Amnesty for Boko Haram? By Raymond Eyo
I have read rational opinions for and against the granting of an amnesty to the terrorist sect, Boko Haram. In particular, inter alia, I read Doyin Okupe’s “Amnesty for Boko Haram: Need for better understanding”. I also read Abubakar Usman’s very savvy piece, “Amnesty: What’s Sauce for the Goose is Sauce for the Gander!” in which he made strong arguments for the granting of a quasi-amnesty for Boko Haram as well as the equally brilliant reaction to it, by Wale Babatunde, “Amnesty: Why What is Sauce for the Goose is Actually not Sauce for the Goose” wherein he objected to the whole amnesty idea and rather proffered a medium to long-term solution out of the malaise in the form of an advanced security and defence mechanism that can readily quell such violent and terrorist organisations.
I also recognise that there are quite of number of eminent Nigerians on both side of the divide. In all, the debates and arguments by both camps are very healthy for our democracy and policy development. They speak volumes about the interest and participation of Nigerians in the governance of our country, especially such as affects the security of lives and property – being, of course, the primary purpose of government.
Truth is, despite a few modest successes here and there, every now and then, Nigeria’s security apparatus is presently way too impotent against the scourge of terrorism. In fact, the Joint Task Force (JTF) onslaught has proven to be ineffective against the sect and has led to very many civilian deaths and extra-judicial actions that instead aid the recruitment of more disgruntled people into the sect’s rank and file.
Wale Babatunde suggested, albeit rhetorically, that “Maybe we should have extended the same [amnesty] courtesy to Osama Bin-laden for the 9/11 world trade centre bombing and the perpetrators of July 7, 2005 London underground train bombing since we seem to have a large capacity for this.” I understand his implied message is that the United States and the United Kingdom did not grant amnesties to the perpetrators of those heinous crimes. Fair enough, but Nigeria clearly does not have the security and anti-terrorism capabilities of the US and the UK. The granting of amnesty stems, largely, from the unfortunate but obvious incapacity of our security forces to deal squarely with the menace.
Babatunde also asks; “Will granting Boko Haram and their other “brothers” amnesty bring an end to terror in Nigeria (I don’t mean the North alone)? While it might give a short term reprieve, will it not ignite another terror group in another region?” Whilst there may be a possibility that an amnesty for Boko Haram could instigate another terrorist group from a different part of the country, it must be understood that the amnesty granted the Niger Delta militants did not in any way contribute to the emergence of the savage Boko Haram. So, this connection, at best, amounts to a fearful imagination. Even then, a smart, quasi-amnesty that consists of a negligible or no financial package will be difficult, if not impossible, to serve as a bait for the emergence of another terror sect. Such a quasi-amnesty that is designed to stop the wanton killing of lives and the destruction of property will do no harm, especially if the authorities begin taking pragmatic steps towards beefing up the capacity of our security forces concurrently.
However, I agree with some of Mr Babatunde’s proposals regarding what can be done in lieu of the amnesty. The only problem remains that, in the most part, his proposals can only take effect in the medium to long terms. What happens in the interim? Should we resign our fate to the killing of many innocent civilians and the destruction of property? Unless something is done decisively and quickly, there seems to be no end in sight to the Boko Haram carnage.
Babatunde adds that “We don’t need to reform our national security apparels; we must dismantle this existing one and build afresh. Many will agree with me that these present security officers cannot deal with the security challenges we presently face as a nation.” Granted that our present security officers cannot handle the challenges confronting us today but no country can, in one fell swoop, entirely dismantle its police/security force. That’s a recipe for total chaos and disorder that will almost certainly breed the kind of instability in which nation-building cannot proceed.
Of course, I fully concur with Babatunde that there is an urgent need to secure our porous borders – a scenario which exacerbates the frequency and quantity of weaponry that make it into our territory and facilitates Boko Haram’s attacks.
Most importantly, I consent, like Babatunde again suggests, that we must take our education very seriously if we must find a lasting solution to any spate of violence and criminality. Two popular aphorisms hold true to this claim. They are as follows: “Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army” by Edward Everett and “Education is peace-building by another name. It is the most effective form of defence spending there is” by Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general.
On March 29, good governance advocate, Ayobami Oyalowo, explained the plight of our security establishment in the face of the Boko Haram terrorist rampage. He said: “Ganye was bombed for over 3 hours, yet no reinforcement came until the bombers had left. Many people in Ganye town were already aware they would be attacked, but as usual, no pre-emptive measures were taken to forestall it. Citizens are merely a sitting duck, shooting and moving targets for terrorist attacks. The Federal Government completely has NO clue as to what to do. The JTF still searches for bombs manually. In these modern days, with the huge budgetary allocation to defence, [there are still] no sophisticated SCANNERS in place. Our anti-terrorism war is at best a disaster and a stupid joke. At this rate, the theatre of war will be expanded. Our military is NOT trained on counter-terrorism and how to deal with guerrilla warfare. They are a mere reactionary force, ripe for the picking. They mount stupid roadblocks harassing innocent citizens and making life difficult [for them]. Yet bombers continue to have a field day. In guerrilla (terrorism) warfare, the use of stealth intelligence and infiltration is more effective than brute and naked force.”
