This Day (Lagos)

9 April 2013

Nigeria: Amnesty Committee Mulls Conditions for Boko Haram

Photo: Vanguard
Bombing continues as citizens advocate for talks with Boko Haram

The Amnesty Committee on Boko Haram, set up by President Goodluck Jonathan last week, may have begun its work in earnest with the consideration of certain conditions to be met by the insurgents to qualify for pardon.

THISDAY checks revealed that following the clamour that the Boko Haram members, who have killed about 4,000 people since they began their campaign of terror in 2009, deserve amnesty like Niger Delta militants, the committee tried to use the same template used for the Niger Delta militants to work out the amnesty programme for the Islamic militants.

The military also believes the federal government should push for a comprehensive disarmament programme in the north, which is replete with weapons proliferation, as one of the steps towards returning peace to the violence-prone zone.

Of the seven members of the committee so far known, which the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa'ad Abubakar III is tipped to head, four are within the security apparatchik. They are the representatives of the Directors-General of the State Security Service (SSS) and the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), while other members include a representative of the Northern Elders' Forum (NEF) and a former security chief in the regime of former Head of State, Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar.

But as the committee, which has less than two weeks to submit its report races to meet the deadline, Niger State Governor, Dr. Mu'azu Babangida Aliyu, Monday rallied support for it with a call to northern leaders to help unmask the insurgents.

Sources close to the Boko Haram amnesty committee confided in THISDAY Monday that the conditions the committee is working on requires that the insurgents must come out to hold negotiations and must surrender their weapons, as preconditions for pardon.

Giving further insight into the conditions being contemplated, the sources said the Islamic militants must be involved in negotiations or appoint somebody who must be in direct contact with them during negotiations.

In addition, the insurgents must not only lay down their arms, they must publicly cut off links with all international terrorist groups such as Al-Qaida and its affiliates.

The committee is also going to demand full information on the sect's factions for proper coordination and will particularly insist on getting the direct consent of the recognised sect leader, Sheik Abu Shekau, to ensure that he is favourably disposed to the amnesty and the conditions attached.

One source said: "The kernel of the matter is that our conditions might be too stringent for them to meet while theirs may also be too bitter a pill for the government to swallow."

When asked if the insurgents had actually given any conditions, he said none had been given directly since last week when the federal government changed its position on consideration of amnesty for the Islamic militants.

But he said they had previously requested the unconditional release of their detained members and making Islam a state religion, adding that they might have dropped the demand on religion because it is untenable.

According to the source, the new dimension on the amnesty, which cannot be ignored, is the international angle.

This, the source said, might bring disrepute to the country and cause diplomatic tensions, if not well handled.

He explained that the amnesty issue could put the federal government in a dilemma because some of the militants seeking amnesty are known to have murdered some foreigners - Europeans and Asians inclusive.

He explained that under international agreements, it is required that people who commit such crimes must face the full wrath of the law if caught.

"If you do not value life in your country, this is a global village, others value theirs, and they will not just watch you murder their citizens and turn around to grant them amnesty in the name of politics," the source added.

On whether the amnesty option could be effective in tackling terrorism in the north, he said: "It can work if those beating the drum that the militants are dancing decide to stop the drumming. Are you not surprised that some people are more desperate for amnesty than the rest?"

On the disposition of some foreign countries to the amnesty plan, he said none of them has opposed the idea so far, adding that those who have lost their citizens and have huge business interests in the country are keenly watching to see the government handles the initiative.

THISDAY learnt that the committee is continuing in its consultations with some strategic northern religious and political leaders to brief them on the implications of the amnesty for the Islamic militants which some of them are championing.

However, doubts in security circle continued to linger over the feasibility of the amnesty for the Islamic militants with some officials proposing other ways of dealing with terrorism in the north.

Sources said some security officials had suggested that instead of granting amnesty to Boko Haram members, government should de-radicalise them as it was done in Pakistan.

