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Amnesty Process on a False Start

21 Apr 2013

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Simon Kolawole Live!: Emailsimon.kolawole@thisdaylive.com


I did argue last week, if you remember, that the journey to amnesty for Boko Haram militants is never going to be smooth. But, ultimately, if President Goodluck Jonathan has a genuine desire to put a lasting stop to this carnage and end the bloodshed in the interest of national peace and security, he has to keep his focus and follow his convictions. We should remember that every life taken by Boko Haram can never be replaced. Even if you kill 10,000 Boko Haram militants today, it can never replace the life of an innocent person murdered by them. These guys have no value for their own lives, so killing them is of no consequence. The most difficult war to wage is against people who are ready to die. You want to kill a man and he first kills himself – so what do you do?

Unfortunately, the journey to possible amnesty for, and dialogue, with Boko Haram has been hit by many snags, further fuelling cynicism that it may not end the insurgency. The first snag was the pre-emptive rejection of amnesty by the leaders of the sect. They said, rather comically, that it is the federal government that needs forgiveness instead. I never expected them to embrace amnesty at first asking, in any case. The second snag was the composition of a committee to work out modalities for amnesty. Apparently, people were not consulted before their names were announced. This was a major mistake. I’m surprised we are still doing that in 2013 – people learning of their appointments on TV! The third snag is that the committee is looking like yet another body of government officials. This cannot inspire trust and confidence.

The fourth and very disturbing snag is Dr. Datti Ahmed’s decision to turn down his nomination into the committee. He said he was not consulted before the announcement was made. He also raised issues about how he had tried to mediate in the past but was scuttled by what he called government’s insincerity. Immediately I heard the news, my heart sank. Ahmed, a cleric, is the President of the Supreme Council of Sharia in Nigeria, and one of the few Northerners who may have direct access to the militants. For those who may not know, his former deputy in the council was Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of the group we now know as Boko Haram but originally named Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lid Da’wati Wal Jihad.

Yusuf, you would recall, was killed by the police in Maiduguri, Borno State, in 2009 after a bloody battle. Members of his sect had launched retaliatory attacks on the police in Maiduguri after the killing of their members and burning of their mosques in Bauchi State on the night of July 25, 2009. That night, over 150 members of the sect were reportedly rounded up and killed. They responded immediately by rioting in the Federal Low-cost Housing Estate and Dutsen Tanshi areas of Bauchi. That was the beginning of Boko Haram’s attacks, initially targeted at police posts and security formations. They later added churches and beer gardens to their hit list.

With the killing of Yusuf on July 30, 2009, the police probably thought the insurgency would finally end – the same way the killing of Alhaji Muhammadu Marwa Maitatsine ended the Maitatsine (Yan Izala) uprising in Kano in 1980. It didn’t work. Boko Haram regrouped and went into bomb-making, and so we are where we are today, burying security agents and innocent citizens on a daily basis. I believe we need to put an end to these attacks and atrocities as a matter of urgency. And if there is anybody whom the Boko Haram militants could listen to, it is Datti Ahmed. Most of the people named in the committee, to the best of my knowledge, may not be able to establish contact with the sect. And without a direct link, the mission is brought in dead. That is why we have to proceed with caution. If care is not taken, we are about to embark on another jamboree that will end in monumental failure.

I did warn last week that the entire process must be well thought out. I am not seeing evidence of that yet. Amnesty for Boko Haram cannot be conceived and executed the same way we did it in the Niger Delta. Any attempt to create a parallel in the North will fail. The causes and effects are quite different. The thinking that cash will bring peace will be a mistake. As I have argued in the past, Boko Haram seems to be motivated by three factors – religious extremism, resentment over the killing of their members and – the usual suspect – poverty. Strategies must be devised for each factor. The reduction of the cause of the entire insurgency to “poverty” means our solution will also be “poverty alleviation”. It will fail woefully, I promise.

To start with, Boko Haram, to my mind, has three main targets – the Northern establishment, the “moderate” Muslims and their regular victims, the Christians. The security agencies are, inevitably, in the line of fire. Boko Haram’s grouse against the Northern establishment is well documented. They have killed Northern politicians and launched attacks on the Shehu of Borno and Emir of Kano. When the Sultan of Sokoto called for amnesty recently, he probably was the next target. My argument here, therefore, is that government should not make the mistake of handing over the entire amnesty and dialogue process to members of the Northern establishment. I believe some clerics hold the key. Obviously, they are the ones Boko Haram leadership can trust and relate with. That is why Ahmed’s withdrawal is such a terrible blow. He needs to rescind his decision.

I would like to emphasise, for the umpteenth time, that we are in for a long process. I don’t expect acceptance of amnesty, dialogue and disarmament to happen in a hurry. By far the most difficult task before the Jonathan administration is how to address religious extremism. It is the major driver of terrorism. If we think poverty is the real issue, it is easy to give motorcycles and micro credit to induce the surrender of the militants. But the driving force of the ideologues is extremism. Now, that cannot be resolved through amnesty alone. There must be a well-programmed strategy to dilute the influence of extremist preachers. It will take years. But it is only after we have done this that we can sleep and snore in the knowledge that insurgency will not raise its head again.

And Four Other Things...

BOSTON AND BORNO
Some Nigerians have tried to draw a parallel between Boko Haram and the Boston marathon bombings of last week, arguing that US President Barack Obama, unlike President Jonathan, did not offer amnesty to the bombers but went after them. I wish it were that simple for Nigeria. I wish we had the security architecture that the US boasts of – as well as the American spirit of unity during trying moments. How good and pleasant it would be for us! I’ve been asking a question nobody has bothered to answer: why did the US not eradicate terror in Iraq and Afghanistan? Obviously, the environments are different. Ladies and gentlemen, Borno is no Boston.

THE TALIBAN
Those who feel the pain and experience the agony of terror in Kano, Borno and Yobe States will testify that it is no fun waking up every day and expecting the next rattling of guns and killing of innocent people. For those who say dialogue is a show of weakness, can they briefly explain – in not more than 100 words – why the US is supporting negotiation with the Taliban in Afghanistan after over 10 years of bloodshed? At a time, the US thought its superior firepower had incapacitated the Taliban, but they kept reinforcing and coming back. Today, after stalling several times, the Taliban militants are laying down their arms and embracing peace.

TWO-STATE SOLUTION?
Some respected commentators have proposed that the answer to the Boko Haram insurgency is a two-state solution – something like balkanising Nigeria. I think there is still a lack of appreciation of the demographics of Nigeria. Borno and Yobe States, where Boko Haram operates mainly, have sizeable populations of indigenous Christians. What becomes of them under an Islamic regime? Do we have any responsibility to these ethnic and religious minorities at all? Or could it be that these commentators, who are almost all Southerners, think as long as it is Northern minorities that will suffer, it doesn’t matter?

ANOTHER OIL WAR
I am one of those who are not excited about oil wealth. In an underdeveloped society like ours, it fuels war, indecent rivalry, laziness and rent-seeking. Ever since some oil wells were discovered in Anambra (or is it Kogi) State, trouble has started even before the first barrel is drilled. Last Friday, 19 persons were declared missing in a clash between Aguleri, Anambra State, and Echonwa, Kogi State, following unending dispute over where the oil wells are actually located. People are already calculating 13 per cent derivation, apparently. And the government doesn’t seem to have any answer to this explosive war in the making.

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