President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday in Damaturu, the Yobe State capital, dashed the hope of those seeking amnesty for the Boko Haram sect, saying that the federal government has no plans to extend such cloak of grace to members of the group that are faceless.
Jonathan stated this at a town-hall meeting during his visit to Damaturu, one of the northern towns facing security challenges arising from the activities of the sect.
He said, "You cannot declare amnesty for ghosts. Boko Haram still operates like ghosts. So, you can't talk about amnesty for Boko Haram now until you see the people you are discussing with".
But the president said that he could consider the idea of granting amnesty if members of the group, which has claimed responsibility for the series of killings of persons and bombings of private and public buildings, make themselves available physically for negotiations.
Influential stakeholders in the north including the northern governors and Sultan of Sokoto Alhaji Sa'ad Abubakar III had, prior to the president's two-day working visit to Yobe and Borno states, urged the federal government to grant amnesty to members of Boko Haram for peace to return in the country.
But the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) faulted the call on the grounds that the granting them amnesty was not in the best interest of the country.
Jonathan, however, told the gathering at the town-hall meeting in Damaturu that he was shocked when he read on the pages of newspapers that the leaders from the northern region were clamouring that the sect be granted amnesty.
Waving aside requests by stakeholders and some professionals in Yobe State led by former minister of finance Mallam Adamu Ciroma that Boko Haram members be granted amnesty, the president noted that applying the carrot approach was not the best at the moment for members of a group who have continuously operated like "ghosts".
The president, who drew a distinction between the amnesty granted to the Niger Delta militants and the pressure currently mounted on him by northern leaders to do same to the sect, observed that it was possible for his former boss, the late President Umaru Musa Yar 'Adua, to extend the cloak of amnesty to the Niger Delta militants only when the militants had presented themselves and had come to see the president when he invited them.
In the instant case, Jonathan said, no leader of the Boko Haram sect has made himself visible for talks to hold.
"When you call the Niger Delta militants, they will come; but nobody has agreed that he is Boko Haram; no one has come forward. If amnesty can solve the situation, then, no problem. But nobody has come forward to make himself visible," the president maintained, adding that even the amnesty for the Niger Delta militants was not done properly.
According to him, because there was a series of inflow of repentant militants after the time frame given to them had elapsed, the programme almost became endless. Another mistake, he added, should not be allowed to repeat itself with the amnesty programme being agitated for on behalf of Boko Haram.
Apologising to indigenes of the state, Jonathan pointed out that he could not pay them a condolence visit, not because he was not bothered about their plight but because he chose to visit other affected areas for the time being, due to official exigencies that started setting in.
He added that the change of national security adviser (NSA) distorted certain plans that were put in place even before the incumbent NSA, Col Sambo Dasuki (rtd), came on board.
At a meeting between the president and emirs and other royal fathers in the state, Yobe State governor Ibrahim Gaidam recounted that 209 public schools, vehicles and property worth N2.5billion as well as private buildings worth N629million had been razed and destroyed by the Boko Haram attacks.
He added that the state government doled out N4.8 billion to make up for losses caused by the insurgence, even as he noted that the state government spends an average of N200 million every month to maintain the operations of security personnel fighting the insurgents.
Jonathan later urged all Nigerians to ensure that the country does not disintegrate. He said that the breaking of Nigeria as being canvassed by some people would be deadly.
Rather than call for disintegration or allow the prediction of any outside country on Nigeria to come to pass, he said, everybody should stand as one nation and live in peace. Yobe and Borno states are part and parcel of Nigeria and nobody should think that Nigeria would break into two or more than one, he stated.
Link FG with Boko Haram leaders, Jonathan tasks Borno people
Meanwhile, President Jonathan has tasked the people of Borno State to endeavour to link the federal government with the leaders of Boko Haram for government to grant them amnesty.
He also said that granting amnesty to Boko Haram will not be a problem to the federal government, hence similar amnesty was granted to the Niger Delta militants even when he was a deputy governor in Bayelsa State in 2005.
He said, "If there is anybody that knows them, he can be the link between us and the Boko Haram. But government cannot dialogue or grant amnesty to ghost people or invisible people. Unless we see them, we talk to them and we can grant them amnest."
The president spoke while responding to appeals made by the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Garbai ibn Umar-el-Kanemi, in his palace immediately after his return to Maiduguri from Damaturu yesterday.
The president further urged the people of Borno to accept his apology for not being in Maiduguri earlier than now and pledged to support the state in all aspects of human development, peace and infrastructure.
The royal father had earlier appealed to the president to resuscitate the ailing Lake Chad Basin Development Authority [CBDA] to boost agricultural activities in the state as well create job opportunities for the teeming unemployed youths.
He also urged the president to come to the aid of the state in terms of electricity, security, oil exploration, fertiliser, federal roads, among other federal projects that are either abandoned or under construction in the state.
Jonathan assured the royal father and the people of Borno that nothing would hinder the federal government from assisting the state or coming to the rescue of the state. He commended the fatherly role of the Shehu of Borno towards restoration of peace in the state and the country at large.
No Institution Is Immune To Attacks By Terrorists - Gov Suswan
Benue State governor Gabriel Suswam has warned that no institution, political or traditional, is immune to terrorist attacks that have been unleashed on Nigerians.
Suswam made this assertion in a keynote address entitled "Our Diversity, Our Strength" which he presented during a one-day lecture organised by a coalition of civil society organisations in Kaduna.
Suswam, who used the occasion to clear the air on what he called misrepresentations about his statement recently concerning the Boko Haram sect -- he was quoted as having said that the sect was after him-- said, "I meant it in the sense that they were after the institution and office that I represent, not me as a person. The recent attack on our revered Emir of Kano shows that no institution - political or traditional -- is immune to acts of terrorism, which are being unleashed on Nigerians."
He said such actions should compel all leaders to open channels of inter-cultural, religious, political and social dialogue among diverse groups for better understanding of our cultural and religious sensitivities in order to ensure rapid integration of socio-economic ties between various communities.
Suswam, who dwelled on the need for continuous dialogue as the cornerstone of Nigeria's unity, peace and progress, stated that our diversity can only be our strength if, across the broad political spectrum, certain basic principles, chiefly tolerance and respect for other people's belief systems and cultures, are observed.
Noting that "our diversity has not been properly managed", Suswam said that, rather than drawing empathy and strength from our differences, we have allowed them to build a gulf between us and lamented that the once flourishing cosmopolitan city of Kaduna is a sad example of how not to manage diversity.
Those insinuating that Nigeria will disintegrate are liars - Belgore
Also speaking during the lecture, former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Alfa Belgore, stated that insinuations that Nigeria will disintegrate by the year 2015 will fail and those having such insinuations are liars.
Belgore, who chaired the one-day summit, said, "God Almighty is very kind to this country: from three, four years ago they were saying that, in 2015, Nigeria would not exist; they are lying, we shall be there."
"What is happening now, with some people taking up arms, is rather unfortunate. The majority of the people shooting in the north-east of Nigeria are not from Nigeria. They were trained in neighbouring countries by those people who were saying we are not going to exist.
He continued: "What they don't know is that God has united this country -- not language, not religion can divide us because in a family there is Muslim, there is Christian, even atheist. Even among the Christian sect, there is Catholic, there is Methodist, there is Anglican. We love ourselves so much. So whatever method is used to divide us, we are going to be victorious and Nigeria will remain one forever.