Saturday, 20 April 2013
DOES BOKO HARAM DESERVE AMNESTY?
Boko Haram leader
Years after the first suicide bomb attack in Nigeria, the odious flames of insecurity that have engulfed the nation still rages. The Boko Haram insurgency which started in the sleepy town of Bauchi in 2008 has grown deadlier and more sophisticated over the years defying various attempts at a crackdown including brute force, trillion Naira budgets and the so called carrot and stick approach. Indeed the sect has shown that it is quite capable of eating the carrot and breaking the stick. Its activities have virtually crippled the three most viable economies of the north- Kano, Kaduna, Plateau and have turned the entire north east region into a relic of some rustic civility.
Perhaps it was these turn of events that informed the spiritual leader of Muslims in Nigeria and Sultan of Sokoto Sa'ad Abubakar III to call on president Goodluck Jonathan to consider granting amnesty to Boko Haram. Ever since the sultan made that appeal the talk of amnesty has assumed a life of its own culminating in the setting of a 26 member committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North on April 17, 2013.
As expected, the new disposition of the Federal Governementtowards amnesty has generated a lot of debit across the nation with the voices for and against in almost equal measure. But does a sect that has so much blood on its hands deserve amnesty?
The argument against amnesty has been supported with several reasons all of which seem very cogent. The first and most widely circulated is the view earlier held by the presidency about not giving amnesty to ghosts or a group that is not interested. The apparent rejection by the sect's Leader of the proposed amnesty does appear to lend credence to this argument.
A Second point is that granting amnesty would be like rewarding criminality. The deaths and scale of destruction by Boko Haram is second only to Nigeria's 3 year long civil war. Consequently, compensating the actors of such horrendous crime is not only unthinkable but is also a cruel irony on victims.
The third reason for rejecting amnesty is the fear that it might encourage other groups to take up arms, kill, kidnap, bomb and eventually seek amnesty. This thought is consistent with the long held policy by countries like the United States of America and Isreal 'not to negotiate with terrorists'. The policy makes it clear from the onset that Government cannot be held to ransome for whatever reason and serves as a deterrent to would-be terrorists.
Lastly, there is a cynical belief that most of the proponents of amnesty from the North see it as an opportunity to line their pockets and empower their relations. Those who argue along this line draw comparism from the Niger Delta amnesty programme which has made many people of South South extraction instant billionaires in the name of 'facilitators' of the amnesty programme. Sceptics also argue that most of the so called militants are merely relatives and acquaintances of powerful Niger Delta indigenes that have manipulated a well intentioned programme to train their people as Pilots and Engineers at Government expense. The fear is that such a scenario would be similarly replicated in the north especially as there is no test that can be carried out to show who is a genuine Boko Haram member and who is not.
As earlier stated, all these points appear valid but do elicit a counter.
Boko Haram may operate underground and may well not be interested in amnesty. But an incontrovertible fact is that the sect does appear divided. This disunity is a chink in the amour that can be exploited to great effect. The Boko Haram war might be ideological on the face of it but a little scratch beneath the surface will reveal a far bigger picture of poverty and purposelessness. These are the people that serve as ready foot soldiers for the sect. They are the canon fodder recruited on promises of pecuniary benefits and indoctrinated with a sense of deadly purpose. An offer of amnesty might be able to reach out and sever the supply line of would-be suicide bombers and lieutenants.
As for rewarding crime, no price is too great to pay for peace. As such, all options whether good or bad must be fully considered in the interest of bringing lasting peace to the North, restoring its damaged economy, eliminating the fear of bombs, carnage and ending the brutal occupation by soldiers. It is also heartwarming to see that part of the Terms of Reference for the Amnesty committee is the 'development of a comprehensive victims' support programme.' This should allay the fears of those who claim that the victims have been neglected while the terrorists are being rewarded. Granting amnesty will also ensure there are no more victims.
The notion that amnesty for Boko Haram could encourage the springing up of other terror groups is very genuine. But should the fear of an eventuality hinder the taking of steps to stop an eminent danger? The problem of Boko Haram is one that does not threaten the North alone but the entire country. Nigeria is more interconnected than most regionalists think and a problem in one part affects every other part. Simply look at the manufacturing conglomerates in Lagos whose truck drivers are afraid to take goods to the north and all the tomatos that are now being imported from Ghana because it is not safe to go to the North. The economic effect on the nation cannot be easily quantified. Besides, the recent discovery of a terror cell in Ijora should be enough reason to convince skeptics that once Boko Haram enters Lagos, the whole Country is doomed! So the point is, let the immediate problem be tackled and then ways of preventing a copy cat can be put in place. Again, it is good to see that the Committee was also saddled with the responsibility of developing 'mechanisms to address the underlying causes of insurgencies that would help to prevent future occurrences.'
Examples abound of Countries that have had to go against policy to dialogue with so called terror groups. In October, 2011, Israeli Soldier, Gilad Shalit was released after more than five years in Hamas captivity. Israel had to negotiate and strike a deal with its arch enemy Hamas in which it agreed to exchange 1,000 palestinian prisoners for Shalit. A steep price to pay for just one life was the argument in some quarters.
Also, Nigeria's former colonial masters, Great Britain has on more than one occassion granted amnesty to the Irish Republican Army(IRA) terrorists who had been accused of killing army and police officers as well as carrying out deadly bombings. Indeed, the amnesty granted the IRA by the British Government and Northern Ireland Office (NOI) did not go down well with Irish Unionists but it has to a large extent brought peace to the once troubled Northern Ireland.
These two examples show that there is always a place for dialogue, negotiation and amnesty in the over riding interest of peace.
Finally, there are no guarantees that corrupt opportunists would not seize upon the proposed amnesty to enrich themselves but the true measure of the success or failure of amnesty is not whether people other than terrorists benefitted but rather if peace was achieved in the end. The Niger Delta amnesty for all its lapses brought peace to the region and allowed the country to resume optimum production of oil thus preventing the oil dependent economy from grinding to a halt. If a similar gain is derived from granting amnesty to Boko Haram, in the end, it would have been worth it.
It must be said however that if the amnesty succeeds in securing peace, the colossal failure of the nations' security forces at containing the insurgency must be reviewed. Trillions have been spent, 'collateral damage' has been heavy and the landscape has been transformed into a war zone, yet the activities of the sect did not appear to slow. The possibility of complicity on the part of security forces must be considered and all necessary steps should be taken the address the many social injustices that give rise to problems such as these.