opinionBy Okachikwu Dibia
The decision by the Jonathan administration to grant amnesty to Boko Haram does not inspire much hope, given that similar steps have not solved the problem of militant groups in the past. A national congress on the future of Nigeria is needed
A freely discussed nation is a well-resolved nation. Therefore, an un-discussed nation is an un-resolved nation that has no business with peace. Since January 1914, when Nigeria was created by Britain, several fundamental ethno-religious issues have been acting to tear the country apart. Nigeria's political leadership has bluntly and dangerously refused to sincerely assemble the ethnic peoples together in a National Conference to discuss how they would like to live together in peace. This failure has resulted in sectional riots, agitations, uprisings, wars and now persistent militant groups inflicting terror on Nigeria and making Nigeria unsafe. Nobody in Nigeria can sleep with two eyes closed. The government has discovered amnesty as the solution to militancy. Granting amnesty as it is currently being done in Nigeria will ultimately lead to amnesty for all Nigerians.
Today, Northern Nigeria is highly insecure due to the operations of Boko Haram, a militant religious sect that insists that they want to have Nigeria Islamized and will otherwise continue to kill Nigerians daily with knives, guns, bombs and charms. To resolve this, the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN), on 17 April 2013, set up a 26-man panel to consider the matter and make appropriate recommendations. Recall that amnesty was granted to the Niger Delta militants in about 2009 when they argued that Niger Delta, which produces crude oil and gas contributing over 80 percent of Nigeria's foreign exchange revenue, had long been neglected and undeveloped. Northern Nigeria was unhappy with the granting of amnesty to the Niger Delta militants because it gave the Niger Delta more access to Nigeria's funds than the other parts of the country. Therefore, the North needed amnesty for Boko Haram.
The integration calculus of Nigeria's amnesty must define those variables it seeks to manipulate. These variables include the militants' goals of agitation, sectionalism, rehabilitation, arms surrender, dialogue, killing of fellow Nigerians, facelessness and selfishness. When amnesty was used for the Niger Delta militancy, these variables reacted wildly. The same outcome may be the end result in Boko Haram's case. Applying amnesty to Boko Haram may not achieve the Islamisation of Nigeria (just as the Niger Delta remained undeveloped) and instead just enrich Boko Haram's organizers. Meanwhile, the government will be continuously engrossed in the management of the uncountable fallouts and reactions to amnesty not just from the Niger Delta militants and Boko Haram but from the rest of Nigerians and sectional agitators now militants backed by their 'Ogas at the top' for amnesty. This is the amnesty conundrum and industry in Nigeria.
Amnesty, from consulted sources and my own residual knowledge as a student of society, refers to the official forgiveness granted to those who in the pursuit of their social struggles may have offended the state. Their only reward is forgiveness, and the cause of their struggle should also be able to pass the test of public good.
In Nigeria, we have had several such struggles against the Nigerian State. There was the resistance by the North against being joined with the South to form Nigeria, the Aba Women's Riot of 1929, the nationalists' agitations, the Eastern Minorities agitations, the agitation by the Yorubas of Western Nigeria against the imposition of the late Chief S. L. Akintola as the leader of the Yoruba (which led to the imprisonment of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who was later granted amnesty by General Gowon) and the middle-belt riots against the 'perceived neglect and oppressive policies of the ruling Northern People's Congress (NPC)... '. All these agitations were for the common good and executed without arms.
Next was Isaac Adaka Boro's Ijaw uprising and the Biafran struggle led by Odimegwu Ojukwu. The FGN quelled the agitation and charged Boro for treason for which he was jailed, but General Gowon later granted him amnesty in May 1967 while Ojukwu was also granted amnesty during the Second Republic. These struggles were for the common good but arms were used. The leaders never purposely killed their people to prosecute the struggles; neither did they solicit for amnesty.
Others were the Ogoni Revolution, Niger Delta militancy, the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), the Odua Peoples Congress (OPC), Egbesu Boys, Bakassi Boys, Arewa Boys and now Boko Haram. Except the Ogoni Revolution and MASSOB, the rest have been, in the main, for the selfish interest of the organizers and executed with arms, bombs and charms. OPC is a little in-between.
Amnesty to the Niger Delta militants was a case of inappropriate politics. Though the cause was noble and popular, the militants kidnapped and killed fellow Niger Deltans. Why should they be allowed to join cults and infiltrate community politics, kill perceived enemies, and destroy properties in places like Emohua, Port Harcourt, Ogbogoro, Rumuolumeni, Ogbakiri, Okrika, Rumuekpe etc? Why should they be the primary, direct beneficiaries of all the monies and benefits derivable from their struggle? Why should they be allowed to kidnap construction company workers of who are engaged in the construction of roads and bridges to develop and reduce the neglect they agitated against? Why have they not demonstrated against the FGN's reluctance to implement the UNEP Report on Ogoni? Why should they abandon the struggle while the Niger Delta remains undeveloped but insist that the FGN must facilitate Henry Okah's release from prison in South Africa and that otherwise, they will return to the creeks and streets of Niger Delta? Is this how to pursue a social cause? Where is the popular interest of the struggle? Where is the morality of the struggle?
