Jonathan in dilemma over amnesty to Boko Haram

•How Yar’Adua ended hostilities in Niger Delta in 60 days.

•Fasehun supports Presidency, opposes amnesty to ‘spirits’

“Your first appearance …is the gauge by which you will be measured, try to manage that you may go beyond yourself in after times, but beware of ever doing less.” This adumbration by Jean Jacques Rousseau typifies a reflection on challenges of leadership in virtually every facet of the social system. It is also postulated that, “mainstream political posturing almost always takes place in disagreement over the role of the state. Political alliances are formed by one’s position on which areas of our lives the state should exert its influence and which areas it should remain passive. Of course, the state never asks permission to do what it believes is necessary to get where it is.

It … demands that those within the region it intends to occupy or already occupies submit to its force and power. We may be able to rationalize a “devil’s contract”; the possibility that if we don’t accept the state, the same guns promised to protect us may be used upon us; either directly as in totalitarian regimes or indirectly in more “democratic” regimes.”

The Boko Haram insurgency has over the years exacerbated the crisis of leadership in the country, throwing open challenge to the sovereignty of the Nigerian State. The Federal Government is often confronted with protracted violence by ethnic forces with seemingly ‘parallel’ coercion. Some stakeholders in the Nigerian project have at different times been critical of the leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan in the management of the Boko Haram insurgency and other national issues. Their cynicisms are not unconnected with the rising indices of the seeming loss of the coercive impetus of the Nigerian State which differentiates the supremacy of the government from segmented violent groups, particularly in northern part of the country since the conclusion of the 2011 General Elections. Since then, the state appears to be in perpetual struggle to redeem its status or capability to enforce the acceptance of national interest in the North. The Federal Government has hypothetically been in a dilemma isolating between the ‘devil’s contract’ and popular mandate of a renewed social contract of governance by the Nigerian people. Governance and development have been made almost impossible by the several incidents of terrorism, even already established processes of social relations and structures are being destroyed. There is covertly looming anarchy, the North has been turned into a state of nature where might is right.

Meanwhile, different approaches have been adopted to restore security in the North, yet the insurgents cannot be subdued. The common denominator is that the only way security can be restored in the North is to eliminate the perpetrators of the insurgency. There are two major ways to achieve it. One is to adopt the coercive force of the state, which has, however, yielded relative success. The other is the use of peaceful negotiations and trade offs, though without compromising the sovereignty of the Nigerian State.

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Apparently, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar 111, the Muslim spiritual leader in Nigeria, had, a fortnight ago, advocated what appears to be a paradigm shift from a “night-watchman state” to an “interventionist state” approach in managing insecurity in the North. The Sultan suggested the granting of amnesty by President Jonathan to Boko Haram members.

Several stakeholders in the polity have been at crossroads over the idea of amnesty.  There have been oppositions to amnesty to Boko Haram, while the idea is also being considered as panacea to insecurity in the North by some other stakeholders.

Those who opposed amnesty to Boko Haram predicated their arguments that the insurgents are faceless, they are unknown persons. Some even contended that Boko Haram insurgency is not an organized social uprising; adding that they are neither making political nor economic demands on the state. The Boko Haram insurgents are mainly perceived to be waging a religious war on the Nigerian State. However, several Islamic leaders and traditional rulers in the North have over time dissociated religion or interest of the North from the insurgency. Curiously, the Muslim spiritual leader in the country became the advocate of amnesty.

President Jonathan was reported to have said that, “government cannot grant amnesty to Islamist sect, Boko Haram, until its members come out from the shadows.” The President reportedly construes them as faceless. “I cannot talk about amnesty with Boko Haram now until they come out and show themselves,” the President had said, during his official visit to Yobe State. President Jonathan has been grossly criticized on not considering the amnesty option to tackle the Boko Haram menace as was done in the Niger Delta.

Meanwhile, Sheikh Mohammed Abdul’Aziz, factional leader of Boko Haram, last week, declared that Boko Haram members are not ghosts.  Abdul’Aziz, who had earlier declared that Boko Haram faction under his leadership, was prepared for ceasefire and dialogue with the Federal Government, reiterated that the opportunities for dialogue is still open for the government to explore (despite the denial by Imam Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram leader, of any interest in dialogue or even knowing Abdul’Aziz). Obviously, the Boko Haram insurgency gets complicated at all time. This has spillover effect on security measures to combat the insurgency.

Amnesty, however, is a process; a means to an end; not the substantive goal. The process usually commences from the unknown and proceeds to the known.

