Can Amnesty Stop the Criminality in Borno, Taraba?

Darius Ishaku

The push for amnesty by states affected by the recent killings does not appear the answer to the increasing criminality in their respective localities, writes Shola Oyeyipo asks

Many states in Nigeria have had very bitter experiences from criminals operating in various forms but the quantum of lives already lost in the hands of blood thirsty bandits had reached an alarming dimension and there is the urgent need to stop it.
Governments at all levels have been very worried about the situation, which is already defying all known remedies hence experts and analysts have been coming up with both the old fashioned and the contemporary suggestions on how best to tackle the menace.

Apparently as a way to discourage criminality in their terrains, the duo of Governors Samuel Ortom of Benue and Darius Ishaku of Taraba recently came up with the idea of granting amnesty to criminals operating along the border of their states, whether or not they are Nigerians.

As part of efforts to address a problem common to both states, they recently held a joint security meeting at the Federal University, Wukari in Taraba and their resolution at the end was that opportunity should be given to criminals to voluntarily surrender.
The content of the communique read at the end of the tour of some border communities of Abako, Sai and Dogon-Gawa by Governor Ishaku specified that the amnesty window took effect immediately and would expire by the end of January 2019.

“We are willing to give amnesty to criminals, who are willing to renounce criminality and surrender their weapons so that we can give them better jobs and reintegrate them into the society.
“Criminals willing to surrender including those that defaulted in the past, are free to contact any of us (governors), traditional rulers and security agencies. Elections are around the corner and we will like to do this between now and end of January so that we can secure our places and synergise for peaceful elections,” he said.

The governors were particularly unhappy with the growing spate of kidnapping, armed robbery and banditry involving youths at their states’ borders.
Aside granting amnesty to those willing to lay down their swords, the two state chief executives also listed the need for job creation as a fundamental tool to reduce unemployment which lures youths into criminality.

They equally identified the provision of adequate logistics support to the security agencies by both the federal and state governments to sustain surveillance, which will help their proactive approaching to containing criminals.

The aspect of community policing also came to fore. The concerned governors harped on the need for people of the areas to report all forms of criminality to the appropriate authorities and not shield criminals in their domain.
However, debate on issues relating to granting amnesty to criminals in the names of religious sects, herds rearing, banditry and other associate crimes have always been two-sided. While some reckon there was logic in it, others think it was simply a poor thinking as it could embolden them as well as encourage more people into criminality.
For instance, when President Muhammadu Buhari promised to grant amnesty to members of the Boko Haram sect, who were prepared to lay down their arms and embrace peace, northern socio-political group, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) backed him on the plan.
The ACF, through its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Muhammad Biu, said there was nothing wrong with the idea, more so, similar measure was adopted by the previous government to curb the restiveness in the Niger Delta region.

“The offer of unconditional amnesty by the federal government to Boko Haram terrorists or any other groups, who surrender their arms, denounce their militancy and then pledge their loyalty to the government is a welcome development, considering the insecurity posed by insurgency in the last nine years.
“It will be recalled that the Biafran rebels and Niger Delta militants, who denounced their rebellion and militancy against the state, were not only granted amnesty but also empowered with skills and re-integrated into society to contribute to its socio-economic development.

“The ACF, therefore, urges the insurgents and other militia groups to lay down their arms and embrace the Federal Government’s offer of amnesty as the only means to peaceful coexistence and development. This will also pave the way for Nigeria to pursue order, justice, liberty, peace and prosperity for all,” the ACF noted. But the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) on its part criticised President Buhari for the plan on the ground that it would be amount to a denial of justice for victims of insurgency.
Bothered that the initiative was not in the overall interest of Nigerians, SERAP did an open letter to Buhari, where it noted that Boko Haram would continue to undermine peace and stability in the country if he went ahead with the plan.

“Boko Haram should not be allowed to escape the consequences of their crimes if the authorities are to prevent a cycle of revenge leading to further violence and conflict. We believe that granting amnesty to Boko Haram would be an open violation of the Nigerian constitution of 1999 (as amended) and international law and would entail a virtual denial of justice for victims,” SERAP opined.
The argument here is that, “Any amnesty for Boko Haram would take away the rights of the victims to justice, ignore the needs of the internally displaced persons, and never bring ‘closure’ to the mass atrocities committed by the group against Nigerians.

“The victims need to know the truth about what happened, and the alleged complicity of our armed forces and security services in the atrocities committed by the group. The offer of amnesty would prevent the government from addressing these fundamental issues.”
According to SERAP, “Any amnesty for Boko Haram involved in serious human rights violations would be contrary to Nigeria’s international obligations and commitments, including under the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the international covenant on civil and political rights and the African charter on human and people’ rights.
“We contend that any amnesty for Boko Haram with blood stained hands would serve no public interests in terms of the actual reduction of impunity for human rights crimes or deterrent effect. The authorities would never be able to get to the root of the causes of Boko Haram. Nigerians would not know the truth about the factors that continue to fuel the activities of Boko Haram if the authorities go ahead to grant members of the terrorist group amnesty.”

Though the presidency has justified the amnesty initiative, when the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Garba Shehu, told journalists that in the final analysis, the amnesty option would work for Nigeria, however, a pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, condemned the proposed amnesty for Boko haram and described the move as an act of irresponsibility on the part of the Buhari administration.
“Giving amnesty to members of the Boko haram is the height of impunity, insensitivity and audacious insult to the collective memory of thousands of Nigerians, who were callously killed by Boko haram,” said Afenifere.
Some persons with rich military backgrounds, who graduated from the Nigerian Defense Academy (NDA), Mr. Thomas Arigbe as well as businessman and chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Tunde Ajibulu, also shared their views on the topic.

For Arigbe, granting amnesty to the terrorists means conceding to them. He argued that by agreeing to swap arrested terrorists with kidnapped persons, the country had already shown incompetence in dealing with the killers.
“In my humble opinion it, (amnesty either at state or national level) would be unwise and sets a bad precedent of our willingness to concede to terrorists. Already, we have exhibited some weakness by repeatedly swapping terrorists for kidnapped persons as well as paying ransom,” Arigbe said.

In Ajibulu’s view, inasmuch as militants in the Niger Delta were qualified for amnesty, it is not out of place if other repentant criminals are pardoned for the sake of collective peace.
“What is good for the goose is good for the gander. I see no reason why amnesty should not be given to repentant Boko Baram dissidents. We saw the efficacy of this idea in the Niger Delta.
“If Niger Delta militants got amnesty and were trained in different fields and pacified financially, this was a model that was largely successful and calmed things down largely. So, I see no reason why this cannot be replicated in the North-east and any other part of the country where they experience such criminal acts,” he said.