Ambassador Terence P. McCulley
Lay down your arms, Shema tells sect members as Lamido hails FG's new stance
US may not review Shekau's designation as terrorist if granted clemency
By Our Correspondents
The United States is weighing the current efforts of the Federal Government to explore the possibility of granting amnesty to members of the religious sect, Jama'atu Allus Sunnah Lilda wati Wal Jihad (also known as Boko Haram) with cautious optimism, THISDAY has learnt.
An official of the State Department, who pleaded anonymity because he was not authorised to comment on the issue, told THISDAY last night that the US was keenly following the amnesty debates and would continue to keep close tabs on how its unfolds.
But the federal government's decision to establish a committee to consider the viability of amnesty has largely been hailed as a window of opportunity to end the violence that has all but crippled social and economic activities in parts of the North.
Former governor of old Kaduna state, Alhaji Balarabe Musa told THISDAY in a telephone interview that the government was beginning to see the way out of the Boko Haram crisis.
According to him, "the establishment of the committee is the way out of the insurgency and it should be supported.
“Those who are opposed to amnesty to Boko Haram are ignorant about governance. Some people are opposed to the amnesty for ulterior motive. We have a bad situation which can be made worst and if there is any way to a deal with the situation, it is good."
While noting that US would continue to support all efforts to address the security challenges confronting Nigeria, the official said US was not oblivious of the fact that amnesty was a two-way issue that involves offer and acceptance and that no one side could fulfill both aspects on its own.
When asked if US would be involved in the amnesty process, especially in areas that involves Boko Haram's core leaders, should the government seek its support if it finally decides to embrace that option, the official said, "As you are aware, the United States is interested in the resolution of the internal security challenges facing Nigeria and we have been offering necessary support to the Nigerian government, including enhancing its capacity to tackle the problem and offering suggestions.
"We are of the view that the all plausible options must be considered in addressing issues bordering on local terrorism, including addressing the condition that necessitated violent attacks in the first place".
US had consistently attributed the violence in the North to the alarming rate of poverty in that region and had been canvassing for a deliberate efforts by the government to reverse the trend.
The official however said while US would continue to support Nigeria's efforts at finding solution to its security challenges, the designation of the three Boko Haram leaders which was done under Executive Order 13224, blocks all of their property interests subject to US jurisdiction and prohibits US persons from engaging in transactions with or for the benefit of the trio.
On what impact an amnesty offer would have on the designation of three of Boko Haram leaders as global terrorists, the official doubted if it would have any impact, noting that the designation was premised on their ties to Boko Haram and close links to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb – a designated FTO.
The United States government, last June, designated Abubakar Shekau, Abubakar Adam Kambar and Khalid al-Barnawi - the deadly sect's core leaders - as global terrorists.
The officials also said that Shekau's designation was premised on the fact that he was the most visible leader of Boko Haram, the deadly sect that had claimed responsibility for numerous attacks in Northern Nigeria, including the attack on the United Nations building in Abuja that claimed at least 23 lives and wounded several people.
The UN had, following the fatal attack on its building by the sect, called on the Nigerian government to bring the attackers to justice, a demand which an offer of amnesty may foreclose.
Also speaking to THISDAY last night, a former US Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, said the fact that the Nigerian government was considering a range of options in addressing the Boko Haram challenge is a positive development.
"In so far as the govt is giving serious consideration to a range of options, I think it is a positive development", he said.
The former US envoy however noted that the challenge posed to the amnesty offer is the fact that, "Boko Haram is highly diffused and not a centralised organisation".
He raised a poser: "If it true that amnesty would be offered, can we be certain that all the members of Boko Haram would accept the offer?"
While noting that amnesty should not also be considered as an end in itself, Campbell said, "I think amnesty should be considered as a possibility just like any other possibilites of addressing the deep-seated problems affecting the North".
The former US envoy, who had always maintained that the military option was not a way out of the Boko Haram menace, however said the step President Goodluck Jonathan had taken to set up a committee to look at the appropriateness of an amnesty option should be seen as the beginning and not the end of the search for a way out of the serious security challenge posed by the deadly sect.
Also, yesterday, the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party commended President Jonathan for constituting an amnesty committee on the Boko Haram insurgency.
The PDP described the action of the President as “yet another demonstration of the President’s sincerity and forthrightness in handling national issues”.
The party added: "The President has shown that he is indeed a listening leader and that the unity of the country is paramount to him in line with the vision of the founding fathers of our nation.”
In Sokoto State, the Chairman of the Jama'atul Izalatul Bida'a Waikamatul Sunnah (JIBWIS) Izalat sect, Sheikh Usman Abubakar Mabera, also commended President Jonathan for setting up the committee.
Speaking with THISDAY, Mabera described the move as a welcome development, adding that it was an indication that Jonathan had hearkened to the voice of reason by doing the right thing.
However, the chairman of the Northern States Christian Elders Forum, Evangelist Matthew Owojaiye declared that it would be the worst form of injustice for the government to grant amnesty to murderers who have killed many innocent Nigerians.
Owojaiye said it was unfortunate that the government was setting up a committee to look into the possibility of granting amnesty to terrorists “instead of mustering the political will to allow the Nigerian army to crush the criminals.”
The Katsina State Governor, Dr. Ibrahim Shema Friday urged members of the sect to lay down their weapons and come forward in order to resolve the crisis.
Shema emphasized that many Nigerians and leaders from the northern part of the country are yearning for a quick resolution to the crisis, applauding President Jonathan for responding positively to the requests for amnesty by some leaders in the country in order to ensure peace, progress and development in all parts of the country.
“My advice is that there is no nation that can progress without peace and stability. We need peace and all hands must be on deck. Those who are aggrieved for one reason or the other should come forward and be able to resolve this crisis, such that our nation and our people can progress and develop rapidly,” he said.
Jigawa State Governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido, who also had an audience with President Jonathan early this week said the president's decision to set up the committee is an indication that reason has prevailed and peace is expected to return to the country while issues of development could bow be better focused on. "This country needs our energy, our political skill and a number of things which are begging for attention. Therefore whatever it is to be able to get Nigeria united, to get Nigeria very secure, we should do it."