By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
Senator Ali Mohammed Ndume represents Borno South.
In this interview, Ndume says neither the Chief of Army Staff nor President Muhammadu Buhari has sole right to grant amnesty to Boko Haram terrorists who surrendered.
He also speaks on the casualties in his home place as a result of the actions of terrorists.
Your constituency is among the worst hit by Boko Haram attacks. What’s your reaction to the rumored plan by government to grant amnesty to ‘repentant’ terrorists?
First of all, let me correct that wrong impression. The Federal Government is not saying it is granting blanket amnesty to the surrendering of Boko Haram terrorists.
In a war situation like this, anybody that chooses to surrender has the right to do that. And once he surrenders, you, his enemy, so to say, have lost the right of summarily executing him.
You don’t have even the right of summarily freeing him as well and say “oh, you have surrendered so you are forgiven”. No.
There is a procedure. They are now prisoners of war. And they will be profiled, interrogated, investigated and then the government will do the needful.
If they are to be prosecuted, they will be prosecuted, those that are supposed to be set free, because they are innocent, or they have been conscripted will be set free. But there is no statement from the government that I’ve heard or known, that these people are going to be given blanket amnesty because there must be a procedure.
The Chief of Army Staff, for example, doesn’t have the right to grant amnesty to those who have surrendered. It is only the President. And I doubt so much if even the President has the right to just grant amnesty without seeking the approval of the National Assembly.
Some of your constituents have been victims…
I have been a victim.
Some people are asking if terrorists that killed people are granted amnesty, what about the children that have been turned into orphans?
No they (terrorists) are not going to be granted amnesty, we cannot, we will not support or we will not allow government to do that. Like I told you, I am a victim. In one night they killed our elders, 75 of them, and slaughtered them in an abattoir.
I keep saying this because of that gruesome murder of our elders, innocent people… I lost all my houses in my town.
They burnt it down to ground zero, they burnt almost 70 per cent of my local government, they destroyed the structures; in my local government, over two million people were displaced.
We have this memory fresh in our minds. The end of war is a very welcome development and that is because the Nigerian Army is putting the heat on them.
ISWAP is putting the heat on the followers of Shekau (B/Haram leader killed by rival group), and those mostly surrendering now are those that belong to the Shekau faction. So the army has issued a statement that they are going to profile them, they are going to process them, those that need to be prosecuted will be prosecuted the those that need to be rehabilitated will be rehabilitated.
Those that need to be resettled will be resettled. But like I have said, we call on government not to give priority to resettling the perpetrators of this heinous crime.
The priority will be resettlement, rehabilitation, reconstruction of the victims. And we have them all over scattered.
That is why I want the media to understand that there is no way, I’ve not heard government say they are going to grant blanket amnesty. It was good news that they said these our enemies are now surrendering.
And we said “okay if they are surrendering they are welcome, but they have to go through the due process”.
They have to face the law. Even in America, Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp is still there after 20 years. And I understand that they still have up to 40 people there out of thousands before. And it was gradual, it took them 20 years to reduce that number.
If you are in the position to advise government on the terrorists surrendering, what would be your candid advice?
My candid advice is that in the process of the war, just as the Chief of Army Staff has done, what should be done is to encourage them to surrender with their weapons and come out and be prisoners of war first.
Government will process them and those that are innocent will be discharged and those that are culpable and found guilty will be properly sentenced by the appropriate court or they will face the law because we have a facility somewhere.
I don’t want to say specifically where the facility is for security reasons. We have judges assigned to special courts. We have so many people already tried.
This is just the procedure. I’m telling you, as a member of the Senate, as the Chairman of the Committee on the Army, that the army has never or cannot grant amnesty to Boko Haram.
No. I was upset to read of the allegation that the army or whoever is secretly… I don’t think that is true. But I will find out and then we’ll know what to do.
How many of your constituents have you lost to the activities of these terrorists?
I cannot know. I have a friend who they kidnapped; he is a judge of Sharia court and we have not seen him.
We don’t know whether he is alive. But then there is one of them (terrorists) that we know, Adamu, although we don’t know his level of involvement, we heard he came out to surrender.
We that are victims, intelligence agencies, and organizations, we know them, we know their level of involvement in Boko Haram.
So it is through interrogation, through investigation, through intelligence gathering that the army will be able to know whether they’re culpable or not. But the army must be commended. Government must be commended for now being serious about facing this insurgency and bringing it to an end.
These are our people, we forgive, yes, but the process of forgiveness must be followed.
The process of integration or whatever they call it must be followed. Government must prioritize two things. One is bringing the war to an end, two is the rehabilitation of victims, then three, taking of the prisoners of war or those who have surrendered; it cannot be upside down.
You cannot start with pampering or rehabilitating or reintegrating the perpetrators of the crime, leaving the victims, no. Those who have surrendered, their women, you don’t punish a woman, but even among the women, there are some we know are criminals.
That is to say, if your husband is a criminal, and then you help him in the criminality, you are also supposed to be punished. But some women are just victims because their husbands took them and there’s nothing they could do. There are children who don’t know what they’re doing. They are under age and they are not participating.
They are just with the parents. But other children are conscripted into it, they don’t know anything at the age of seven. This child soldier, as you call them, you can’t treat him the same way with a mature person who knows what he’s doing.
So, all these things the military intelligence, the other intelligence agencies will do, sieve out, investigate thoroughly.
There is no hurry in re-integrating the Boko Haram members that have surrendered. But government should be in a hurry to rebuild these communities. I hope there shouldn’t be a misplacement of priority.
After ending the war, government should intensify rehabilitation, re-integration and resettlement of the victims that are scattered all over the country.
From my local government alone, I have more than 10,000 internally displaced persons right here in Abuja. We have over 60,000 of them in Cameroon.
We have over 100,000 of them in Nigeria. Government should prioritize this. That is their second priority.
Then the third priority is to profile, sieve and investigate those prisoners of war that they have become when they surrender.