Lagos — After several months of buck passing between the Presidency and stakeholders in the north on the emergence of Boko Haram Islamic sect and desirability of granting amnesty to its members, the Federal government, yesterday, took a major step towards granting them amnesty as it set up a committee to look at the feasibility or otherwise of the programme.
The terms of reference of the committee are:
-To consider the feasibility or otherwise of granting pardon to the Boko Haram adherents,
-Collate clamours arising from different interest groups who want the apex government to administer clemency on members of the religious sect; and
-To recommend modalities for the granting of the pardon, should such step become the logical one to take under the prevailing circumstance.
A senior security official who was privy to the meeting of the National Security Council, yesterday, told Vanguard that at the end of the meeting the President set up an in-house committee with a two-week mandate to consider the clamour for amnesty for Boko Haram members and consider its feasibility or otherwise.
The source said: "If the committee, which will work hand in hand with the National Security Adviser (NSA) decides that amnesty would be workable, it will then outline modalities for implementing it'. He added that contrary to insinuations in some quarters, the President never said there would be no amnesty at all but that he would do so if people come forward to identify themselves for discussion and negotiations.
"It is a complex situation, but government has obligation to respect public opinion, especially with increasing clamour for the amnesty from various quarters", he added.
President Jonathan was said to have reached a deal with northern leaders last Wednesday to grant amnesty to members of the Boko Haram sect, as a means of ending the spate of raging violence across the region.
As a prelude to granting pardon to the sect, Jonathan met for several hours on Wednesday night with members of the powerful Northern Elders' Forum, NEF at the Presidential Villa to secure their support and cooperation towards ending the malevolent onslaught. Specifically, the President wanted an undertaking from the elders that they would impress upon the sect leaders and their followers to lay down their arms and embrace peace, as a condition for offering the olive branch.
Under the plan, the Federal Government is to set up an Amnesty Commission, which would serve as a quasi-judicial body, to register and cater for repentant members of the sect and protect them from being harassed or intimidated by security agents.
Meanwhile, President Jonathan's new resolve to grant amnesty to Boko Haram members has elicited mixed reactions across the country.
It's Jonathan's bait for North's support in 2015
Second Republic governor of old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa in his reaction said: "If President Jonathan eventually grants amnesty to members of the dreaded Boko Haram, it is a bait to getting political concession from the North in 2015".
Musa said: "Yes, he can do it. It is an attempt. He can use it. May be that was his reason for not doing anything about Boko Haram because he wants to use it to buy political concession from the north. I have always believed that Boko Haram is more likely to be an agent provocateur established by the federal government to divert attention."
Musa asserted, however, that the calls for amnesty to Boko Haram members became necessary and justifiable in the light of similar gesture given to former Niger Delta militants in the South-South geo-political zone of the country by late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua.
According to him: "With the Amnesty given to the Niger Delta militants, once you create a thing like this, you create something that can always been used by others. It is very difficult for any reasonable person to understand why the president cannot give amnesty to Boko Haram. Secondly, Yar'adua didn't give amnesty to Niger Delta militants because he was convinced they had a case. He gave them amnesty because his government was too weak and was afraid of what would have happened if the amnesty had not been given to them. So because of the consideration, he gave amnesty to buy time. Fortunately, it has worked. Now, the Jonathan administration is even weaker than the Yar'adua government because Yar'adua's government at least had the support of the Northern oligarchy," Musa explained.
Jonathan has proved himself as Nigerian President —Northern Youths
Reacting to the planned amnesty for Boko Haram, youths in the North said that President Jonathan had finally come out boldly as a Nigerian President and not an Ijaw leader by heeding strident calls to grant amnesty to the sect members.
This was the position of both the presidents of the Arewa Youths Consultative Forum, ACF, Alhaji Yerima Shettima, and that of the Arewa Youth Forum, AYF, Alhaji Gambo Gujungu, in separate interviews with Vanguard.
According to Gujungu, Jonathan has taken the right step to reposition Nigeria for peace, unity and development and would have written his name in gold by the time the commission is able to resolve the lingering security crisis in the north.
