Chasing the Shadows of Boko Haram with Amnesty by Odusote Oluwakayode
The issues surrounding the proposed amnesty to be granted the Boko Haram sect is complex. Complex in the sense that so many interests are involved and many fears are being nursed. As usual, the dominant interest has been politics and religion.
Since the sect started its act of terrorism, most of its victims have been the Christians. The most unfortunate of all has been the inability of Government to put an end to the menace. Just as all groups have its history, we are all aware of the stories about the birth of Boko Haram and the perceived fall out that made the sect go wild. In my article titled “Nigerian Elites and the Boko Haram Menace, I narrated thus: “It is widely known that the group was founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002 in the city of Maiduguri capital of Borno state, northern Nigeria under former Governor Ali Modu Sheriff an ANPP chieftain who allegedly used the sect for political gains and even had one of their member as a commissioner in his cabinet. Information has it that Yusuf established a religious complex that included a mosque and a school where many poor families from across Nigeria and from neighboring countries enrolled their children.
In the guise of working in the interest of the then governor as its machinery against political opposition especially the PDP, the group had ulterior political motives and was working as a recruiting ground for future jihadist to fight the state with willing recruits from neighboring unstable countries like Chad and Niger republic. Yusuf carefully and successfully attracted followers and sympathizers from the jobless youth by criticizing political corruption, poverty and unemployment. He became an advocate and was loved.
The group conducted its operations more or less peacefully during the first seven years of its existence and except for the state of it operations, the group was largely unknown nationwide not until 2009 when we were woken to a massive launch against its leaders by security operatives. The government clamp down on the group saw several members of the group arrested in Bauchi state, sparking deadly clashes with Nigerian security forces especially the Nigerian Police. The group’s founder and then leader Mohammed Yusuf amongst several other influential members and relatives was extra judicially killed during this time while still in police custody. After the killing of Yusuf, the group retreated and resurfaced by carrying out its first terrorist attack in Borno state in January 2010. Since then, we have been made to live with the violent attacks of incessant bombings and assassinations. As at the last attack on the media houses in Abuja and Kaduna, the group’s killings and attacks have claimed over 400 lives”.
In his usual bluntness, Prof. Wole Soyinka maintained that“…the reason which you might say is on paper, in terms of political planning, are the six geo-political zones. This ‘two’ business, I don’t understand. But they are using this division of North versus South the same way as they are using religion. The issue is completely political. But with toxic element of religion infused into it, it gives them the leg to ally with international terrorist bodies based on religion. Those are only too happy to be of assistance”.
There is the need to know the history of the group and its activities in order to understand the arguments over a proposed amnesty. Now that amnesty is being proposed, the question is to whom is the amnesty for? If amnesty strongly means giving pardon to a convicted criminal, the question must be asked, has any of the members of the sect been convicted? What has happened to those that have been so far arrested not forgetting the indictment of some serving senators alleged to be directly involved with the group.
As much as I support the proposed amnesty primarily because there is a need to bring an end to the continued sacrifices of innocent lives, the truth is that, the sect in itself has no ideological basis for its course. Nigerians live in fear and the need to put a stop to the menace goes beyond amnesty. The guarantee of peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of justice. The sect has no justification for targeting innocent lives and places of worship. If there is a genuine course, the reasonable ways of demanding for justice is not by carrying arms against the country we all profess as ours. It is also not by committing the senseless act that the group claims to be fighting against (oppression) and it is not by clamoring for the impossible in a country that does not belong to one ethnic group or religion.
The claims that the group is being sponsored by some powerful individuals within the system of government calls for worry. President Jonathan made such comment that “Some of them are in the executive arm of government; some of them are in the parliamentary/legislative arm of government while some of them are even in the judiciary. Some are also in the armed forces, the police and other security agencies. Some continue to dip their hands and eat with you and you won’t even know the person who will point a gun at you or plant a bomb behind your house.”
This assertion by the president clearly supports the conviction that the politics attached to the sect’s activities are massive. Except there is a financial support, no poor Nigerian will be able to afford moving such sophisticated lethal weapons across the border into the country and to be highly trained in handling Improvised Explosive Device.
If the president could make such comment, then there is the need for us to understand that the system of government is polarized and the machineries of government is being used systematically to aid in one way or the other the activities of the sect. it should not be forgotten in a hurry that some suspected leaders of the group were allegedly arrested in some of the government house in Abuja. With the tight security adopted in entering places reserved for the very important persons (VIP) in our society, how do we swallow the easy access by alleged wanted persons for criminal acts?
