Damaturu — President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday in Damaturu said there will be no amnesty for members of the Jama'atu Ahlis Sunnah Lidda'awati Wal Jihad because they have not come out in the open.
"You cannot declare amnesty for ghost. Boko Haram are still operating as ghost," Jonathan said during his first visit to Yobe and Borno states since his election nearly two years ago.
The president was responding to the recent call by the Sultan of Sokoto urging him to use the visit to declare amnesty to Boko Haram fighters as a way of ending years of deadly insurgency in parts of the North.
Yobe elders, including former Finance Minister Adamu Ciroma, also re-echoed the Sultan's call during a town hall meeting with Jonathan in Damaturu yesterday.
In his response, the president said when the Niger Delta amnesty was declared by the late President Yar'adua the militants came out in the open to discuss with the government.
"What I am saying is that in the Niger Delta, if you call them (militants), they will come and tell you their grievances rightly or wrongly... they will be there to tell you that this is what we want and why we are doing this," he said.
"But the Boko Haram, you don't see anybody who says he is Boko Haram as such you cannot declare amnesty for them. For you to declare amnesty, you have to be communicating with the people. You can not declare amnesty for people that are operating under a veil, so we cannot even discuss the issue of amnesty.
"Let them (Boko Haram) come, let us discuss how we solve the problem. If amnesty will solve the problem, no problem about it, we can define what the amnesty is."
The recent calls for amnesty for Boko Haram came in the wake of the declaration of a ceasefire by a faction, led by one Abdulazeez who claimed he was speaking on behalf of sect leader Abubakar Shekau. But Shekau has already disowned Abdulazeez.
In a speech in Kaduna on Tuesday, Sultan Sa'ad Abubakar said this faction should be used to reach out to other Boko Haram members who have yet to declare ceasefire.
Jonathan said even when a stage was reached where amnesty could be offered to Boko Haram, there is need to manage it well to avoid the problems that came up after the Niger Delta amnesty.
He said "even the Niger Delta Amnesty was managed poorly...a lot of challenges. If I were not from the Niger Delta, the whole thing would have been disastrous by now because of the way it was poorly managed."
'I had no time to come here'
Jonathan had been severely criticized for his failure to visit what is regarded as the centre of Boko Haram activity. Recently, opposition governors visited Maiduguri, stoking further criticism on the president.
Jonathan yesterday tried to reassure the people that he had not forsaken any part of the country
"My visit to Yobe is to really have this kind of interactive session. I want to reassure the people of this state that there is no difference between the Federal Government and any part of the country," he said.
"There are some of kinds of insinuations that Oh! Mr. President doesn't want to go to the northeast...In Abuja, when the police headquarter was bombed, I had to go there. When the UN building was bombed, I visited the place and of course, the first major attack on religious centre was when the Catholic Church was bombed in Niger State and of course the kind of signals I had could have provoked actions. I had to rush down and declare that (state of) emergency to calm the situation down.
"And of course when there was one major attack in Kano State, I had to go there. But somehow in Yobe State, in Borno State, in Adamawa State, in Bauchi State, in Gombe State, I have not and sometimes people are insinuating that the President don't like these states. No, I would have been in Yobe long ago and even Borno State much, much earlier. Even before (National Security Adviser Sambo) Dasuki took over, I said that look, we must go to these states and when he took over, I had no time and he (Dasuki) had to rush. He assumed duty not quite one week when he visited the states. The Chief of the Defence Staff, the Inspector General of Police and the Chief of Army Staff were all there.
"My coming is to re-assure the people of Yobe State that I don't discriminate between the sections of the country. I took an oath of office to treat Nigeria as one and what affects Yobe State affects the rest of the country."
Jonathan said terrorism is a global phenomenon, and that "if one state or one community in Nigeria is under terror attack, it affects the rest.... There is no way a president whether he is Jonathan or any president will say he will not be bothered about what happened in any state of the federation."
The President had earlier paid a courtesy call on Governor Ibrahim Gaidam and a held a closed door interaction with traditional rulers. He later said on Gaidam's invitation, he will be back in Damaturu in June.
In his speech, Gaidam thanked the president for the visit. "What is most gladdening however is that by coming here, Mr. President has debunked the general impression held in many quarters that our part of the country is a no-go area for him or for top profile national figures."
He said the state had initiated aggressive programmes in order to address its challenges. He said in the last few years and despite security challenges, over N50 billion was spent on the construction of 605.35km of township and Federal Government roads across the 17 local government areas of the state.
Gaidam said the state had also spent over N4 billion on maintaining security, while over 10,000 youth have been provided with jobs. "Over 1,300 houses been completed and delivered to civil servants on owner-occupier basis, while 360 boreholes, 288 hand pumps and 453 concrete lined cement wells had been completed to ease problem of water shortage across the state," he said.
The governor said the state was running a free-drugs scheme for pregnant women and children while the multi-billion naira 200-bed hospital in Damaturu had been completed. Over 1,000 tractors have been distributed to farmers, and 6000 metric tons of fertilizer had been distributed to farmers, he added.
Jonathan left Damaturu at about 5.30pm and returned to Maiduguri where he will spend the night. He is due to undertake an official visit to Borno State today, with commissioning of projects and meetings with political and traditional leaders.
Meanwhile, social and economic activities were completely paralyzed in Borno and Yobe states during Jonathan's visit. The president's plane landed at the Maiduguri airport around 10.30am, and he was received by Governor Kashim Shettima along with other officials.
Even before the plane landed, the entire 20-kilometre road from Maiduguri to Damaturu was blocked though the president proceeded to the Yobe State capital by helicopter.
Schools, banks and other businesses were shut, while movements in Maiduguri and Damaturu were grounded. Vehicles going to Maiduguri from Abuja, Kano, Lagos and other parts of the country were forced to park at the Damaturu entrance for more than 10 hours until the President flew back to Maiduguri.
The president was accompanied by PDP national chairman Bamanga Tukur, National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki, service chiefs and 10 ministers among other high-level government officials.