The AYF leader said: "Now we truly believe that Jonathan is committed to uniting this country and taking it to the next level for all Nigerians to be proud of.
On his part, Shettima said: "Mr. President's action tallies with what we have always been crying for and he has proved that he is a true leader, who listens to the yearning and aspirations of the people. We commend the President for this epoch approach to resolve the intractable security challenge in the North as we cannot afford to live in a country where strife and killings prevail."
We are watching—CPC
In its reaction to the development, the Congress for Progessive Change, CPC, said it would wait and see how the Peoples Democratic Party-led Federal Government would honestly and dispassionately implement the amnesty programme for the sect members.
The position of the party, which was made known by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Rotimi Fashakin, said that the PDP was playing politics with the Boko Haram matter.
"This PDP-infested Presidency is reticent at offering Amnesty because it is in cahoots with the political Boko Haram, which is the most virulent variant of the menace.
"There will be no need to declare a state of emergency in Northern Nigeria if the region is peaceful. Why is it that with increased sectoral allocation to Security, the nation reaps more insecurity? Should we not begin to think outside the box? Understandably, the Northern Elders ought to show so much concern because at the end of the day, it is their homeland that is extirpated. Is the Federal Government sincere about pulling this through? Will the need for hollow political gains not overshadow a national imperative? We are watching," the party stated.
ACF denies being in sympathy with Boko Haram
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), yesterday, in Kaduna denied allegations that the ACF was sympathising with the insurgents, saying its call for amnesty was to save innocent lives being lost daily in the militants' attacks. The Forum, however, argued that granting amnesty to the group would be a bait to bring them out for dialogue in the interest of the country.
The National Publicity Secretary of the Forum, Anthony Sani in his remarks when the Acting American Ambassador to Nigeria, Jeffery Hawkins paid a visit to the Forum's Secretariat in Kaduna said: "Actually, it is not that the northern leaders are sympathizing with them, certainly we do not approve what they are doing. Our preference for dialogue is informed by the fact that we have not been able to see anywhere, where force had succeeded. It is because we believe force has failed. When the president says he cannot dialogue with ghosts, he cannot dialogue with faceless people, then there has to be a mechanism to attract the people to come out. At the moment, there isn't any."
He reiterated the commitment of the ACF to promote the interest of the North.
Responding, the ambassador said the U.S would continue to support the Nigeria government in fighting terrorism, and improving human rights.
"We are very interested in encouraging Nigeria as it deals with law enforcement problems to make sure that the law enforcement and security agencies are not only enforcing the laws, but are also respecting the rights of the Nigerian citizens."
Hawkins reiterated the commitment of the United States in assisting Nigeria particularly in the area of health, education and agriculture.
"We have a wide robust engagement with the government of Nigeria across the board, whether in health, where we spent over half a billion dollars a year in health assistance.
"Whether it is in democracy and governance, whether its working with security forces, whether is in promoting agriculture, whether it is in working with INEC, EFCC or any Nigerian institutions. We are very much interested in helping our Nigeria partners."
Amnesty should be granted with conditions—Afenifere
In its own reaction, Yoruba socio-cultural organisation Afenifere through its National Publicity Secretary, Mr Yinka Odumakin said: "It is a development that portrays our capacity to think through issues before we made public remarks. The president would have underscored a better mileage if he had acceded to that gesture when he visited Maiduguri and offered it conditionally for Boko Haram to come forward and lay down their arms. We should have moved forward than what we have done now but it is never late than never."
Speaking further, he said the challenge is to make a "conditional offer to those who are ready to step forward to renounce terrorism and embrace peace. If they have a reasonable number of persons to come forward, they can use that to reach out to other persons who are engaged in this act of terrorism that threatens our corporate existence as a nation. I think it is belated but I also think it is a good development because we are trying to find solution to these problems and to stop the daily loss of lives going on in the country."
It's a welcome development —OPC
On its part, defunct militant Yoruba nationalist organization, Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, welcomed the decision of government to grant Boko Haram amnesty.
Speaking with Vanguard on telephone, National Coordinator of OPC, Otunba Gani Adams said: "I think it is a welcome development. If it is an option for us to have peace in the country, I will support the amnesty granted them because amnesty was granted the Niger Delta militants."
