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Amnesty or payment for cessation of hostilities?

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By Cally Ikpe

It is believed generally in the study of violence that YOU CANNOT TAKE A GUN FROM THE VIOLENT AND OFFER NOTHING IN RETURN.

This position is perhaps because of the notion that people get involved with violence because they want something or look forward to a certain gain which can be abstract like position, love, respect or even material like money, jewelleries, food and much more.

While it is proving increasingly dangerous to stem violence with superior violence especially from an official standpoint, the need to apply the carrot approach seem to be gaining much traction lately, something referred to loosely in Nigeria as AMNESTY.

By late 1990s the Niger Delta region of Nigeria had earned the reputation as the most volatile spot in the country. Youth between the ages of 18 and 39 had taken up arms, kidnapping in the process mostly expatriates for ransom, bombing of oil installations and looting at random. These acts of violence according to them were deliberate acts to liberate the oppressed Niger Delta region and its people from perceived injustice visited upon them by the multinational oil companies and the Nigerian government.

By 2008 the crisis had reached an unprecedented height with an embarrassing global attention. The government of then President Umaru Yar’Adua responded by offering amnesty to the warring militants, something his successor Goodluck Jonathan continued after his demise. A 60 day period was initially opened for militants to turn in their weapons, get registered and qualify for monetary benefits and freedom from prosecution. Consequently, several militant groups took turns to turn in their weapons in order to accept the deal.

The effect on the region and indeed the country was profound as there was considerable cessation of hostilities and oil earnings stabilized. However, this action seemed more like paying the militants to halt hostilities in the region. Mouth-watering contracts were awarded to ex militants, some were sent on trainings in various vocation abroad.

While these gesture on the whole can be said to have served its cause, it also became a scandalous source of corruption as so many officials were alleged to have diverted huge sums of money running into billions.

Giving the relative calm that prevails in the Niger Delta region today which has enabled the Federal Government to continue oil exploration and sales, it can in all senses be said that the AMNESTY approach as applied by the Yar’Adua/Goodluck administration was a good move.

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The success of the amnesty approach to the challenge of militancy in the Niger Delta may have informed the recent moves by governors of some states in the Northern region to apply same in response to the challenge of banditry, kidnapping and killer-herders menace.

For a considerable while now, states in in the North-West region, especially Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto, and Kaduna have been enmeshed in serious bloodletting owing to the activities of bandits and killer herders. The situation seemed to have defied police solution due to its guerrilla nature.

Zamfara particularly has lost over 3000 people to the crisis while Katsina state, home of Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari has lost over 30 thousand people. Sokoto State on the other hand has lost over xxx since 2015. Kaduna state even with its attribute of being home to legendary military institutions and commands has lost more than xxx since 2015 and carries the stigma of the state with the most dreaded route’ the Kaduna/Abuja express way. Governors of these states recently came together to adopt the amnesty approach which entails freedom from prosecution, monetary gifts, rehabilitation and other incentives.

It is widely believed though that several other offers to placate bandits abound across the entire Northern region. The Governors of Benue and Taraba are known for instance to have offered amnesty to some notorious bandits that terrorized residents across borders. While these offers may seem sincere, there are doubts they are yielding the desired result.

There are strong indications that many of these supposedly repentant bandits have had to return to carrying out attacks in a manner that smacks of blackmail.

The prevalence of these crisis notwithstanding, Nigeria has actually been at war against the dreaded Boko Haram insurgents since 1998. The insurgents who have now metamorphosed into ISWAP that is, the West African wing of the dreaded ISLAMIC STATE have over the years grown to become more vicious, attacking military formations, and taking territories and hostages. At least one million persons have died from the activities of the Boko Haram group. There are also over thirty thousand persons internally displaced.

The total cost of the war so far in monetary terms is estimated to have gulped over 2 trillion dollars since inception. Again, in managing the situation aside military approach, government has had to negotiate on many occasions in order to secure release of hostages. The giveaway from government it is widely believed, has either been plenty of money in ransom or exchange of detained insurgents for hostages.

Today as a consequence of the war in the North East, Nigeria has had to establish the North East Development Commission, an agency saddled with the responsibility of rebuilding the North-east from the damage caused by the war. Even as some of these gestures negates government policy of not yielding to terrorists, most people will excuse it for expediency purposes.  While the war rages there have been suspicion from certain quarters that the Federal Government of Nigeria is showing empathy towards the insurgents. News of former Boko Haram fighters being set free by the government, some being reintegrated and rumours of others being recruited into the Army gives vent to that suspicion. These feelings are probably responsible for the outrage against the recent attempt by the National Assembly to create an agency that will cater to the repentant Boko Haram fighters. Many are quick to ask if it should rather be the victims of the insurgents, and families of slain soldiers that deserve more of government care. Could this be another form of amnesty?

Finally, while the many efforts at checking the spate of violence in Nigeria are commendable, government must be sensitive to the mood of the public in taking key decisions especially as it affects the sensibilities  of Nigerians, culturally, geographically and religiously. The Road to a violence-free Nigeria is very much alive and promising.

*Ikpe, a culture activist/broadcaster and convener of Road to a Violence-free Nigeria, writes from Abuja


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