•Says it will ensure peace, save the country lots of money
•Dares ex-military leaders to contest against Buhari, if…
•Junaid Mohammed, Ohanaeze, Okurounmu, rights activists, others react
By Clifford Ndujihe, Charles Kumolu, Gbenga Oke & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA—THE Presidency has said that granting amnesty to Boko Haram insurgents would make them drop their arms, embrace peace, stop bloodshed and save resources for the country.
The Presidency also explained that President Muhammadu Buhari has remained silent over his second term ambition because his focus was to deliver good governance to the country.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, said in an interview in Abuja that President Buhari’s achievements would give him victory in 2019, if he decides to contest.
He also told some retired army generals that had ruled the country in the past, who had advised him to drop second term ambition, to summon the courage and contest against the president, stressing that President Buhari will defeat all of them.
On the assertion that President Buhari was shielding killer herdsmen from prosecution and even begging them to accept amnesty, Shehu argued that if the terrorists should embrace amnesty, it would stop the killings in the polity.
However, some notable Nigerians, including Second Republic lawmaker, Junaid Mohammed; Senator Femi Okorounmu, NBA Vice President, Monday Ubani; Niger Delta activist, Ann Kio-Briggs, and former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Austin Opara, disagreed with government, saying Boko Haram insurgents have not demonstrated remorse to warrant amnesty.
But Garba Shehu said: “Well, I hope you also realise that the social media has brought a lot of good things to the world and it has also brought a lot of problems not only in Nigeria but everywhere in the world.
“Nations of the world are talking about regulations and control, this is happening in Germany in the UK, even the US, you see that a lot of these technology companies are being fined for infringements that they cause.
“The thing is that there is a tendency to see things from a negative point of view when your point of view is shaped and coloured by the social media.
“It’s always been heard that the default position of social media itself is to be negative, so people have turned out to ignore grand reality and project images that are very negative.
“Otherwise I wonder, this is an administration that has done extremely well and to a President who has sworn to an oath to defend the constitution and protect every life and property, it is very unfair and uncharitable to say that he will shield anybody.
“In any case, the President controls only one layer of authority, what are the governors doing? Is the social media also saying that the governors are protecting the herdsmen from the law? Are they saying the local governments are also protecting them?
“You see, it has to take everyone at various levels of authority to shield somebody from the law in those circumstances, and the President himself, his passion is for the country, this is a President whose passion is not even for the office, even when everyone is asking him to go for a second term, he is keeping quiet because his focus remains the nation and the problem of the country.
“Whoever is peddling these rumours that Boko Haram is being granted amnesty and so on, I would ask them who doesn’t want to make peace with the enemy? In any case, as it is proverbially said, all wars end up in the boardroom.
“You can defeat people technically in the field but at the end, you must come to the conference room to resolve all issues. So, if Boko Baram would lay down their arms and stop fighting and stop preaching that negative ideology, the country should be able to embrace them, welcome all of them so that they continue to live normal lives and be useful to the nation.
“What that means is that we will be saving cost, saving lives that are being lost through bombing, killing of service personnel and we will be saving money that we are using to procure weapons so that such money can go into services and infrastructure and welfare of the citizens of this country. It is a win-win situation.”
On Buhari’s administration
On his rating of the Buhari-led government since inception, especially in infrastructure development, Shehu said: “I want to say that the records are there for everyone to see, that no government, no past administration in Nigeria, has invested as much as we have done, or let me say we are currently doing in infrastructure development.
“From day one when he took power, the President gave a target of not less than 30% of annual appropriation devoted to infrastructure development. Without infrastructure, we cannot lay the foundation for growth.
“When this administration came to power, between 95 and 96 per cent of public expenditure was going into overhead cost, leaving only about five or four per cent for infrastructure. The allocation of 30 per cent under this administration has led to tremendous improvement in the provision of infrastructure so far in the country.
“Now there is a lot of work going on, building new rail lines and the rehabilitation of the old rail system networks; roads are being done all across the country; you only need to drive around to see for yourself.
“The amount of work this administration has done on roads, for instance the expressway, from Enugu to Port Harcourt, has not been done in the eight years of the previous administrations. We are hoping that within this year, before the next election, Lagos-Ibadan expressway will be completed. It’s a lot of money, we are doing it, government is laying the sod now for the construction of a six-lane road from Abuja to Kano.
“So, there is so much that is going on in terms of that. We are doing power, you know that this administration has doubled availability of power in the country. When we came in, it stood at about 3,000 MW, we have hit 7,000 MW and we are doing more, so it depends on what you are looking at.
“This is a government that has spent N1.3 trillion in capital expenses under 2016 Budget and has also spent as much as that under the 2017 budget and it’s almost closing on records for last year which was N1.3 trillion.”
Also commenting on the allegation in some quarters that the President has failed in the area of security, basing their arguments on the farmers/ herders crises, Shehu said the problem between farmers and herdsmen predated the independence of Nigeria.
He said: “If you read history, you will see that farmers and herdsmen had fought for space in this country, even when British colonial rulers were here, so this is not something new, I am not saying it is welcome but I think it is over amplified now.
“There is a media spotlight on it because the opposition cannot engage Buhari administration on any other issue other than this lacuna that they have found.
“They cannot discuss the war against corruption because that’s a very uncomfortable area for them; they don’t want to discuss issues of infrastructure with Buhari, they don’t want to discuss economic diversification which this administration has achieved a lot of success.
“Today, we have 12 million rice farmers in this country, six million new jobs are being created in other sectors by agriculture alone, food import has gone down by 95 per cent, we are feeding ourselves.
