18 April 2013

Nigeria Pushes Amnesty Plan for Islamist Militants

Photo: Dailytrust
Dr. Ibrahim Datti Ahmad, President-General of the Supreme Council for Shari’a in Nigeria (SCSN)

Nigeria has formed a panel to create an amnesty program for Islamist extremists to try to quell a campaign of bombings and shootings which has killed hundreds of people in the mainly Muslim north of the country.

The 26-person panel, created by President Goodluck Jonathan, has a 60-day deadline to come up with an offer for fighters belonging to the Islamist extremist network Boko Haram and other groups now fighting against government forces and killing civilians with apparent impunity.

There is no guarantee that Boko Haram, or any other group, would accept any such offer, but a similar program in 2009 worked to halt the majority of attacks by militants in Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta.

However, Thomas Mösch, who heads DW's Hausa Service, is wary of such comparisons. "In the Niger Delta, we had groups that were interested in economic improvement, first of all for themselves and for their local communities. With Boko Haram it is totally different.

First of all, we don't have one group that follows a specific strategy, if they do - it is not visible. Then the core group of Boko Haram when they started with their violent attacks were taking revenge for the killings of their own leader and brothers," he said. "Constructively engage key members of Boko Haram"

Problems with President Jonathan's new committee became apparent immediately after it was announced. At least one member said he hadn't been consulted before his name was released, and the list of panelists included no member of any armed insurgent group.

The presidential committee, including police and military officials, as well as politicians and human rights activists, would "constructively engage key members of Boko Haram and define a comprehensive and workable framework for resolving the crisis of insecurity in the country," according to a statement issued by presidential spokesman Reuben Abati.

The committee would also offer a "comprehensive victims' support program," but the statement gave no further details.

The presidency said it hoped disarming Islamist extremists would happen within two months' time, an ambitious goal that likely will be extremely difficult.

Thomas Mösch detects a lack of preparation.

"You don't get the impression they have a proper strategy, that there is any proper analysis behind the whole thing, there is just public activity to demonstrate that the government are doing something," he said. Amnesty already turned down

The command-and-control structure of the main extremist network Boko Haram remains unclear. It also has sparked several splinter groups, including those wanting to increasingly target Western interests and who have connections to other al Qaeda-linked groups.

Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, has repeatedly said he would refuse any amnesty offer.

Shekau's past demands included the release of all the sect's imprisoned members and instituting Shariah law across all of Nigeria, a multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people.

The idea of an amnesty, discussed in some corners by analysts, came to a head in March when the Sultan of Sokoto, one of the country's top Muslim leaders, called for it.

Before the announcement from the president's office, the sultan was the highest-ranking official so far to publicly endorse such a plan for Islamist extremists.

But his name was absent from the list of amnesty panel members. Included on the list was Datti Ahmed, a Kano physician who heads a prominent Muslim group, the Supreme Council for Shariah in Nigeria.

However, Ahmed last year publicly backed away from the suggestion that he work as a mediator, out of security concerns.

Ahmed also is a controversial figure in the north, as he sparked a boycott of polio vaccines in 2003 in Nigeria after saying the vaccines were "corrupted and tainted by evildoers from America and their Western allies."

Never consulted

Another named panelist, Shehu Sani of the Kaduna-based Civil Rights Congress, told the AP news agency that Nigeria's government never consulted with him before publicly announcing his name. Sani said he would only serve as a member if Islamist extremists told him through an intermediary that they would consider an amnesty deal and would serve on the panel as well.

"In the absence of that, we would simply be doing something hoping it would work," Sani said. "And hope is not a strategy."

Despite the deployment of more soldiers and police to northern Nigeria, the nation's central government has been unable to stop the killings. Meanwhile, human rights groups and local citizens blame both Boko Haram and security forces for committing violent atrocities against the local civilian population.

-  Ap, Afp

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