Similarly, security officials who recently came back from training in Turkey had recommended that those arrested, and currently being held, should be educated at a centre set up for the purpose of de-radicalising them, THISDAY was informed.

Security operatives had at the close of the National Security Council (NSC) meeting last week, informed the service chiefs of the futility of trying to bring the Islamic militants to any negotiation table.

In fact, it was gathered that even before they get the input of their subordinates, security chiefs had as at last Thursday's meeting with the president, told him that the clemency option might face so many hurdles that would be impossible to surmount.

"You see, the truth of the matter is that while the presidency is considering this proposal of granting amnesty to the sectarians, the profiling of the group and its followership shows that they may not be receptive to any move to unmask them," a source explained.

He said there was the issue of trust, which could endanger the amnesty exercise, recalling that when the Galtimari Committee was set up, it got input from a rogue member of the sect.

However, he said the situation turned sour because the government indicted a senator, who was instrumental to sourcing the information for the committee, "simply because somebody somewhere was interested in nailing the lawmaker."

Meanwhile, Niger State governor Monday urged his colleagues in the north to unmask Boko Haram members operating in their states to create the conducive environment for the implementation of the proposed amnesty programme.

According to Aliyu, who is chairman of the Northern States Governors Forum (NSGF), unmasking Boko Haram members would enable "the government have discussions with human beings not ghosts."

He spoke in Minna at the opening of a one-week workshop on 'the review and evaluation of the 2006 population and housing census' organised by the National Population Commission (NPC).

Aliyu added that the decision to consider amnesty for the Boko Haram sect was a welcome development, which also shows that "President Goodluck Jonathan is a listening president."

He however warned that granting amnesty to Boko Haram was not the solution to the crisis and urged government to explore other angles to bringing lasting peace to the country.

Amid doubts over whether Boko Haram members would embrace amnesty and lay down their arms, a former Nigerian Ambassador to Switzerland, Ambassador Yahaya Kwande, however expressed optimism that if amnesty is proclaimed and the conditions spelt out, they would accept the terms.

Kwande, who was part of the delegation of the NEF that met with Jonathan last Wednesday to discuss the precarious security situation in the north, while responding to THISDAY's inquiries, said government should not put the cart before the horse on the matter.

"My opinion is that Boko Haram should be given amnesty. Amnesty should be declared first.

"As to whether I am optimistic that they will accept it. Nobody is running away from peace. Who doesn't want peace? Even in the Niger Delta, when they declared amnesty, we saw how the fighters were coming out with their leaders to lay down their arms," he said in a telephone conversation.

Clarifying that he was not speaking for the NEF, Kwande said it was misleading to say that members of the sect were faceless, adding that "they have an Islamic association and there should be leaders of this association."

On whether members of the forum and other northern leaders were reaching out to the insurgents to advise them to embrace the current efforts geared towards resolving the protracted security challenge in the north, Kwande said: "We don't know where they are; they only announce their presence when they strike here and there. I will be surprised if anybody knows where they are."

As a way out of the security challenge in the north, the military however has called for a comprehensive disarmament programme in the area.

Commander, Special Task Force (STF) for Plateau and parts of Bauchi States, Maj Gen. Henry Ayoola, made the suggestion yesterday in Abuja when he came to brief top military chiefs on current developments in the STF assignment.

Ayoola explained that in order to rid the region of small arms and light weapons, there was a need to not only organise a mapped out programme for disarmament but also build trust amongst combatants similar to the approach adopted in the Niger Delta.

He said despite the fact that STF had been successful at uncovering weapons and ammunition caches in its areas of operation, it has been difficult to completely stop arms proliferation because the warring parties have devised various means to transport and conceal weapons.

Ayoola, who later briefed reporters after a closed-door meeting with the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Admiral Ola Sa'ad Ibrahim, and other top military bigwigs, also stated that peace had returned to Jos and the entire Plateau State except for some localised crises.

He said the Plateau crisis was politically motivated but assured the people that the state would soon return to what it once was as the 'Home of Tourism'.

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