Now that Abubakar Shekau just turned down the proposal of an amnesty even before being offered goes to show us that the critical issues of Boko Haram that has been selfishly infused into claims of fighting the course of Islam is more than meet the eye. Whilst the country’s flamboyant elites are busy amassing financial wealth, the masses’ thirst for survival increase daily. The peanuts most citizen get hardly afford a house rent, school fees for children and or a meal on the table. The mass underemployed and unemployed have gotten so frustrated that some have submitted to the willing embrace of kidnapping, robbery and militancy as a trade to earn more or to survive in a country under the grip of poverty.
Some have taken solace as street urchins plying a daily trade without control. These are the willing and available hands for terror and as much as our system ignore the need to empower the large population of the youth roaming the street without a job, the government and our political leaders must admit that we are sitting on a keg of gun powder. The number of frustrated unemployed youth is on its increase without the needed measures.
I agree that every opportunity needed to get a solution to these challenges must be adopted and effectively put to use, however, in granting the amnesty and as it concerns the sect, a line of dialogue must first of all be adopted because the basis of the insurgency is politically motivated and then fused into religion, therefore, there is the need to track a political solution to the dialogue.
Care must be seriously taken because of precedence. The issue of amnesty in Nigeria has taken a dimension of bargaining for selfish political and financial interest which unfortunately began with the militant’s extremism in the Niger Delta. Now we have the Boko Haram, what are we likely to be faced with from the growing and dangerous spree of kidnapping mostly in the South Eastern part of the country and the street urchin’s unbridled trade in the south western part of the country? We must exercise care so that criminals and insurgents don’t take advantage of such offer to commit crimes against the nation?
The nation would witness more aggressions from other ethnic, religious and political interests the moment we permanently adopt to pamper extremist with financial reward for committing crimes of treason. It is unfortunate to read in the news papers that the pardoned Niger Delta militant are paid billions of naira to guard pipelines from vandals despite huge budgetary allocation to security. The same militants that got training for vocational studies from tax payer’s money have been made sudden billionaires as a result of pampering. How does a nation explain such gesture to millions of unemployed youth?
Nigeria must not be turned into a political landscape where a region’s interest is recognized the periods some youth are sponsored to take up arms. A national dialogue to guide our national existence where every ethnic nationality’s interest will be considered, discussed and respected is important than a dialogue generated by unrest to satisfy a sectional interest. We have had the days of the Niger Delta militant, now we are witnessing the Boko Haram, who knows what the other ethnic minorities and interests will come up with tomorrow. A nation will be progressive when political interests are not selfishly galvanized to cause mayhem.
With the boastful statement of Abubakar Shekau, we are now faced with the realization that the offer of amnesty is not the only solution to the challenges of insecurity and the current crisis we are faced with. The Boko Haram issue should go beyond forgiveness of sins. It should address, through a sincere dialogue, the remote course of grievances with reasonable justice done. The need to lead the North and Nigeria out of the current security dilemma goes beyond press statements in support of Amnesty. Practical, sacrificial roles and efforts for the needed dialogue with the sect and its sponsors to resolve the unfortunate crisis we find ourselves are important.
The leadership and political will to create a system that will coordinate development and growth in all strata of our National life is important. The government must take into cognizance that all hands need to be on deck irrespective of political affiliation to put an end to the crisis without fears of loosing political relevance. A performing government without force will be evidently recognized by the governed.
Political power does not give immortality, a genuine leadership must see beyond his interest.
Government should not be about personal interest but collective interest. A nation of over 150 ethnic nationalities cannot be governed in isolation. The rights of the people to equality, life, liberty and pursuit of happiness must be respected and promptly protected. Provision of amenities will save a nation the burden of extremism.
Poverty is a curse that has bedeviled our nation for a long time and unless urgently addressed, the amnesty proposed to Boko Haram will only be for a short period. We need to accept that Boko Haram is only the latest, and certainly not the only prophet of terror in this country. Many of the agents of the aggrieved groups in the country are being manipulated and taken advantage of. They have been brainwashed to the extent that they don’t tolerate other citizens irrespective of jingles on unity and peaceful co-existence.
Segun Gbadegesin in his article ‘dialoguing towards Security asserted that ‘the devil finds work for the idle hand. A gainfully employed citizen will most probably be the last to volunteer as a suicide bomber. The reason is clear; he has something to look up to, a future that is worth waiting upon, a dream that is worth entertaining. He or she will not succumb to a tempting proposal of N50, 000 in exchange for serving as a bomb courier because poverty does not stare him in the face and he can imagine making multiples of that amount over a life time’.
A national dialogue is key to our peaceful co-existence and not a ‘usual’ offer of amnesty to extremist.
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