The current security tension in Nigeria is due to Boko Haram. In Northern Nigeria today, life is almost at the mercy of Boko Haram. They say they want total Islamisation of Nigeria. We must agree at this point that the FGN, through the police, was wrong to have killed Yusuf, one of the leaders of Boko Haram. The police were also very wrong for the massive killings of the sect's members as reported by Aljazeera television in about 2009. However, is the Islamisation of Nigeria as demanded by Boko Haram a popular cause? To me it is not because Nigeria is a secular state and it is inappropriate politics to demand the Islamisation of the country. Like the Niger Delta militants, Boko Haram have being killing and destroying lives and properties in Northern Nigeria, especially in Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Kaduna, Kano, and Abuja, for selfish interests, and that is why granting amnesty to Boko Haram does not make sense.
On the part of the government, it is either amnesty or nothing; so why did the FGN waste time, lives and properties before setting up a committee whose recommendations the government and Nigerians already know? President Jonathan should know from the utterances of the leadership of the North that these leaders have arranged Boko Haram amnesty funds to share, so that they can become millionaires like the members of the amnesty committee for the Niger Delta militants. However, some Northern leaders claim that Boko Haram is not fighting for Islam. This statement requires full dialogue with Boko Haram to find out exactly what their grievances are. That Boko Haram said they reject amnesty is chakara (Fela's special language describing the outward rejection of an offer you desperately want).
Since amnesty did not succeed in the Niger Delta, it may not succeed in the North either. If the FGN grant amnesty to Boko Haram, Mr President should be ready to replicate equivalent amnesties for NDDC, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Special Advisers and Assistants, rehabilitation centres, skills trainings abroad etc for the direct benefit of the members of Boko Haram, MOSOP, OPC, MASSOP, Bakassi Boys, Egbesu Boys, Arewa Youths etc and all strata of the Nigerian populace that would embrace organized militancy. Amnesty to Niger Delta and Boko Haram militants is a time bomb that will soon explode with consequences much heavier and more immense than all the atrocities of the existing militancy groups combined. Thereafter, every 160 million other Nigerians would carry guns and bombs, and kill each other in order to earn amnesty. This is amnesty infinitum, calculated to the last kobo to appease the intrinsic, selfish goal of the Nigerian version of dubious militancy. It is the infinitesimal calculus of amnesty in Nigeria. At last the real dividends of democracy will be the dividends of militancy.
Remember that in the midst of these militancy groups are other insecurity-breeding intra/inter-community conflicts that consume thousands of lives and properties worth millions of Naira. They include the Tiv versus Jukun, Berom versus Fulani, Amuleri versus Aguleri, Ife versus Modakeke, Ogoni versus Okrika, Hausa-Elele versus Ikwerre and Ahoada communities, and Rebisi versus Okrika conflicts, as well as Zango-Kataf wars, Choba killings and rapes, Umuechem, Odi and Zaki-Biam massacres etc. In some of these conflicts, the government has sset up committees to investigate the causes of the fights and recommend solutions. Yet, no solutions! It is the unsatisfactory management of these agitations that remains a source of hate, huge regret, psychic pains, anger, bitterness and intolerance among the peoples of Nigeria. Amnesty is no solution at all.
So, where is the solution? As of today, none of these struggles have been dispassionately discussed in order to seek a comprehensive and permanent resolution to them. Yet Nigerian leaders look the other way and the issues keep hunting Nigeria as they resurface in different forms and places. Nigeria must come to terms with how to relate ethnically and religiously. There is once again the urgent need for the FGN to immediately assemble all the ethnic groups in a National Conference to tell their painful stories, and discuss, dialogue and agree on how to resolve the fundamental differences tearing a potentially good country apart. This goes beyond matters for committees! Peace in Nigeria starts with the effective management of ethnic and religious differential variables, which are at the root of all the agitations and conflicts mentioned above and never discussed. If this is not done quickly, even the pilots of all the commercial, private and presidential jets and helicopters will refuse to fly their owners out of Nigeria and their gatemen will gladly open the gates to the true Nigerian revolutionaries. Even the military will tacitly support the revolution because they will have become thoroughly tired of the unrelenting mismanagement of Nigeria. If I were Mr President, I would make history by boldly, quickly and sincerely organizing this most demanded National Conference from which a peoples' constitution would emerge.