Col Sambo Dasuki (rtd)
Ike Abonyi, Chuks Okocha, Muhammad Bello, Yemi Akinsuyi and Senator Iroegbu
The National Security Adviser (NSA), Col Sambo Dasuki (rtd), Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Ola Sa'ad Ibrahim, and a representative of the State Security Service (SSS), among others, have been named as members of the amnesty committee on Boko Haram, set up by President Goodluck Jonathan Thursday to consider the feasibility of granting clemency to the group.
Jonathan, sources informed THISDAY, may have finally bowed to pressure to consider granting amnesty to members of the Islamic terrorist group, which informed his decision to set up the committee within the National Security Council (NSC).
The establishment of the committee was the fallout of a series of consultations which the president had with major stakeholders preparatory to taking a decision on the issue.
The first leg of the consultation began on Wednesday when Jonathan met with some northern leaders under the aegis of Northern Elders Forum (NEF) at the State House, Abuja.
He followed this up yesterday with a meeting of the NSC, which discussed the activities of the Islamic terror group and how to end the security siege on the nation.
The president had spurned calls for amnesty for Boko Haram members who have unleashed a reign of terror on the country since 2009, saying he would not have anything to do with the group until its leaders unmasked themselves.
Jonathan, during his historic two-day visit to Yobe and Borno States last month, the epicentre of Boko Haram’s terrorist attacks, had rejected the campaign for amnesty for the sect, championed by Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III and House of Representatives Speaker, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, among other influential northerners.
He said the federal government would not grant amnesty to “ghosts” or enter into dialogue with leaders of the terror group except they were ready to show their faces in public.
But a source said following the meetings with the NEF and NSC, the president decided to establish the committee that would recommend the feasibility of granting amnesty to Boko Haram members and work out the modalities to be adopted if the federal government decides to do so.
The committee members, he added, would work closely with the Office of the NSA and is expected to submit its report to the president when the council meets again within a fortnight.
The terms of reference of the committee are: to consider the feasibility or otherwise of granting amnesty to the Boko Haram adherents; to collate the clamour arising from different interest groups who want the federal government to administer clemency on members of the religious sect; and to recommend the modalities for granting the amnesty, if necessary.
The source clarified that the president during his visits to Borno and Yobe States did not foreclose amnesty for the sectarians.
Rather, he added, Jonathan had made references to why it would be difficult for his administration to grant amnesty to the insurgents, because past efforts were frustrated by claims and counter claims by various groups posturing as the original Boko Haram, whose leadership is not known to the government.
He explained that the president was reconsidering his stance on the matter following the heated debate it had generated.
Earlier, former Vice-Chancellor, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Prof. Ango Abdullahi, after the session of the northern elders with the president on Wednesday night, had told State House correspondents that various options were considered on how to respond to the state of the insecurity Boko Haram had foisted on the north.
He said the president remained non-committal during the meeting and told the northern leaders that he would have to consult extensively with various stakeholders before he could decide.
Among the stakeholders the president plans to consult are security chiefs, Christian leaders, governors, the National Assembly leadership and some selected leaders nationwide.
Abdullahi also said the president was contemplating the options open to him, adding: “I'm sure something substantial will come out of that meeting.”
According to him, they impressed it on the president that the issue of amnesty to the Islamic sect should be reviewed and considered in “what the government is trying to do to overcome the violence that is taking place all over the country or most part of the north.
“Fortunately, the president is already thinking very hard about it and I think he assured us that there is a special meeting on the matter tomorrow (thursday).
“The contention here is that the country is facing challenges. This is the greatest challenge the country is facing today and we did spend a lot of time discussing the various issues on security matters.”
Also, briefing reporters at the end of the Wednesday meeting, the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, confirmed that the meeting discussed the security situation in the country.
“The Northern Elders Forum brought the position that they believe government should consider amnesty for the insurgents in the Northern part of the country.
“They believe that it is the position that most northern elders presently hold to enable them exercise some influence in the process of achieving peace in the northern part of the country.
“The president said government had never said there would be no amnesty but that there must be a process and structure if amnesty is to succeed,” the minister said.
As a follow up to his meeting with the northern leaders, yesterday’s meeting between the president and his security chiefs also discussed the issue of amnesty for Boko Haram in view of the controversy the campaign has stirred among various stakeholders.
THISDAY learnt that at the meeting with the security chiefs, which held at the State House, various suggestions on how to tackle insecurity proffered by the northern leaders were thoroughly analysed and their implications considered.
A source told THISDAY that even though the security chiefs were sympathetic to the president, in view of the political pressure he was faced with, they were sceptical at the workability of the options put forward by the northern leaders.
The source said, for instance, since none of the northern leaders agreed to having direct contact with Boko Haram leader, Sheik Abu Shekau, they could not be certain that granting amnesty to the insurgents would make them embrace peace.
Besides, he said amid claims that some militants were willing to denounce violence, intelligence reports had shown that the terrorists were divided on the issue.
The security chiefs were said to have expressed concern that given the lack of consensus among the insurgents, those not willing to embrace the amnesty could still continue with the insurgency.
The NSC meeting ended without any statement or briefing by any of the service chiefs, including the Inspector-General of Police (IG), Mohammed Abubakar and Dasuki.
But a source at the meeting said that amnesty for the Islamist insurgents was part of the issues discussed, but he did not give details of the deliberations at the meeting.
He added that the meeting, which also considered matters arising from the work of the Presidential Committee on Police Reform, discussed the issue of insecurity in the country and looked at ways to end the siege.
“It is just a way of tackling this insecurity and seeing what we can do to ensure that it is reduced to the barest minimum,” he said.
THISDAY further learnt that the military top brass were rather coy over the question of amnesty for Boko Haram members.
The service chiefs, it was gathered, were wary of setting a dangerous precedent and felt that the federal government should not negotiate from the position of weakness.
“An amnesty is already on the table but with conditions, and the president has the final say in this situation.
“The military stance is that when Boko Haram lay down their arms, come into open, renounce violence and observe ceasefire for a period of time, the federal government can then negotiate for amnesty,” a defence source said.
But the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday pledged to support the position of the president on granting amnesty to Boko Haram members.
PDP National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, explained that the party would support Jonathan on the issue because as the president, he would always take a position that would engender peace in the country.
He said the president was not against the amnesty for the Islamic militants, but there were conditions that must be met to avoid the mistakes that were made when amnesty was granted to the Niger Delta militants.
However, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) yesterday criticised northern leaders calling for amnesty for Boko Haram, describing their calls as insensitive to the plight of terror victims.
CAN Secretary General, Reverend Musa Asake, stated this when he led other members to Takard District of Kaura Local Government Area, Kaduna State, where no fewer than 20 people were reportedly killed when gunmen invaded two villages in the area.
Addressing the 5,200 people displaced following the invasion at the Model Primary School in Fadan Attakar, where they are camped, Asake said it was unfortunate that northern elders are calling for amnesty for perpetrators of heinous crimes rather than demanding their prosecution.
He said the call was an outright display of insensitivity to the thousands of victims who had either died, were maimed or displaced because of the activities of a group of dissidents.
He said: “Here are innocent people driven from their homes and displaced from their loved ones for no crime. That is why I consider the northern elders calling for amnesty for Boko Haram members as insensitive.
“While many people, some of whom are women and children, are deprived of their breadwinners, somebody, somewhere who does not know how to live without security is saying give amnesty to some faceless individuals.
“It is unfair and these are the so called educated elite in the north who would not even visit and see what is happening.”