Dr. Reuben Abati
By Vincent Obia and Muhammad Bello
Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, has said the emergency security actions declared on Tuesday by President Goodluck Jonathan in three North-east states did not cancel the efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution of the Boko Haram crisis.
Abati said while the president accepted to consider amnesty for the Boko Haram insurgents due to clamour from respected Nigerians, the emergency declaration became necessary as the government could not sit back and watch the mindless destruction of lives and property by the insurgents who had begun to carve out terrorist enclaves within the country.
The presidential aide spoke against the backdrop of insinuations in some quarters that Jonathan’s declaration of a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states in a national broadcast on Tuesday was a negation of the work of the National Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Conflicts in Northern Nigeria.
The committee, headed by Kabiru Tanimu Turaki (SAN), was recently set by the president to, among other issues, examine the practicability of an amnesty for Boko Haram members who renounce insurgency.
Speaking in an interview with THISDAY, Abati said: “This idea of amnesty came about because there was a clamour for it. Several months back I had said there was backroom channel discussion with the insurgents because there have always been people who would come around to government and say they could help. In such circumstances the government did not discourage them.
“The second leg of that is this clamour for amnesty coming from the Sultan and other stakeholders in the North also joined. When it got to that point, the president who had been calling for a collaborative effort in ensuring peace and security is the same president who had made the point that ‘look, this Boko Haram people live among you in the community; if you know who these people are it means that traditional rulers and community leaders are also in a position to assist. We welcome that assistance while government is also playing its own part.’”
He said the dialogue committee was set up to recommend on how to make the amnesty deal operational.
However, Abati said the state of emergency, which involves a massive step-up of troop deployment to the three states, but retention of the states’ elected executive and legislative institutions, was necessary to salvage the country’s sovereignty.
He said the insurgents had “gone to the extent of trying to create a state within a state in a part of Nigeria. There is a sustained attempt by these insurgents and terrorists to violate the integrity of Nigeria. Government will not sit by and allow terrorists to create an enclave inside Nigeria.
“The talk about amnesty is not an indulgence; it’s not a license for the intensification of criminality. And if you look at the details of what has happened, using the Baga and Bama incidents, you would see that it’s the terrorists that are the aggressors. The military high command made it clear that the security agencies are wrongly accused of high-handedness.
“These Boko Haram insurgents use rocket-propelled grenades, they target civilians because these are just anarchists. And I think that the incident that occurred in Bama a few days ago would seem to have clarified it: they targeted government buildings, they killed women and children, they set government buildings ablaze.
“So we’re dealing with an evil phenomenon, people who have no respect for human lives, people who have declared war on the Nigerian state. I think that is where the narrative should be focused on.”
Action Congress of Nigeria had criticised the state of emergency as inconsistent with the mandate of the dialogue committee, saying in a statement by its national publicity secretary, Lai Mohammed, “The President should go ahead and disband the committee he recently inaugurated and saddled with reaching out to the insurgents.”
Spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum, Professor Ango Abdullahi, also condemned the emergency declaration as a setback to the work of the amnesty committee.
Meanwhile, a member of the dialogue committee has told THISDAY on condition of anonymity, because he was not authorised to speak for the committee, that rather than impede its work, the emergency rule declaration would actually facilitate the job of the committee.
The source said, “If you look at the prevailing circumstances and the commentary of informed commentators like General Gowon, you will know that we are still on course.”
He said fears about what the state of emergency meant for the committee’s assignment had caused the members to meet with the president on the day he declared the emergency.
“And he assured us that we have full latitude to continue with our work,” he said.
He said, “We think this offensive will smoke them out and compel them to take what government decides to offer them. This is what is being expected.”