Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III
•Eight killed in fresh attack in Borno
Chuks Okocha , John Shiklam
and Michael Olugbode
A committee set up by the Northern States Governors’ Forum (NSGF) and the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, have canvassed for total amnesty for members of the Islamist sect, Boko Haram, to end their four-year reign of terror in the country.
The NSGF Committee on Reconciliation, Healing and Security, chaired by Ambassador Zakari Ibrahim, in its report submitted to the forum’s Chairman, Dr. Mua’azu Babangida Aliyu, Tuesday, urged President Goodluck Jonathan to declare a general and unconditional amnesty for the Islamist insurgents.
The sultan, who doubles as the President General of the umbrella body for Nigerian Muslims, the Jama'tu Nasril Islam (JNI), also called on Jonathan to do same to encourage members of the terror group to embrace peace.
The Islamic sect, which was linked to last month’s killing of nine women involved in the polio campaign in Kano, also struck on Monday night, during which its members killed eight persons, including a police inspector during an attack on the Gwoza Police Station. Gwoza is about 135 kilometres from Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.
The killing of the nine health workers, who were shot outside a polio centre, has led to the suspension of the polio vaccination programme, raising fresh concern over Nigeria’s commitment to eradicate the disease.
The NSGF committee, in its report dated March 4, also made a recommendation that Jonathan visits Borno, Yobe and Kano States, three states most affected by the Boko Haram insurgency, adding that some northern governors should accompany the president during the trip.
In addition, it urged the president to “order the immediate release of all detainees against whom there is no established case of criminal involvement, and the immediate prosecution of those against whom there is evidence of criminal involvement, before courts of competent jurisdictions.”
The committee called for the speedy trial of some policemen on trial for the extra-judicial killing of Boko Haram leader, Mohammed Yusuf in 2009 and the rehabilitation of the group’s members as well as compensation for victims of terror attacks.
The report explained that its interface with critical stakeholders in Yobe and Borno States, including some Boko Haram chiefs and government officials, led to the ceasefire offer by the group and created the atmosphere for the visits of Vice-President Namadi Sambo, Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Sa’ad Ibrahim, and 11 opposition governors under the auspices of the All Progressives Coalition (APC) to Borno at different times.
On his part, the sultan at the opening ceremony of the annual general meeting of the JNI in Kaduna yesterday, urged Jonathan to immediately grant amnesty to all members of Boko Haram to encourage them to lay down their arms.
The sultan also condemned the recent clashes between Muslims and Christians in Wukari, Taraba State, saying it was “madness beyond comprehension.”
He said Muslims are concerned about the way things are evolving in Nigeria, especially the issue of insecurity.
He added: “We want to bring to the attention of the government our challenges. As Muslim leaders, we feel very concerned and very, very worried the way things are going on in Nigeria today, especially the issue of insecurity in this country.
“We have problems in the North, we have in the South-east, we have in the South-west and in the South-south. We believe that it is the duty of the government to protect all of us.
“My brothers and sisters, what happened in Wukari a few days ago is a total madness beyond comprehension, because if you follow the news, how could an issue between the youths playing football have turned into what happened in Wukari where the major victims have been Muslims?”
The sultan said Muslims and Christians have been living together for centuries in Wukari, wondering why all of a sudden they decided against living with one another?
On the Boko Haram insurgency, he said: “We have heard in the news that the president shall be visiting Maiduguri in a couple of days.
“And praise be to God that the Shehu of Borno is here and he will be briefing us this evening. We want to use this opportunity to call on the government, especially Mr. President, to see how he can declare total amnesty for all combatants (Boko Haram) without thinking twice.
“That will make any other person who picks up arms to be termed criminals.
“If amnesty is declared, it will give so many of those young men who have been running and hiding the courage to embrace that amnesty.
“Some of them have already come out, because we have read in the papers that some have already come out.
“So, even if it is only one person that denounces terrorism, it is the duty of the government to accept that person and see how he can be used to reach others.”
Briefing the Muslim leaders on the controversy surrounding the polio vaccination, Minister of State for Health, Dr. Mohammed Aliyu Pate, who was invited to enlighten the gathering on the issue, regretted that Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only countries worldwide still plagued by the disease.
According to him, “98 per cent of the children that are the victims of this disease have Muslim names.”
The minister said it was unfortunate that there had been many false claims about wild poliovirus in Nigeria, pointing out that owing to the opposition to it, it had led to the unfortunate killing of the nine female health workers in Kano.
As a result, the polio eradication programme has not resumed in the state. But health officials said the suspension of the Kano immunisation programme was a temporary measure, while they increase security and convince vaccinators they will be safe.
Rotary International District Governor, Felix Ayo Obadan, was optimistic that the vaccinators in Kano would be back on the job in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, members of Boko Haram on Monday night attacked a police station in Gwoza town killing the police inspector and other seven civilians.
The sect members, who drove into the town in a Hilux van at about 9 pm, attacked the police station, forcing many of the policemen on duty to scamper to safety due to the superior firepower of the Islamic militants.
It was during the attack that the inspector was killed and seven others were felled by stray bullets that hit nearby buildings.
A top security official, who spoke to journalists in Maiduguri on condition of anonymity, said the incident occurred but was immediately brought under control by policemen who repelled the attackers by chasing them into the bush.
Attempts to get the Borno State Police Commissioner, Abdullahi Yuguda, and Police Public Relations Officer, Jibrin Gideon, to confirm the attack were unsuccessful, as they did not answer their phones.