Some notable personalities from Borno State, the hotbed of the intractable violence perpetrated by the extreme Boko Haram sect, have faulted the argument by President Goodluck Jonathan that the government could not offer amnesty to the sect members unless they come out in the open to express their grievances.
Mr Jonathan had while speaking on Thursday at a town hall meeting in Damaturu, the Yobe State capital, the second most deadly den of the Boko Haram extremists, said his administration would not grant amnesty to a faceless group that has refused to communicate with government.
The President made the comment in reaction to the call by the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad, asking the government to grant unconditional pardon to Boko Haram extremists who agree to lay down arms and embrace peace.
But speaking at a town hall meeting in Maiduguri as Mr. Jonathan concluded his working visit to Borno State, Borno elders faulted the president’s argument, describing it as inappropriate.
A former Vice Chancellor of the University of Maiduguri, Prof Nura Alkali, who was among the few elders nominated to speak at the meeting, said Boko Haram members deserved the kind of treatment given to Niger Delta militants at the height of the insurgency in the oil-rich region.
Mr. Alkali was the highest ranking elder selected to represent the official position of the Borno people at the town hall meeting with the President.
He urged the federal government to pardon the sect members the way Niger Delta militants “were heavily compensated, rehabilitated, and given all kinds of job to do”.
Mr. Alkali said, “There is nationwide call for amnesty or better still, pardon to be granted to the militants in such a way the militants in the Niger Delta were granted.
“If I may recall Mr. President, your call for the militants to come into the open as a condition for amnesty to be offered to them is inappropriate as the situation of this sectarian conflict is different from what obtains in the Niger Delta where as you stated, the militants actually came out to be received.
“In the Niger Delta, the situation was different because many of them were already operating openly and well known to the security forces and the government.
“The nature of the two conflicts are different. Here you are dealing with people who believe they are fighting on the basis of some ideology, not necessarily religious or political but fundamentally social and the desire to bring about certain changes in the ways of life of the society.
“Even then, if one may recollect, in the case of Niger Delta, late President Umaru Musa Yaradua granted them pardon before they talked about ceasefire. They were heavily compensated, rehabilitated, and given all kinds of job to do.
“Some of the responsibilities given to them are such as policing the oil bunkering and piracy going on in our high seas—as a situation of getting the thief to catch a thief.”
A city of orphans
Mr. Alkali said Mr. Jonathan needed to act fast because the killing going on in the state in the guise of war against terror was unprecedented, with Maiduguri now a town filled with orphans.
He said, “Everyone did his or her best to absorb the shock, bear the pains, and tolerate excessive cross-fire that went on. There is hardly anyone in this meeting who has not lost a close relation, family member or very close friend.
“This town is full of orphans, fathers and mothers without their children, lost men and women, some in detention, some in hiding and some incapacitated—a tale of horror, grief and agony.
“In this crossfire more innocent people have died. The nature of the operation is frightening. When the militants kill one soldier, a whole ward or street is put on fire and dead bodies often litter the street.
“We lack information or statistics of innocent peoples who have died or kept in detention and how many of the militants were actually, killed, arrested and detained. Markets are closed, shops destroyed, road blocks in all major and minor roads.
“Mr. President Sir, we urge you to personally investigate this situation of horror and terror because the extent of damage done is enormous. H.E., the Governor of Borno State Alh. Kashim Shettima continues to appeal for calm and tolerance because as he says “hard times never last forever”.
“Borno had seen many conflicts in the last one thousand years, both natural and man-made, but we have always come out of these much stronger, confident and resilient.”
“We shall come out of this one too and bounce back to peace, harmony and stability again. The time to do this is now, that the combatants have announced a ceasefire publicly and called for a dialogue.
“Mr. President even if it is one person who came forward to call for peace, he should be received with open arms and reintegrated into the wider society.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. There is no doubt that there is a general suspicion and fear and almost certainly these fears are genuine—particularly in a situation where even people who go to claim dead bodies are considered suspects and detained without any hope for trial.”
Responding, Mr. Jonathan accused politicians of playing to the gallery, saying he would not tolerate the killing of security operatives by Boko Haram insurgents.
He said, “I cannot preside over this country as a president and security officers are killed. These people leave their families; they stay on the road and the bush so that we will sleep and I will not want to hear that one of them is killed.
“In terms of the security situation, I will sincerely plead with the people of Borno State that this is not the time to play to the gallery, whether you are a politician or you are not.
“The state chairman of the PDP spoke, a member of the House of Representatives spoke, the professor who is a former VC of University of Maiduguri also spoke.
“The way they spoke, I am not comfortable, I must be very frank. Their conclusion was that there are too many bunkers in Borno State. Why did the bunkers come? Who wants to send bunkers to Borno?
“If the circumstances that brought the soldiers are no longer there, that day, they will all leave.”