Plateau senator believes amnesty should rather go to victims of violence.
Northern elites calling for amnesty for extremist groups are not truly intent on resolving the region’s insecurity challenges, but are more concerned about regaining the confidence of the region’s long-abandoned and impoverished masses, a senator representing Plateau state, Gyang Pwajok, has said.
“From my findings as a senator, a former university lecturer and a political scientist, the agitation in the north is more or less a vote of no confidence on the elites,’’ Mr. Pwajok is quoted by the News Agency of Nigeria as saying. He said it was clear the calls were “an attempt by some elites to regain the confidence of the poor masses’’.
“I have nothing against the amnesty or any other step that could promote peace, but I think some of its agitators may not be sincere; it may just be a design to cover up and confuse some real issues.’’
Mr. Pwajok said his interactions with the ordinary people in the north showed the distrust between the commoners and the elite, and how the commoners would prefer the elites should “simply disappear’’.
“The average northerner sees the elite as someone who has ruled the nation and left him impoverish; but the elites are only turning round to tell the poor that they are impoverish because the northerners are not in power,” he said.
Mr. Pwajok’s comments follow reactions that have trailed the federal government’s naming of a committee to consider the possibility of granting amnesty to violent groups in the north, mainly, Boko Haram.
While some have welcomed the government’s initiative, others have condemned it, urging President Goodluck Jonathan not to accede to the request eventually.
Mr. Pwajok, whose state has been well hit by ethno-religious violence for years, said the government must be cautious with the process since amnesty could imply different things to different groups or people.
He suggested it would have been better to direct such effort at thousands of victims of the violence-the injured and the displaced, as well as those who lost loved ones or properties.
He said if adequate caution was not applied, the peace sought by the government may turn out elusive, or even more hurt.
“The term amnesty appears to be used very loosely; in some cases it appears more political than a genuine concern and conviction to end hostilities in the north,” he said.
“I have spoken with some groups and even some of my colleagues and it does appear that what is amnesty for the elites is totally different from the idea of the commoner on the streets of Borno, Kano, Jos, Yobe or Bauchi.”
“It is also crucial to note that leaders of the group (Boko Haram) have not directly called for it which means that their definition of amnesty may be different from what we may all be thinking and doing,” he said.
“They have always voiced out some of their grievances which include a total rejection of institutions like the police, army, schools, western education and even Nigeria’s secularism.
“They may also be asking for theocracy; so what I am saying is that government and all the stakeholders must first seek a consensus so as to know how to direct and maximize energy and resources for desired results,’’ the senator added.
He advised that the committee constituted to work out the amnesty modalities must seek to be sure of who it would benefit, especially since the activities of Boko Haram had affected all segments of the society.
“The committee must also consider the plight of people and communities already uprooted by all manners of violence in the last few years and ensure that such groups are carried along in the reconciliation and healing process,” he said.
“The committee should also try to avoid a situation where other groups could be tempted to embrace violence, instead of dialogue and other democratic means, to pursue their causes since it is only the Federal Government that has the monopoly of legitimate force.’’
Mr. Pwajok called for more public enlightenment to enable victims of violence to accept to live together and “psychologically accept those they believe had been responsible for any injury they had suffered previously’’.
The senator also advised leaders in the north to strive to use their positions to better the lot of the common people for them to become them assets to the society.
“Above all, we must strive to ensure that the amnesty programme is not politicized; it must be tailored to serve the interests of the north and nation because we need peace to move forward,’’ he said.
“Instead of giving amnesty to the perpetrators of the crimes it is better to give it to the victims,’’ he said.
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