columnBy Bala Muhammad
When late President Umaru Musa Yar'adua declared amnesty for the Niger Delta militants a few years ago, a section of the leadership of the weapons-bearing insurgents out-rightly rejected the offer. When, at last, a majority of them accepted to trust Mallam Umaru, they were reported to have demanded a private audience with the then gentleman president. Their request was granted. But when the militant leaders arrived State House for the meeting, some top government officials (including the president's closest aides), insisted they wanted to be in on the audience. The militants were said to have said NO; they wanted to see Mallam Umaru alone. The president, it was said, ordered everyone out. Everyone.
It was then that, according to reports, the militants confided in the late gentleman that they were intrigued by him - that they had searched all through the Niger Delta but found nothing negative linked to him. No oil well, no jetty, no bunker, no illegal refinery; they were reported to have said they realised he was almost the only politician at THAT level who was NOT stealing 'their' oil. And, the militant leaders added for effect, it was those people Mallam Umaru had asked to step outside that really needed any amnesty. And so it came to pass that the militants trusted Mallam Umaru, for his fingers were NOT soiled in the Niger Delta oil. (Ostensibly, therefore, the hands of many were, perhaps still are.)
The Federal Government - actually a reluctant President Jonathan - a few days ago announced the formation of a body, named the 'Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North' (renamed by media and public as Amnesty Committee) to advise government on a proposed amnesty regime. Terms of reference of the Committee, headed by Minister of Special Duties Kabiru Turaki, SAN, include: developing a framework for the granting of amnesty; designing a methodology through which disarmament could take place within 60 days; developing a comprehensive victims' support programme; and designing mechanisms to address the underlying causes of insurgencies that will help to prevent future occurrences. (Though it was appointment BEFORE consultation, and some members are rejecting their nominations, the Sultan and other Muslim leaders MUST follow up for compliance).
When the formation of the committee was announced, a section of the leadership of the Jama'atu Ahlis Sunnah Lid Da'awati Wal Jihad (also known as Boko Haram) is reported to have said, much like the Niger Delta militants before them, that they are not the ones that deserved to be amnestied, but those very people in and around government. True, do we not have several top-ranking government functionaries, in all arms of government, who have been accused of soiling their fingers in this gory bloody insurgency but are going about freely like their oil thieves counterparts? Have not some of the accused even concluded their executive terms, while others from the legislature have even been charged to court? Where are they? What is happening to them?
No matter. The most serious issues in this calamitous catastrophe are three, and well worth repeating time and again:
ONE: Brute force has never defeated an idea anywhere. (The 'rightness' or 'wrongness' of such idea is another matter altogether). The best example, to date, is America versus the Taliban in Afghanistan. By next year, the Americans will quit (just in time for Afghan President Hamid Karzai to finish his term and perhaps seek asylum elsewhere). The so-called rag-tag Taliban are inflicting heavy casualties on Western and Afghan forces, and suffering same. The major difference is that when the Taliban lose one, they celebrate; when the Americans lose one, they mourn. Unmatched! The Taliban have worn down this American expeditionary force; no wonder then the US Government is seeking ways, through Qatar and others, to establish dialogue.
TWO: The destruction of infrastructure, economy and means of livelihood in the targeted areas has been devastating, and bewildering. This writer, based in Kano, the North's commercial and economic capital, is eye-witness to the consequences. Starting with the calamity of the lack of electricity that crippled industry to almost zero, the current state of insecurity has almost killed commerce. The Deputy Commercial Centre of the North, Maiduguri, is now almost non-existent as an economic entity. Potiskum, a vibrant transit city on the North's commercial artery, the Kano to Maiduguri Road (linking us with Niger Republic, Chad, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Sudan, Gabon and countries beyond) is also on its knees, if not prostrate.
THREE: Nigeria cannot afford to continue spending one trillion Naira a year in a war that has neither a tail nor a head, and that does not have any fathomable meaning. While it is said security leaders at the top are feeding fat on these security funds which, we understand, are not receipted or audited or queried, the common soldier and the common policeman and the common unfortunate civilian victim on the frontlines bear the brunt of the calamity.
But as we were drowning, this Amnesty Committee has come as a straw, alhamdu lilLah. We shall clutch at it, no matter what, and may Allah make it a strong straw. Of the twenty six members of the Committee named by the Federal Government, almost all are familiar names, especially among the immediate victims of the current mayhem. But there are a few from the core Islamic constituency that may perhaps hold the key to unlocking the solution to this crisis. This writer personally knows this few, and will hazard bio-analyses on why they qualify.
SHAIKH AHMAD LEMU: Retired Grand Khadi of Niger State and President of the Minna-based Islamic Education Trust (IET). The Shaikh is one person who, had that position existed, could have become Grand Khadi of Nigeria. Shaikh Lemu is the perfect example of 'boko halal'. Prolific writer and husband of the equally prolific Aisha B. Lemu, British-born intellectual who, along with the husband, have written most of the books covering the Islamic Studies syllabi of WAEC and NECO and more. The Shaikh, though very elderly, is very tireless.
DR. IBRAHIM DATTI AHMAD: Medical practitioner and National President of the Supreme Council for Shari'a in Nigeria (SCSN), set up primarily to defend the interest of Islam and Muslims in Nigeria (because of the apparent failure of other organs). The late Muhammad Yusuf, founder-leader of Jama'atu Ahlis Sunnah Lid Da'awati Wal Jihad, was a member of the SCSN and was said to have held Dr. Ahmad in great respect. (Reason why this Column, exactly a year ago, wrote an open letter to Dr. I. D. Ahmad to intervene in this crisis.)
MALLAM SALIHU ABUBAKAR: PhD, academician at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and Amir (National President) of the National Islamic Centre based in Zaria. His movement, known as the Ummah, is perhaps the most moderate of the current crop of Islamic organisations, embracing all interests and opinions, hence the name Hudaibiyya for its Foundations and Academies all over the North. 'Hudaibiyya' is significant in the history of Islam for dialogue and negotiation. The Ummah, modelled after the Muslim Brotherhood, consists of academicians, journalists, lawyers and other professionals.
SHAIKH ABUBAKAR TURETA: Kaduna-based Islamic scholar who, in the 1980s, symbolised the 'Islamic Revolution' movement. He was fiery, tough and uncompromising when the rights of Muslims were trampled upon. Though grey with age, Shaikh Tureta is the same articulate, well-spoken and tireless activist.
If there is any crop of Islamic leadership that the Jama'atu Ahlis Sunnah Lid Da'awati Wal Jihad can respect and listen and talk to, these four are them. Our straw. May Allah make this straw strong enough to save a drowning people.