“This year, the government is planning a ban on rice importation. So we are doing so well moving from over reliance on oil to agriculture and manufacturing. Therefore, I am not saying that it is okay that the farmers and herdsmen are fighting but we are doing a lot.
Fielding question on the call by the President’s contemporaries in the military and former Presidents on him not to seek re-election, Shehu said: “My response to them is that if they like, they can come and contest against President Buhari. He will defeat them, all of them.”
Also on his advice for Nigerians who think that Buhari should not be talking about second term when people are hungry, he said: “With all the noise the PDP is making, even during their time, did they give breakfast, lunch and dinner to every citizen? Is there any country in which someone does not go hungry?
“I am not saying it is perfectly in order but they are just politicizing these issues. This is a government that has removed this country from the shame of food importation, every state of the country now is into rice production, and we are feeding not only Nigeria but west Africa.
Amnesty will not stop Boko Haram — Mohammed
In his reaction, Second Republic lawmaker, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, said he does not believe granting amnesty to Boko Haram will solve the problems of insurgency.
He said: “I don’t believe the amnesty will stop anything because so far so good, we do not know how far the negotiations between the Federal Government and Boko Haram has gone. Also, we do not know whether it is an honest negotiation that is ongoing or the one based on commercial purposes.
“If negotiations are ongoing and we do not know how far they have gone but we are hearing money is exchanging hands, then it is simply blackmail and I can say that at the end of the day, we will realize that FG had not been interfacing with the real leaders of Boko Haram and all the negotiations have been based on commercial purposes.”
It’ll bring Jihad to Nigeria — Okurounmu
Sen. Femi Okurounmun said the call to grant amnesty to Boko Haram is to systematically bring Jihad in the country by President Buhari.
He said: “The amnesty move is to call for Jihad and I can say that the herdsmen menace ravaging the country is not different from Boko Haram. Why should they give amnesty to terrorists? I think Nigerians should speak against this call because it is the same people they give amnesty to who will turn around and slaughter people within the country.”
It’s like granting amnesty to Bin Laden — Opara
Former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representative, Austin Opara, said granting amnesty to Boko Haram can be likened to giving Bin Laden or Al-Qaeda amnesty.
He said: “I think this government is trying to mix criminality and terrorism side by side. Granting any amnesty to Boko Haram organisation is unfortunate and I hope this government is thinking about the unity of this country? This development is not only unfortunate but a sad development for this country.”
Did Boko Haram say it wants amnesty?— Ubani
Speaking on the subject, Second Vice President of Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Monday Ubani, said: “Did the Boko Haram sect indicate interest that it needs amnesty? Have the insurgents displayed any remorse that they are tired of killing? This is a sect that has killed so many people and they are still killing.
“If they have not indicated interest that they want to stop killing or displayed any form of repentance, why is the Federal Government talking about amnesty? This is a government that I support but sometimes it takes actions that make people say things about it.”
Don’t use Niger-Delta oil money to grant foreigners amnesty – Ann Kio-Briggs
Environmental Rights Activist and Convener of Niger-Delta Self-Determination Movement, NDSDM, Ann Kio-Briggs, opposed amnesty for Boko Haram, saying that doing so would amount to the government admitting that Nigeria has failed and it is incapable of saving Nigerians from torrorists and foreign invaders.
She said: ‘’Boko Haram has owned up to being a terrorist group. It has declared its support and affiliation to the ISIS, a renowned world terrorist organisation. If the government wants to grant amnesty to a terrorist group, I think this country is finished. It means kidnappers, armed robbers and other criminals can be granted amnesty.
“I hope they don’t want to use Niger Delta oil money for the amnesty programme.?”
Renowned Niger Delta environmental activist, Comrade Alagoa Morris said: “It is indeed with mixed feelings that I receive this latest news about Boko Haram credited to Mr. President. First of all, the past administration also tinkered with the idea of amnesty for this group whose grouse for all their killings and destructions many Nigerians are yet to know.
“It also shows how this nation won’t be able to withstand external aggression. If Amnesty is to be granted these terror group after it has destroyed hundreds of lives and property worth billions of Nigeria, for not justifiable reason; then the Federal Government should go it all and provide Social security for all Nigerians who are 70 and above without pension and all unemployed graduates.”
‘It’s good news’
Mr. Joseph Ambakederemo, Convener, South South Reawakening Group, SSRG, expressed support for the Federal Government’s plan to grant amnesty to the Boko Haram insurgents.
He said: “For me, it is a welcome development only if they could see it through to its logical conclusion. The rate of destruction of lives and property is becoming alarming. Therefore, it is good news we have to explore.”
It’s cheap political encomiums — Ohanaeze
The Igbo apex body, yesterday, stated that the Federal government’s move to give amnesty to members of the dreaded Boko Haram sect was aimed at achieving undeserved and cheap political encomiums from uninformed and gullible Nigerians.
In a statement issued in Abakaliki, the National Publicity secretary of the organisation, Prince Uche Achi-Okpaga, asked: “How can you grant amnesty to a globally recognised terrorist organization and label an armless organisation, IPOB, a terrorist organisation?
“Even after they have fought our armed forces, occupied Nigerian territory, raped, plundered and looted Nigerians. I have no doubt any longer to agree with the constituency that insist that the whole drama is tailored to achieve undeserved and cheap political encomiums.
“One may also guess right that the next amnesty will be in favour of the dastardly, cantankerous and dare devil herdsmen that have as well destabilised and truncated the unity of Nigeria and have been killing Nigerians with callous impunity in unabated crescendo.
“We keep our fingers crossed as we beseech God Almighty to have mercy on Nigerians.”