He added that "there is nothing wrong with amnesty granted Boko Haram. Though it may not stop the bloodshed, but it will reduce it because some of them will prefer amnesty rather than them confronting government forces. Amnesty is a process because some of them may not trust government's sincerity; but when they realise at the end of the day that it is real, they will join the package. With this, I believe we will have peace in the north just as we are witnessing peace in the Niger Delta."
Tinubu, Gov Aliyu, Kukah, Ezekwesili others blast Jonathan
NO fewer than fifteen State Governors led by the chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum, Mr Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, yesterday attended the 60th birthday celebration of Governor Adams Oshiomhole.
At the event, Governor Aliu Babangida of Niger state, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal and other speakers blasting President Goodluck Jonathan over his persistent call on Northern leaders to unmask those behind the Boko Haram insurgency.
They regretted that the President has not done anything at those arrested in connection with Boko Haram insurgency.
This was disclosed yesterday in Benin City at the 60th Birthday lecture of Edo state Governor Adams Oshiomhole titled : "Deepening Democracy and Enhancing Welfare of the people".
Those at the events are: Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, Senator Ben Obi who represented President Goodluck Jonathan, Governors Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers), Godswill Akwabio (Akwa Ibom), Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun), Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Emmanuel Uduaghan (Delta), Rochas Okorocha (Imo), Abdulazeez Abubakar (Zamfara), Aminu Dankwabo (Gombe), Ibrahim Geidam (Yobe), Kasseem Shetima (Borno).
Others are Tanko Almakura (Nasarawa), Issa Yuguda (Bauchi), Abiola Ajimobi(Oyo), Rauf Arigbesola(Osun) and ex governors of Ekiti, Anambra, Ogun , Edo states, Niyi Adebayo, Chris Ngige Segun Osoba and Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. Also at the well attended ceremony were the National Chairman of the ACN, Chief Bisi Akande, Aliko Dangote, Nuhu Ribadu, Alhaji Aliko Muhammed , Chief Tom Ikimi and Alhaji Kaseem Iman member PDP Board of Trustees among others.
Governor Babangida Aliu of NigerState, former LagosState governor, Asiwju Bola Tinubu, former Education minister, Oby Ezekwesili and the Archbishop of Sokoto Diocese, Rev Father Matthew Hassan Kukah who also commented on the amnesty had harsh words for the president.
Governor Babangida, in veiled reference to President Jonathan's remarks that Northern leaders should proffer solution to the Boko Haram's problem, said that the Federal Government should through a proper interrogation of those arrested know who their sponsors were.
Former Governor of Lagos state and leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, observed that rather than tackling the Boko Haram insurgency, "my shame was when our President Goodluck Jonathan inaugurated PDP, Governor's Forum in his bid to polarize the Nigeria Governor's Forum. If we had a state police or even community police they would have been able to unmask either the militants in our environment or members of the Boko Haram".
Similarly, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Rev. (Dr) Mathew Kukah, who faulted the refusal to discuss amnesty with the Boko Haram sect by the Federal Government, asserted that Nigeria was not practicing democracy, asserting: "this is not the democracy we all fought for. Since Tafawa Belawe till now none of our Presidents planned for leadership. The insurgency in the North is a critical issue in our country.
"I am talking about amnesty as a Christian not as politicians sees it. As a Christian I know that Jesus Christ never foreclosed the doctrine of confession and forgiveness. It is not by offering amnesty but who are you offering amnesty to? Amnesty is a very serious thing. If our politicians are Christians they should imbibe the principles of Christianity in leadership".
"As a Christian you don't let the members foreclose the door of reconciliation of the prodigal son. So I want to say that this country is ours and we must all find a way to save the situation".
Gov Aliyu on Amnesty
According to Governor Babangida, "recently I read a paper where INEC officer was saying it will be difficult to conduct election in the North. On Boko Haram I believe that you cannot know a ghost unless you are a ghost. But the Governor of Borno said it is our responsibility to unmask the ghosts and I asked, what of the people that you have been arresting? Are we not investigating to find out? Who is actually the ghost?
