• Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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Amnesty to Boko Haram and implications for Nigerian economy


 What does the Nigeria stand to benefit from the proposed amnesty to members of the Islamist Boko Haram sect?

The setting up of a 26-member committee by the Presidency to work out modalities for the amnesty has given a strong indication that the President has been cowed into succumbing to the option.

Over the last few years, despite the enormous state might at its disposal, government appears incapable of halting the bloody campaign by the Boko Haram.

Since 2009, the terrorist group, which has been seeking to overthrow parts of the country and impose Islamic law, has not left Abuja in doubt of its mission with its increased profile and well orchestrated lethal attacks. Government has been on the defensive. Each strike by the insurgents has left in its trail blood and tears.

Not too long ago, Azubike Ihejirika, chief of Army Staff (COAS), had said the Boko Haram bloody campaign had claimed over 3,000 lives.

In the last two months, calls for amnesty to the Boko Haram members have been intense, particularly from major stakeholders in the North. The Sultan of Sokoto, Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakar, seems to have opened the floodgate for more calls in this regard. There has been a stampede by individuals and groups, even from unexpected quarters, singing the amnesty chorus.

President Jonathan, in the month of March, told the Northern elders in Borno State, the hot bed of the Islamist activities, that government would consider the call for amnesty if people came forward to identify themselves for discussions and negotiations.

But at a recent meeting with some powerful Northern elements, the President reached a deal to grant the amnesty as a means of ending the orgy of violence and bloodletting in parts of the North.

Critics have wondered why government could grant amnesty to a group of dissidents whose heinous activities have left thousands of people dead, maimed or displaced.

No defined approach against BH

On several occasions, Jonathan had been pressured to drop his longstanding stance against adoption of a ruthless tactic to put the Islamist militants to rout. The hardest “stick” he has adopted against the sect is the Joint Military Task Force (JTF). He knows that any action akin to what former President Olusegun Obasanjo did in Odi, Bayelsa State, would be ruinous to his future political ambition as well as disastrous for the North and the entire country.

The desperation to sand-paper the relationship and to get the nod of the North for 2015, as it were, may have informed the decision of Abuja to cave in to the pressure on amnesty.

“If President Jonathan eventually grants amnesty to members of the dreaded Boko Haram, it is a bait to getting political concession from the North in 2015”, Balarabe Musa, Second Republic governor of Old Kaduna State, said.

Security sources say Boko Haram has established links with al-Qaeda’s North African wing over the past years which according to them explain its forays into international targets.

“Boko Haram is no different from the Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) that is operating in northern Mali. AQIM is being actively contained by security forces from surrounding countries, including Mauritania. AQIM has not been offered amnesty because terrorists are implacably committed to their delirious mission”, an analyst said.

Apart from the bombing of a United Nations building in Abuja in August 2011 by members of the Boko Haram, there have also been attacks on foreign nationals. A number of expatriates had been kidnapped and murdered to spite the western world.

Underlining factors

Jonathan, who hails from the Ijaw ethnic nationality in the South-South geo-political zone, is not known to enjoy a robust relationship with the political North. His seeming foot-dragging in matters of employing ruthless approach to ending the orgy of violence in the North has been described as a deliberate strategy not to worsen his relationship with the North that sees him as one who supplanted them.

The circumstances of his ascendance to power pitted him against the North which feels shortchanged that it was not allowed to serve out eight-year two-term tenure allowed by the informal agreement of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) after the demise of President Umaru Yar’ Adua.

Speculations about the President’s intention to run for another term in 2015 have further worsened his frosty relationship with the political North.

Doubts over acceptance of amnesty offer

A largely weak government, which has often adopted a defeatist option of problem-solving, may have thought amnesty for Boko Haram may lead to a lasting peace in the troubled zone.

A faction of the sect has since rejected the offer because, according to them, there is no basis for it. In the thinking of an analyst, the insurgents have tested their ability to successfully strike terror and force government to make unsolicited peace offerings. The Islamist insurgents believe the offer will weaken them.

Unlike the Niger Delta militants, whose major plank for campaign was principally economic, Boko Haram is mainly waging a Jihadist war, which is why they offer themselves to die in the process of their campaign. They are not interested in any amount of money or other incentives government is prepared to pay each member that surrenders. They are committed to whatever cause they are pursuing and careless about their lives.

Danger of the offer

An outright amnesty to the Boko Haram militants may create an opportunity for flagrant abuse since anybody on the street of Kaduna, Zaria, Kano, Maiduguri or Damaturu can just pick up some arms and claim to be Boko Haram when in fact they have no link with the sect whatsoever.

Since the Boko Haram sect has been infiltrated by nationals of Mali, Niger, Chad, Somalia and Sudan, total amnesty will open the floodgate for all manner of dangerous elements coming from nowhere to line up for compensation for killing Nigerians and for lengthening the list of orphans, widows and widowers in the country.

The Federal Government also needs to be mindful that there are many other ethnic militias in the country who have remained essentially peaceful, and who may by any act of amnesty be encouraged to pursue violence.

Jonathan might be setting a dangerous precedent. If his motivation for the move is 2015, no one can accurately predict what may happen beyond that year after the elections. Boko Haram itself is a creation of some politicians in Borno who used the boys to achieve their electoral ambitions. Along the line, the political thugs no longer find regular jobs and with the arms at their disposal, they began to terrorise innocent citizens and consequently turned against government.

When the amnesty shall have been fully declared and implemented, other militia groups down south, O’odua People’s Congress (OPC), MEND and Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), would find justification to renew their various agitations. It will also encourage youths who have since taken up some criminal activities to be more vicious in the hope that government will extend the amnesty largesse to them.

Free money for grabs

Government appears to be deceived into thinking that giving out money to members of the Islamist sect will end the killings. It must be stated that the amnesty will amount to waste of resources after making billionaires of those who have left hundreds of families desolate. The Niger Delta experience is a ready instance that terrorists must always be terrorists. Although some leaders of the Niger Delta militant groups have been given contracts that run into several billions from government, the area is not totally free from violence. The proposed amnesty to the Boko Haram sect will be counter-productive as it aims to reward crime with money, and special favours.