Opinion: Fighting Terrorism With Amnesty By Theophilus Ilevbare

Never mind the barefaced denial from Dr. Reuben Abati, Presidential spokesman that President Goodluck Jonathan, did not offer the Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram, amnesty. On Democracy Day, we heard the speech of the Minister of Youth Development, Mr. Boni Haruna, loud and clear, and should anyone be in doubt, here are his words, verbatim: “President Goodluck Jonathan has declared amnesty for members of the Boko Haram sect.”

The minister added that, “A series of integration programmes have been lined up for the members of the sect who would surrender their arms and embrace peace.”

Reiterating his earlier declaration, he emphasised: “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.”

To all intents and purposes, every line of that statement by the minister on behalf of the Federal Government was denied by Abati. How can a government continue to speak with discordant tunes on a critical issue like national security that requires a clear and emphatic position? Who is fooling who? When will this government show some responsibility, sincerity of purpose, courage, seriousness and true leadership to begin to actually lead? How is the citizenry expected to support the fight against terrorism when the government does not even know what it wants? We know that should Abubakar Shekau (Boko Haram leader) contact Mr. President this very moment requesting amnesty, this administration will grant it. What is the implication of this for the ongoing fight against the insurgents? Is this how we will immortalise our armed forces for the sacrifice and ultimate price they are paying in Nigeria’s north-east? Is this how we will honour the many innocent men, women and children Boko Haram has visited with untimely death?

Government deliberately made plans for such declaration not to come from Mr. President to create the impression that he remains ruthless in his stand against the insurgents.

The greatest disservice we can do to the lives that are being lost to the insurgents’ machetes, guns and bombs, is to, in one fell swoop, blot away their atrocities and reward them with billions, turning Shekau and his Amirs – as he calls his generals – to the latest Tompolos, Boyloafs, Ateke Toms and Asari-Dokubos in town who now waltz the corridors of power.

The proclamation of amnesty is nothing new. For as much as we know, since last year, the government’s amnesty offer has been on the table. Any attempt to declare amnesty for the vicious group now or in the nearest future will throw up more questions than answers like: When did Boko Haram request amnesty? Why is the President offering what wasn’t requested even in the face of escalating bloodshed? Does he want to feign ignorance that the Islamist sect bluntly rejected his first amnesty offer? What makes him think they have changed their stance? Has the Commander-In-Chief lost confidence in the ability of the Nigerian security operatives to effectively wipe out the fundamentalists? Who are the sponsors of this terror group in Nigeria? Why is it taking so long for the government to expose them? Or are they bigger than the country?

The emptiness and indiscretion of that pronouncement by Haruna were laid bare as the government had hitherto made an offer of amnesty to the terrorists through the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Conflict in the North-East zone of Nigeria. Their offer of amnesty is still on the table. So why declare amnesty again for Boko Haram when they spat on the face of the government by stating unequivocally that they don’t need amnesty but that the government should instead, plead for amnesty from them. The government still doesn’t get it that these terrorists don’t flinch at the thought of getting billions from government as amnesty package.

In a desperate and clumsy bid to bring the terrorists to the negotiation table, the government is offering amnesty to faceless people – ghosts. Such an ignominious gesture is tantamount to “radicalising” the youth across the country to think that the way to get government’s attention is to pick up arms against the state. We say no, to all forms of bestiality of our youths, which this amnesty charade is all about. It defies every logic that the government even contemplated amnesty to faceless terrorists, mindless killers and maniacs that have sent over 15,000 Nigerians to their graves since their Jihad began. More than 4,000 of that figure have being killed this year alone.

It is foolhardy to think amnesty can deradicalise a terrorist. To the Jihadists, terrorism is a way of life they’ve come to know, a new religion and message that they are ready to die for while forcefully propagating. Granting amnesty to Boko Haram is yet another indication that the Jonathan government is at a crossroads. Besides, there is more politics in this amnesty charade than meets the eye. The religious extremists have a warped ideology that everything about Western education is forbidden. How then, can government, in the name of amnesty, send Shekau for instance, to study Aeronautic Engineering in the United Kingdom or Medical Science in Australia in the guise of rehabilitation for integration? I don’t think the government has thought this through. Amnesty or any such thing can never completely dissect this tumour out of the northern community.

Before now, the government’s position was to crush the insurgents with military might but the war is now beyond the capability and capacity of the Nigerian security operatives. Though the posture of government signifies the carrot and stick approach as its strategy, it is now glaring to every observer that only the “carrot” approach is now the Jonathan administration’s best bet.

That the President has buckled yet again shows the government lacks courage, political will, 21st century military equipment, personnel and intelligence to challenge and discomfit the salafist sect headlong. Begging terrorists cap in hand is tantamount to resigning to fate and handing the initiative of the terror war to the monsters. They’re now in a position of strength. This is indeed, the impetus they need to overrun the troubled states. God forbid.

Rewarding terrorism, militancy and all forms of hooliganism, cultism and brigandage are sure fire highways to an irrevocable descent to a failed nation. The handwriting is on the wall that Nigeria is on the road to Yugoslavia, or Somalia.

Victims of the insurgency will not be impressed. And such victims are many: immediate and long-term victims, direct and indirect victims, individual and co-operate victims. Even the terrorists are not impressed; they want a war with the Nigerian military. They cherish a quick pathway to meet ‘Allah’ should they be killed in such duels.

Amnesty to the sect is the greatest disservice to the lives lost to the insurgency, while it takes the assault on the collective psyche of Nigerians to dizzying heights.

– Ilevbare, a policy analyst, is based in Abuja. Twitter @tilevbare.

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