"JTF has been arresting Boko Haram members and each time they say their commanders have been arrested, so how did they know that they are commanders when they said they cannot negotiate with ghosts. Why can't you unmask the ghost" he queried.
Tinubu who described Oshiomhole as an exemplary leader of the party, regretted that the Federal Government had consistently addressed the Boko Haram members as ghost, insisting that he does not believe in ghost.
"No religion should be pre-eminent over the other. Let's stop the lamentation. Let's put the fault where it is. Some of these governors have clamoured for state police. If we have state police people will know where the criminals or the militants or saboteurs are. I disagree with the question of a ghost. In history, from creation, ghosts never throw bombs, they remain quiet in the cemetery. You cannot arrest a ghost, those people in detention, we need solution. And for Nigerians we have lamented for too long.
"Muslims, Christians should be united to build this nation so that our tomorrow will not be destroyed. We the people are first preamble of the constitution not religion. Not we the Christians not we the Muslims" he stated.
On his part Tambuwal stressed that lives and security of the people is the primary responsibility of the government as enshrined in section 14 of the 1999 constitution as amended. " In deepening democracy we must talk about political parties that process candidates for election and independent responsible umpire. We must ensure independence of the legislature and the judiciary.
"Therefore, for us to have a deepened democracy in Nigeria, we must respect the culture in independence of the different arms of government, checks and balances as an integral part of democracy. If we continue to build institutions, that is the way to fight corruption and promote good governance" he stated.
On her part, Ezekwesili said that government is about result, saying " if governance cannot lead to result it is not worth being called governance. Democracy is in recession to the extent that the electorate treats democracy with cynism because they are disconnected from participating in the process of democracy.
"Nigeria democracy exist for those in government and the business class excluding the vast majority of Nigerians who see themselves in pernicious inter generation poverty. Because Nigerians have been pauperized and devalued by the political class and system, they cannot therefore be agents to deepen democracy".
CAN lambasts Northern leaders
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), yesterday, lambasted Northern leaders for asking the Federal Government to offer amnesty to members of the dreaded Islamic sect, Boko Haram, saying they were selfish and insensitive to the plights of the victims.
It will be recalled that no fewer than 28 people were reportedly killed, when suspected Fulani Herdsmen invaded some villages in Takad District of Kaura Local Government Council, KadunaState last week.
The leadership of CAN, led by its Secretary General Rev. Dr. Musa Asake, who was speaking during a visit to the affected communities in Kaduna, noted that those who drew similarities between the sect and the Niger Delta militants were not educated.
He added that while the sect members remain faceless and with no identifiable demands and ideology, the demands of the Niger militants were clearly stated and their leaders made known.
"Comparing this is unfair and unintelligent. We know what the Niger Delta militants were fighting for. We know their leaders and when government wanted to see them, they went to the caves. They, the militants came out, talked with government and on the strength of that dropped their guns.
"The Boko Haram insurgency started in Maiduguri. If they angered them there, let them talk with the government of Maiduguri. Why will a Maiduguri problem come to Southern Kaduna".
Addressing the victims at ModelPrimary School in Fadan Attakar camp, Asake said that it was unfortunate that Northern elders could be calling for amnesty for perpetrators of heinous crimes rather than demanding their prosecution.
Apart from outright illogicality of the proposition, he described the call as an outright insensitivity to the thousands of victims, who had either died, maimed or displaced as a result of the ungodly activities of a group of dissidents.
According to him, "here are innocent people driven from their homes and displaced from their loved ones for no crime. That is why I consider the Northern elders calling for amnesty for Boko Haram members as insensitive.
"While many people, some of whom are women and children are deprived of their bread winners, somebody somewhere who does not know how to live without security is saying give amnesty to some faceless individuals.
"It is unfair and these are the so-called educated elite in the North who would not even visit and see what is happening.
Also speaking, the Chairman, Kaura Local Government, Kumat Badu, explained that the attack got his people off guard. stressing that henceforth they would never be caught napping.
"A time has come that we all get on our feet. We are putting measures on ground to protect our people," he assured.