Abuja — President Goodluck Jonathan has announced an amnesty offer to members of the Boko Haram Islamic sect as part of efforts to end the ravaging insurgency in the country.
Minister of Youth Development, Boni Haruna, disclosed this on Thursday at a special event tagged, 'A day with young leaders of Nigeria'.
He was giving an overview of youth's position in the present administration's transformation agenda.
The event was held to mark the nation's Democracy Day at the International Conference Centre, Abuja.
The minister said series of integration programmes have been lined up for members of the sect who would surrender their arms and embrace peace.
He, therefore, called on them to embrace the government's gesture.
"Let me use this opportunity on behalf of the Federal Government, to call on the members of the Boko Haram sect to embrace the government's gesture and key to amnesty programme," the minister said.
Haruna recalled that government had, a few years ago, similarly given amnesty to Niger Delta militants to curb youth restiveness in the area.
He disclosed that 30,000 youths have benefitted from the programme which has seen beneficiaries transforming from militants to wealth creators, employers of labour and skilled citizens.
Jonathan, who also answered questions from youths, said force alone could not solve the problem of insurgency.
He said terrorism could not succeed in any community without local support.
He stressed the need for people who are respected by the insurgents to join hands with government to persuade them to stop their violent campaign.
"Terror succeeds with local support. It will be difficult for terror to thrive where people reject it. It is a major challenge to all of us.
"Military alone cannot stop terror or any radicalism. Terrorists have people they respect, they have community, traditional and opinion leaders they respect. All of us can deradicalise them.
"We will through persuasive activities encourage people to shun violence," Jonathan said.
He said his government was already working out the modalities for reintroducing moral education into school curriculum.
This, he added, would assist in re-orientating the young people in order to distinguish between right and wrong things.
Jonathan promised that his administration would continue to encourage young people because they are no longer leaders of tomorrow but of today.
He said youths are already leading because they decide who rules at all levels of government by virtue of their population which he put at 60 per cent of the electorate.
The President also reiterated his position that the nation's income distribution was skewed.
While saying that government was working hard to redistribute wealth, he added that one of the emphasis of the government is to encourage self-employment.
Responding to a question on the need to have a youth as the Minister of Youth Development, Jonathan said "the best person to take care of a child may not necessarily be a child", adding that young ones also need to tap from the experiences of the elderly.
Minister of State, Foreign Affairs II, Nurudeen Mohammed, narrated the circumstances leading to his appointment as a minister at the age of 33.
Former Head of the Interim National Government, Ernest Shonekan, attended the event.
He was joined by a former Vice President, Alex Ekwueme; and a former Chief of General Staff, Oladipo Diya.
Jonathan attended the event alongside his wife, Patience; Vice President Namadi Sambo; and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Maryam Mukhtar.
Earlier in the day, Jonathan had told the nation that he had given the security forces a free hand to launch full-scale operation to crush the terrorist group. This was believed to be a declaration of total war on the Boko Haram terrorists who have given the country sleepless nights for years now.
In a dawn broadcast to mark this year's Democracy Day and 15 years of unbroken democratic governance in the country, the President however, offered the terrorists an olive branch to seek dialogue, renounce their evil ways and embrace peace.
Bombings, arson, murders and kidnapping by Boko Haram in some Northern states have spiralled in recent times, climaxing with the abduction of about 200 teenage female students in Chibok, Borno State six weeks ago.
Jonathan decried the destabilising effect of the terrorist activities, and shared his anguish with the families of victims of terror.
He noted that the abduction of the schoolgirls has further shown the heartless brutality of the terrorists who want to instigate a descent into anarchy and balkanize Nigeria.
"It is now 45 days since the horrifying abduction of the college girls of Chibok. I share the deep pain and anxiety of their parents and guardians and I assure them once again that government will continue to do everything possible to bring our daughters home.
"I am determined to protect our democracy, our national unity and our political stability, by waging a total war against terrorism.
"The unity and stability of our country, and the protection of lives and property are non-negotiable. I have instructed our security forces to launch a full-scale operation to put an end to the impunity of terrorists on our soil.
"I have also authorised the security forces to use any means necessary under the law to ensure that this is done.
"I assure you that Nigeria will be safe again, and that these thugs will be driven away - it will not happen overnight, but we will spare no effort to achieve this goal.
"For our citizens who have joined hands with Al Qaeda and international terrorists in the misguided belief that violence can possibly solve their problems, our doors remain open to them for dialogue and reconciliation, if they renounce terrorism and embrace peace.
"My government, while pursuing security measures, will explore all options, including readiness to accept unconditional renunciation of violence by insurgents, and to ensure their de-radicalisation, rehabilitation and re-integration into the broader society," the President said.
He enjoined all Nigerians to work together in the fight against terror and to support the security agencies which having acquitted themselves creditably in bringing peace to other countries, are now faced with an unconventional warfare back home and which they are adjusting to with international support.
"Nigeria is the only country we have and we must all work to preserve it for present and future generations. Despite the challenges we face, we must commend our security forces.
"We must not forget their gallantry and successes in liberating nations and in peacekeeping, from Liberia to Sierra Leone, Congo, Sudan, Mali, Guinea-Bissau and many places in Africa and beyond.
"Our forces have paid the supreme price in several places at several times. Today, they face a different challenge, an unconventional war by terrorists. They are adjusting and are being equipped to tackle the new menace of terrorism.
"We must show confidence in their ability. I have no doubt that, with the support of Nigerians, our neighbours and the international community, we will reinforce our defence, free our girls and rid Nigeria of terrorists," he stated.
Reacting to the President's broadcast, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Itse Sagay, believes that Jonathan's speech has given a ray of hope to Nigerians in the fight against terrorism and the rescue of the abducted schoolgirls currently in Boko Haram custody.
Sagay, who urged the government to exercise some caution, agreed that it will be dangerous to talk about the use of force in crushing the insurgency when the abducted schoolgirls are still in Boko Haram custody.
"I am happy the President has finally made up his mind that he is going to deal with the matter with vigour.
"I am only worried about the girls because there is some contradictions about the use of force and securing the safety of the girls.
"If the girls had been secured and had been released and he is talking about the use of force, then I will support him 100 per cent," the lawyer said.
He added: "But with the girls still in captivity, their lives will be put on the line and this is the only reservation that I have and I want to assume that the president is aware of this fact".
Another SAN, Femi Falana, also cautioned the Federal Government against the use of force in rescuing the abducted schoolgirls.
According to Falana, while it is the duty of government to rescue the girls as soon as possible, it cannot apply force in doing so because the terrorists are using the girls as shield and may harm them if provoked by government.
"It is the duty of government to have those girls rescued alive and that explains the waiting game. Because if you use maximum force, you are likely to lose those girls and the Boko Haram troops are obviously using those kids as shield.
"So, it will be dangerous to pounce on them and the essence of the rescue operations will be defeated if those girls are wasted. That is why all efforts must be made to have those girls rescued alive," Falana said.