It would be recalled that President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua commenced amnesty in the Niger Delta on August 6, 2009, though government announced the amnesty deal in June.  The late President declared unconditional pardon and cash payments to rebels who agree to lay down their arms and assemble at screening centres within 60 days. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) accepted 60 days ceasefire with the Federal Government in July but was not sure if their members will take part in the amnesty. Yar’Adua in his amnesty proclamation on 25 June, 2009, declared inter alia: “The offer of amnesty is predicated on the willingness and readiness of the militants to give up all illegal arms in their possession, completely renounce militancy in all its ramifications unconditionally, and depose to an undertaking to this effect.  It is my fervent hope that all militants in the Niger Delta will take advantage of this amnesty and come out to join in the quest for the transformation of our dear nation. The offer of amnesty is open to all militants for a period of 60 days.” The late President also stated that a Presidential Panel on Amnesty and Disarmament of Militants in the Niger Delta was set up on May 5, 2009.

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At the time of commencing the amnesty process, names of Commanders of the ‘military battalions’ in the different states were only heard but the individuals were not physically known.

Some notable individuals were appointed by the Federal Government to facilitate the Niger Delta amnesty. The “Boys” appointed Professor Wole Soyinka to liaise on their behalf with the Federal Government. Timi Alaibe, Special Assistant to the President on Niger Delta, joined forces with Niger Delta leaders, whom included DSP Alameyeseigha, to speak to the “Boys” in the Creeks to surrender their arms and embrace amnesty. The Federal Government also created Arms Collection Centres for the amnesty process. These appear to be where President Jonathan is encountering difficulties in taming the Boko Haram offensives. Some stakeholders in the country have articulated that the Sultan of Sokoto should be engaged to bridge this lacuna, assist in building the structure that would facilitate the amnesty to Boko Haram members. This is the direction many stakeholders expect the President to consider in managing the terrorist invasion of the North.

At a stage, governors of the Niger Delta states opposed the amnesty when they were not included in the process.  Late Yar’Adua summoned an urgent meeting in Abuja with the South-South governors after which they declared their support for the amnesty.

Farah Dagogo, one of the Commanders, led his soldiers to surrender their weapons in Port Harcourt. Mend leader in Bayelsa State, Ebikabowei Victor Ben (Boyloaf); Ateke Tom, leader of the Niger Delta Vigilante, an ethnic Ijaw militia group; and others also disarmed at other Arms Collection Centres. The General of Generals, Government Ekpemupolo (Tompolo), who had at a meeting with Yar’Adua accepted amnesty, surrendered on the last day of the 60 ultimatum, October 4, 2009. The disarmament was concluded between August 6, and October 4, 2009.

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It was however gathered that, “evidence has shown that there are different groups that are not known, because the Niger Delta is spread across a wide expanse of land in Nigeria.”

The Niger Delta arms struggle was more of political and economic emancipation agitation.  Yar’Adua in his proclamation accordingly acknowledged: “our Administration has demonstrated unwavering commitment to evolving a holistic solution to the problems of the Niger Delta: securing the region for growth and development, while also effectively tackling the criminal dimension to the problem. We do recognize that the provision of the necessary infrastructure for the sorely needed socio-economic development of the area is dependent on an enduring atmosphere of peace and security.” This is where the Boko Haram insurgency becomes a paradox of liberation struggle, degenerating complexities in adoption of amnesty.

In considering options to restoring peace in the North, there could be wisdom in de-juxtaposing the science of governance and the art of governance. Security diplomacy may become a desideratum. Our investigation reveled that while many stakeholders, including those secretly behind the Boko Haram terrorism, condemn President Jonathan, exposing him to the hazards of public condemnation; there are principal beneficiaries from the insurgency both within and outside the government who would not want the crisis to end. There are indications that such people create crisis of variance of ideas on solutions to terrorism in the North.

Moreover, speaking to National Daily at the weekend in Lagos, Dr. Fredrick Fasehun, leader of the O’dua Peoples Congress (OPC), said that the Federal Government cannot grant amnesty to spirits, saying that members of Boko Haram have to be known before amnesty is granted them. He was of the view that those soliciting amnesty for Boko Haram should provide the platform that would facilitate the process. “Do you grant amnesty to spirits? The government has to know them. Those advocating for amnesty for Boko Haram should provide the list of the members, they should make their identities known, to enable the Federal Government plan for their rehabilitation,” Fasehun declared.

The OPC leader, however, acknowledged the imperatives of dialogue but maintained that government cannot dialogue with spirits.  Fasehun stated that members of Boko Haram should indicate interest in embracing peace, preparedness to surrender their arms, to enable government to plan suitable amnesty programme that would guarantee enduring security in the North.

Fasehun revisited the advocacy for a national dialogue among ethnic nationalities as well as the government.


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