22 January 2013

Nigeria: Militancy, Amnesty and the Law


There are increasingly vocal suggestions that Boko Haram should be given amnesty. Last year, the Federal Government lost various battles in its efforts to enforce the rule of law.

Church bombings, mosque murders, attacks on security formations and mass slaughter of innocent civilians became the norm. Militant organizations easily demonstrated that they are uncontrollable. In 2013, government must get down to the serious business of finding a permanent solution to enforcing and maintaining the rule of law. If a timely solution is not found, then we must seriously consider the possibility of our Nation soon descending into anarchy. Nigeria has been variously described as a country blessed with everything except good leadership. A country where millionaire Military Adventurists, Politicians and Civil Servants have appropriated to themselves the common wealth meant for all. A rich country full of poor people! Anyone who over the years has witnessed the continued failure of Government in Nigeria can well understand that young men not particularly well educated, and born to poor families are liable to lose respect for the law and become politically militant or socially deviant.

Unfortunately for us as a people we don't really believe in the rule of law. We confidently disobey traffic regulations, drive on pavements, and avoid paying taxes, pay bribes and so on, without feeling that we are doing anything wrong. Fortunately for us as a nation most citizens believe in some sort of social religious code that governs their behaviour. Thankfully therefore the majority of us don't believe in taking or threatening lives, we don't believe in kidnapping and we certainly don't believe in bombing innocent civilians. Unfortunately for this majority since they don't believe in perpetrating evil in this manner Government has been able to safely ignore their frustrations, ignore their anger, ignore their disillusionment and ignore their shame at the mess the Country has degenerated into. The common retort from political leaders is that anyone who feels so vehemently that change is necessary should join politics and contest election. What they fail to grasp is that an unwillingness to contest elections does not mean a citizen forfeits his or her right to be governed properly.

It is not difficult to understand the motives and thought processes of those who have become militant. These young people have been let down by the system and can see no hope for the future. They are easy to brainwash for evil simply because nobody has done them any good in the past, and there is little hope of change on the horizon. It is trite that leaders who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable. This unfortunately is where we are today.

Our problems with the rule of law started with the Niger Delta "amnesty" programme. Many were uncomfortable when they saw those who believed in violent change and criminality being feted and granted access to the highest offices in the land, whilst those who believed in the rule of law were being sidelined. What sort of message did Government think this sent out to other disaffected youths? Was it not obvious to them that the amnesty program implicitly approved militant behaviour as an "understandable" and forgivable course of action? Opponents of the program raised the question of whether political motives can ever be sufficient justification for outright criminal behaviour against innocent victims? Furthermore they suggested that if "amnesty" was granted to militants it should be extended to all murderers, thieves, rapists and so on in our prisons. Their justification is that convicted criminals created less problems for the Nation than Militants.

Without being pessimistic it was obvious right from the start that calling a few warlords and turning them into unproductive millionaires and cutting them into the deal could never be a permanent solution to our problems. Did it not occur to Government that this would only encourage others to follow suit? Was it really a genuine attempt to solve the problem? Would it not have been easier and cheaper in the long run to enforce the rule of law? One of the major premises of the Rule of Law is that inequitable laws can be changed according to the changing times. Our problem in Nigeria is what to do when the most inequitable law is the Constitution itself? The greatest handicap facing those who believe in the rule of law is that there is no realistic means of changing this inequitable document. The current document provides no avenue to solve the problems of the disillusioned within our society. The enabling environment for solving our problems amicably, intellectually, and with fair and just consideration just does not exist within the current constitutional framework. Added to this the self-centred attitudes of our current leaders ensures that the political will to achieve rule of law has been eroded to the extent that to all intents and purposes it has become non-existent.

It is trite that laws must apply equally to all. Unfortunately in Nigeria this is not the case. Amnesty International reports that JTF members commit atrocities and policemen commit extra-judicial murder with impunity. Politicians loot the treasury and get away with it. In such an environment can we seriously expect a virile, agile, motivated young man not to try his luck as a militant and expect to get away with it? If urgent preventative steps are not taken we more militancy will occur this year.

The instruments of disillusionments, marginalization and neglect are contained within a Constitution which we have become powerless to approve or change in any way. The operators of the fraudulent document use it to their benefit and to the detriment of peace and prosperity for all. The problems of the militants in the country are to all intents and purposes the same as for all other impoverished masses in Nigeria, exploitation, incompetence, and lack of ideology by the "political class". Why they should be given special treatment simply on account of their ability to wreak havoc is beyond me.

Dr Enahoro is on the Editorial Board of Daily Trust.

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