Kaduna, Maiduguri, Damaturu — The Sultan of Sokoto yesterday urged President Goodluck Jonathan to use the opportunity of his visit to Maiduguri scheduled for tomorrow to grant amnesty to Boko Haram fighters in order to restore peace in the North.
Alhaji Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar spoke in Kaduna at the opening of the annual central council meeting of the Jama'atu Nasril Islam (JNI), which was attended by senior traditional rulers and Muslim leaders from across the country.
This is the first time the Sultan publicly canvassed amnesty for members of the Jama'atu Ahlis Sunnah Lid Da'awati Wal Jihad, though he had previously urged for dialogue between government and the sect.
Abubakar said President Jonathan should use the few members of the sect who denounced terrorism to reach out to others who have yet to do that. He was apparently referring to a Boko Haram faction which announced a ceasefire recently but was later disowned by sect leader Abubakar Shekau.
"I want to use this opportunity to advise the President, as we heard he is planning to visit Borno State on Thursday, to see how he can declare total amnesty to all combatants without thinking twice," said the Sultan, who is President-General of the JNI.
"This will make any other person who picks up arms to be termed as a criminal. If the amnesty is declared, it will make all those who have been tired of running and hiding to come out and embrace the amnesty.
"Some of them have already come out. In fact, we heard stories in the papers that some have come out. Even if it is one person that denounces terrorism, it is the duty of the government to accept that person because he can be used to reach others. Whether it is true or not, the government should accept that person first and then interrogate him to see if he really belongs or not.
"Some people think we are not doing anything as leaders in the North. No, we have done enough and I want to commend all of you in what you have been doing. We will continue to do so despite criticisms because we know what we are doing. In sha Allah we will continue to talk with the government to be just in whatever they do."
He said the JNI was committed to peace and would therefore continue to advise the political authorities on the way forward.
"We want to tell our political leaders and religious leaders the truth on the way forward for this country. We will continue to advise the government at all levels. If they do what they ought to do, Alhamdulillah (Thanks be to God). If they don't do we will continue to tell them to do the right thing because it is our duty to tell them," he said.
The Sultan also spoke on the recent violence in Wukari, Taraba State, which he described as beyond comprehension.
"What happened in Wukari few days ago was a total madness beyond comprehension. If not, how can an issue between youths playing football lead to what happened in Wukari where the major victims were Muslims? These are people that have been living for years peacefully."
On polio, he urged people to stop propagating "falsehood" on the alleged contamination of the vaccines.
"We must never propagate falsehood on things we don't know. We as Muslim leaders we should never come up with excuses on issues we don't know, especially on issues of polio. This issue has been disturbing us," he said. On unity among Muslims in the country, the Sultan said: "We must set aside differences in ideology. We should as much as possible always see ourselves as Muslims, that is very important."
A communique is expected to be issued at the end of the meeting, which was attended by Kaduna State Governor Mukhtar Ramalan Yero, Minister of State for Health Muhammed Ali Pate, Etsu Nupe Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar, Emir of Borno Alhaji Abubakar Ibn Gabai El-Kanemi and Emir of Katsina Alhaji Abdulmumini Kabir Usman, among others.
Tight security in Borno, Yobe
Meanwhile, ahead of the President Jonathan's visit to Yobe and Borno states scheduled for tomorrow, security is being beefed up in Maiduguri and Damaturu.
Also, street sanitation and renovation work have been going on while finishing touches were being put to projects expected to be commissioned by the president.
The visit comes a week after nine governors from opposition political parties under the auspices of All Progressives Congress (APC) visited Maiduguri, which has been the centre of the deadly insurgency afflicting the North.
Jonathan had been criticized over his failure to visit Borno and Yobe states since his assumption of office.
Though governments in the two states and the Presidency are yet to issue any statement on the planned visit, sources said Jonathan is expected to land at the Maiduguri airport and then proceed to Damaturu for a day's visit.
Towards Thursday evening, the President is expected to return to Maiduguri where he will spend the night and then undertake official tours of certain places in the Borno State capital on Friday.
Our correspondents report that major township roads in Damaturu are wearing a new look. Potholes on the roadways are being repaired while speed breakers have been removed.
Shanties, stalls and signboards along the roads were pulled down, as streetlights, roundabouts and road islands were painted with green and white colors.
Security operatives were seen on patrol yesterday, with many of them stationed at strategic locations.
Yobe State Commissioner of Police, Sunusi A. Rufa'i, said effective security network had been put in place ahead of the president's visit.
The president is expected to commission some projects including the newly-completed 300 housing units and some structures at the Yobe State University. In Maiduguri, security operatives were also seen patrolling the nooks and crannies of the city.
During his visit to Konduga last week, Governor Kashim Shettima had directed contractors to complete installation of machines and equipment ahead of the president's visit to inspect the Pilot Irrigation Scheme.
Some residents of Maiduguri and Damaturu said though they are pleased that the president had finally agreed to visit them, they fear they may be restricted from going about their normal businesses.
"We were forced to remain indoors when Vice President Namadi Sambo came to Maiduguri in the first week of February. But when the APC governors came last week, most of us were in our shops at the market, we only got to know they were in town when they visited us at the market," trader Hanna Ali said.
Ismail Mudashir, Hamza Idris, Ibrahim Sawab and Hamisu Kabir Matazu