It is known that the British government has pledged to support their Nigerian counterpart to overcome the Boko Haram insurgency. Following a recent meeting in London between Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim, and his United Kingdom opposite number, General Sir David Richards, after a January 2013 visit by the latter to Abuja, Nigeria’s Director of Defence Information, Brigadier General Chris Olukolade, disclosed that the meeting “has opened doors of new opportunities particularly in addressing counter-terrorism challenges.” Also, on January 23, 2012, at the inaugural meeting of the security cooperation segment of the US-Nigeria Bi-National Commission, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Mr. William Fitzgerald, declared his country’s commitment to assisting Nigeria in finding a way out of the security impasse. Since then, however, not much has really changed. The bombs have continued to go off in their numbers.
In addition, at a March 28 meeting with four African leaders, including the presidents of Nigeria’s regional partners, Sierra Leone and Senegal, and the Prime Minister of Cape Verde, in Washington D.C., US President Barack Obama said, “we all discussed some of the regional challenges involved… many of the threats are transnational. You’ve seen terrorism infiltrate into the region… the United States will continue to cooperate with each of these countries to try to find smart solutions so that they can build additional capacity and make sure that these cancers don’t grow in their region. And the United States intends to be a strong partner for that.” The import of that statement is that Nigeria can be sure to get US assistance in combating Boko Haram. But, as experience as shown, not even the brute force of the US military has completely quelled terrorist activities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the latter two, American drone strikes are rather helping to fuel pro-terrorist sentiment. Similarly, we all know what happened when the British attempted to cooperate with Nigeria in the botched rescue attempt of two hostages in March 2012.
The point I’m driving home, essentially, is that guerrilla warfare often needs more of home-grown strategies and solutions, consistent with the country’s abilities and not the unleashing of brute force, even with the assistance of foreign military powers. The greatest gain Nigeria can get from any foreign assistance is in the area of intelligence-gathering. Even with that, our security forces still lack the capacity to execute any decisive onslaught, after garnering sufficient intelligence, against a guerrilla movement without, as we have seen, the reckless and wanton killing of civilians, with the attendant negative consequences earlier pointed out.
To understand why amnesty for Boko Haram is permissible, it is important to take note of the circumstances out of which the sect became so vicious. Usman Balkore, an academic and a social critic, did justice to this issue on March 28 when he analysed thus: “Why is dialogue and amnesty not encouraged in the case of Boko Haram? It worked with similar terror groups elsewhere: IRA, PKK, Tamil Tigers, Columbia, PLO etc. Boko Haram was latent and non-violent until they got attacked and killed by the police. When they protested, there was a crackdown. Their existence was no serious threat. The ideology was [only about] shunning western education and vices [and consisted] no jihad or Islamisation. The crackdown was a major conflagration that killed them en mass including many who did not subscribe to the ideology. And then the violent form ensued, attracting sympathy from unemployed youths and radical islamists to avenge on the police and later, those close to the Borno State government and now, public assets and places of worship. And then, perhaps, the fifth columnists hijacked it to create political and religious divides. Islamisation was a latter day adaptation to garner sympathy from some radical groups which played into the hands of the 5th columnists.” Balkore then concluded, “Guerrilla movements and fighters are hard to exterminate, and when they resort to terrorism it is even harder. Our duty is [amnesty/peace] talks.”
At the end of the day, it is important to note that the Jonathan administration hasn’t ruled out the possibility of an amnesty. In fact, it has technically considered one but only on the condition that the leadership of Boko Haram identify themselves so as to make such an amnesty workable. One of Jonathan’s media aides, Doyin Okupe, wrote on March 29 that “Mr. President insists rightly that the leadership of Boko Haram must be identifiable and must come out and confirm their leadership of the sect unequivocally, so as to make it clear who the government is dealing with; Mr. President and the administration is not ruling out the possibility of an amnesty totally, but condition precedent must be the identification of authentic insurgent leadership.” It is also instructive and expedient that yet another of Jonathan’s preconditions for the amnesty is, as Okupe further explained, “The requirement that the leadership [of Boko Haram] need to assure the nation of their willingness to dialogue with the government and an irrevocable commitment to amnesty terms when [take note; not “if”] granted.”
This is the right way to go! My preoccupation, in endorsing the proposal for a quasi-amnesty for Boko Haram, is that I really cannot figure out, nor have I heard or read anyone come out with any better pragmatic short-term or immediate solution to the killings. Let us see an amnesty for Boko Haram like a kind of first aid. The only reason why I support a quasi-amnesty for Boko Haram is because I am convinced it will help to stop the reckless killing of human lives and the destruction of property and also help the federal government and its security agencies to buy more time and decisively beef up their capacity. We cannot afford to be found wanting again, when, GOD forbid, any other major threat to our security crops up. It is, fundamentally, the inadequacy of our intelligence and security forces to effectively deal with the Boko Haram threat and others before it that has given rise to, in my opinion, the need for an amnesty for Boko Haram. If we must shun resorting to amnesty packages in desperate efforts to stop the kind of carnage that the sect has unleashed upon the nation and the kind of destruction that MEND and co inflicted on our oil installations, then we must, ultimately, elect a government that is truly sincere, courageous and possesses the capability and political will to spend more of our nation’s wealth on things that guarantee the security and prosperity of the citizenry. The status-quo, with over 70% for recurrent expenditure, is so utterly unsustainable. Our security, like our education, health and infrastructure are all crying out for want of funds and resources. We cannot continue wasting funds sustaining a large bureaucracy that, rather than add value to our governance, instead helps to corrupt it the more.
GOD bless Nigeria!
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