group.Whatever it takes to bring peace as a society, we should do it”.

But according to feelers, a man who refuted claims of knowing any member of Boko Haram even when there were calls for him to mediate on behalf of the group should not be lauding the offer of amnesty for people he does not know.

A threat made real?

There is also a thought in some quarters that Boko Haram insurgency was a way of making real the threat by a northern elite, Kaita who during the build up to 2011 elections vowed that should President Jonathan win the election, the North will make the country ungovernable for him. And true to that statement, the government of Jonathan since its inception has not known peace due to insecurity

We are yet to decide on Amnesty —-Boko Haram

But even as the federal government is still gauging the decision whether or not to grant amnesty to Boko Haram, the sect has said it is also thinking whether or not to accept the offer, meaning that the
group has distanced itself from the avalanche of calls for amnesty by some northern chieftains.

The Implications

While the Federal Government sees amnesty as a panacea to lasting peace especially in the Northern part of the country, some analysts have argued that the Federal government is setting a wrong precedent, stressing that if evil is rewarded with good, there are also tendencies that more violent groups which may not even have religious connotations might sprout up; hold the nation to ransom and eventually negotiate for fees from Federal government.

Already, Nigeria has been infested with several groups: Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) and Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF) which operated in the South-South, Oduduwa Peoples Congress (OPC) in the West and Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) in the East.

All had and still have their agenda that if left unmonitored will have the penchant for executing them.



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