By Ejiofor Alike
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has thrown his weight behind the states that offered amnesty to bandits, saying that “if granting amnesty to a warlord will lead to the surrendering of many others I will take that decision”.
The minister has also insisted that the country is safer today than it was prior to the coming of the All Progressives Congress (APC) government in 2015.
He also gave reason the federal government proscribed the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), saying that the group is not the same as bandits or killer herdsmen, stressing that the latter cannot be called terrorists.
Speaking yesterday on a live TV programme, Mohammed said that before 2015, the entire Northern Nigeria was no- go-area, adding that even the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was not safe for residents.
“Before APC government came on board in 2015, bombs were going off everywhere including in the heart of FCT. During that time as a minister, before you go to the mosque in Abuja, we’re frisked before you enter for Jumat. It was that serious then but our government has stopped all that now”, he explained.
The minister argued that the government has worked very hard to degrade and subdue the insurgents just as he said the neutralisation of the bandits and insurgents by security agencies are underreported.
“The insurgents have been dealt a serious blow and
when these bandits who are not settled at a place are neutralized nobody hears about it. Our security agencies have been dealing with the insecurity and they have been succeeding”.
Reacting to the issue of some governors granting amnesty to notorious armed gangs, he said: “When dealing with a situation like an insurgency and banditry you do certain things in the interest of peace. If granting amnesty to a warlord will lead to the surrendering of many others I will take that decision”.
The minister also commented on Sheikh Abubakar Gumi’s amnesty proposal for bandits, saying that anyone can go on that mission if it will bring peace.
He, however, declared that the federal government did not authorise the meeting in the first place.
When asked why the federal government hurriedly proscribed the IPOB even when they were not as vicious as the bandits but failed to also proscribe bandits and killer-herdsmen who are carrying sophisticated weapons against innocent Nigerians, the minister argued that the two groups are different.
“Don’t compare IPOB with bandits and herdsmen. IPOB doesn’t believe in Nigeria hence they were declared a terrorist organisation. Bandits and herdsmen are only criminals”, Mohammed said.
“You proscribe known groups with names. You can’t just proscribe an unknown group legally,” he said.
“Secondly, it’s not whether they are proscribed or not, it is the way they are treated. Does the government actually treat them with kid gloves? The answer is no.”
He said, “When a group is championing a course for the disintegration of Nigeria… A group like IPOB (that) does not even recognise Nigeria as a state, sets up its own army and think it is a sovereign state is different from bandits and criminals. Please, don’t compare apples and oranges.”
He further argued that: “Security challenges are one thing. Challenging the sovereignty of Nigeria is a completely different thing. Don’t let us dwell on semantics.”
“Don’t armed robbers threaten the security of lives and property? They do. Is there anywhere in the world that armed robbers have been proscribed?”