This Day (Lagos)

30 May 2014

Nigeria: Jonathan Offers Conditional Amnesty to Boko Haram

Photo: Amanda Voisard/UN
President Goodluck Jonathan

Determined to explore various options that can rein in the increasingly destructive attacks on Nigerians by the terrorist group, Boko Haram, President Goodluck Jonathan has announced the offer of amnesty to members of the outlawed Islamic sect.

The offer may be patterned after the type offered the Niger Delta Militants who renounced violence, surrendered their arms and embraced dialogue; after which they were put through a de-militarisation process and non-violence training.

The scheme is presently running in batches supervised by the amnesty office Abuja.

But the Bauchi State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has urged the president to rescind the decision, arguing that not only has the terrorists rejected all past entreaties for dialogue and reconciliation, the real reason why they are striking is because a southerner is in power.

President Jonathan, in his Democracy Day broadcast yesterday promised to "pursue all options" that could lead to the containment of the insurgency attacks on Nigeria, adding that his government is maintaining an open door policy on the matter.

The amnesty programme, which was announced by the Minister of Youth Development, Mr. Boni Haruna, in furtherance of the president's speech yesterday, is said to have been one of the "reserved options" the federal government has considered in the various efforts to tackle the menace of the terror gang.

Haruna, a former governor of Adamawa State, one of the states affected by the reign of terror from the Boko Haram group, gave an overview of the youth's position in the Jonathan administration's transformation agenda at a special event titled "A day with young leaders of Nigeria."

The event, which held at the International Conference Centre, in Abuja, was in commemoration of Democracy Day. According to the minister, various integration programmes had been mapped out for the dreaded sect members who surrender their arms and embrace peace.

Although the Youth Development Minister did not discuss the modalities of the amnesty programme, THISDAY gathered that it may be fashioned after the scheme offered to the Niger Delta militants.

In this wise, Haruna urged Boko Haram members to embrace government's gesture. "President Goodluck Jonathan has also declared amnesty for members of the Boko Haram sect.

"Series of integration programmes have been lined up for the members of the sect who would surrender their arms and embrace peace.

"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 in to the amnesty programme," the minister said.

Going down memory lane, the minister said a few years ago, a similar amnesty was granted Niger Delta militants to curb youth restiveness in the area.

According to him, 30,000 youths benefited from the programme, and the aftermath effect was the transforming of militants to wealth creators, employers of labour and skilled citizens.

Jonathan, who fielded questions from youths, noted that force alone could not solve the problem of insurgency.

The offer of amnesty by the president seems to suggest the resort to the carrot-and-stick approach, as earlier in the day, the president had announced that he had ordered the Nigerian military for a full-scale attack on the insurgents in order to end their reign in the country.

According to the president, "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."

The president said without local support, it would be practically impossible for terrorists to succeed in any community. He called on the people respected by the violent sect to join hands with the government, with a view to persuading them to put an end to 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 de-radicalise them. "We will through persuasive activities encourage people to shun violence," the president said.

He added that his administration was already mapping out modalities for re-introducing moral education to schools' curriculum. Doing this according to him, would greatly re-orientate the young people so as to enable them know the difference between right and wrong.

He promised that his administration would continue to encourage young people, as they are no longer leaders of tomorrow but of today.

Putting the population of youths at 60 per cent of the electorate, Jonathan noted that youths are already leading because they decide who rules at all levels of government.

The president also reiterated his position that the nation's income distribution scheme was skewed. He stressed that government was working hard to redistribute the nation's wealth by encouraging self-employment. Responding to a question on the need to have a youth as the Minister of Youth Development, the president said: "The best person to take care of a child may not necessarily be a child."

He called on youths to tap from the experiences of older ones. Those at the event included former Head of the Interim National Government, Chief Ernest Shonekan; a former Vice-President, Chief Alex Ekwueme; and a former Chief of General Staff, Chief Oladipo Diya.

Also at the event were the president's wife, Patience, Vice-President Namadi Sambo; and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Maryam Mukhtar.

Bauchi CAN Objects But while the government in the days ahead will be working out the modalities of the promised amnesty scheme, the Bauchi State Chapter of CAN has urged President Jonathan not to succumb to the demand of northern elite of granting amnesty to the Islamic sect, Boko Haram, arguing that the genesis of terrorism in Nigeria is because power has shifted from the north.

It said the dreaded group had previously rejected all offers of dialogue by the federal government, hence it would be a waste of time and resources to grant them amnesty.

The Kabiru Turaki Committee, which was set up to seek out and dialogue with members of the sect toured the country but could hardly be said to have any meaningful impact as members of the sect shunned their rapprocahment.

The Secretary of Bauchi CAN, Rev. Joshua Rai, while reacting to the offer of amnesty, lamented that the 15 years of democracy rule in the country had been marred by continuous spate of bomb attacks and killings of innocent citizens.

He said: "I strongly disagree with the president's position of accepting unconditional renouncement of violence by insurgents and reintegrating them back to the society. What the president should consider is these people are not interested in repenting or negotiating with the government on realistic grounds."

Continuing, he said: "President Jonathan inherited this terrorism challenge from the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and he is battling with it because the north do not want him in power. So the northern elite formed this militant group to continue to shed blood all in the name of restoring power back to the north."

According to the CAN secretary, the war against insurgency would linger in the north for a long time because some top security officers are aiding the operations of Boko Haram, particularly in Borno State. He advised northern governors to interact with the stakeholders in the region with the aim of bringing to an end the unrest in the northern part of the country.

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