Voice of America (Washington, DC)

2 July 2013

Nigeria Weighs War, Amnesty for Boko Haram

ABUJA — As the Nigerian government battles Boko Haram insurgents in the northeast, officials are also grappling with how to end the fighting and what to do with the rebels once peace is restored. New York-based Human Rights Watch says when the battle is done there will be no peace without justice. But some Nigerian leaders say the battles will never end without compromise.

How to stop Boko Haram insurgents from killing people has become a national debate in Nigeria. The most common answers are: crush them with military might or, find out why they are killing people and negotiate a peace deal.

The Nigerian government is currently trying both approaches.

Three northeastern states have been locked down in a state of emergency for more than six weeks now and thousands of troops have been deployed. Meanwhile a presidentially appointed committee is trying to get Boko Haram leaders to come out of the shadows and talk.

Major attacks blamed on Boko Haram

2009

July - Attacks prompt government crackdown in Bauchi and Maiduguri; 800 people killed

2010

December - Bombings in central Nigeria and church attacks in the northeast kill 86

2011

June - Attack on a bar in Maiduguri kills 25

August - Suicide bomber kills 23 at U.N. building in Abuja

November - Bombings in Damaturu and Potiskum kill 65

December - Christmas Day bombings across Nigeria kill 39

2012

January -- Gun and bomb attacks in Kano up to 200

February - Maiduguri market attack kills 30

June - Suicide car bombings at three churches kill 21

July - Attacks in Plateau state kill dozens, including two politicians at a funeral for the victims

2013

February - French family kidnapped in Cameroon, held hostage for two months

April - Fighting with troops in Baga kills up to 200; residents say troops set deadly fires

May - Attacks in Bama kill more than 50

"Constructive discussion that will lead to dialogue. Dialogue that will lead to peaceful resolution of the security challenges in the north," said Amnesty Committee Chair Kabiru Tanimu Turaki explaining how the process will work.

"And which will also lead not only to disarmament but de-radicalization of a large chunk of the members of the movement who have unfortunately been radicalized on ideologies that cannot be said to be straight."

HRW said more than 3,600 people have been killed since 2009 in attacks by Boko Haram, clashes, and extra-judicial killings by security forces.

In a letter to Turaki published Tuesday, Human Rights Watch urged him to "reject amnesty for atrocities" and exclude anyone responsible for "crimes against humanity" from any amnesty deal. The group said if Nigeria fails to prosecute those who they believe have violated international law, the International Criminal Court has the authority to do so.

But before anyone can be punished, or given amnesty, whoever is responsible for the Boko Haram carnage has to be caught or come to the table. And they don't appear to be interested.

On the other hand, in Nigeria "amnesty" is sometimes considered code for a pot of gold and could attract a lot of interest from low-level Boko Haram soldiers in a region where most people live in abject poverty.

After years of fighting the government and oil companies in the southern Niger Delta region, tens of thousands of ex-militants still get roughly $350 a month after turning in their weapons in 2009. Some of their leaders are reported to be getting much more.

Ibrahima Yakubu contributed to this report from Kaduna

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