Nigeria is indeed a troubled country. That is why the talk about amnesty has always taken centre stage in our public discourse over the years. The first time it came up, though in a different garb, was in 1970. Remember, the then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon’s three Rs – Rehabilitation, Reintegration and Reconstruction – after 30 months of a grueling Civil war – May 1967 to January 12, 1970.
The word came up again 37 years after. This time, it was not masked in any form of rhetoric. On assumption of office in 2007, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, in his wisdom, knew that the festering Niger Delta problem needed a solution. He came up with the amnesty programme. This brought some semblance of relief to the region. Today, the Yar’Adua amnesty programme remains a sort of magic wand that doused the tension and acrimony in the Niger Delta region, even though the neglect of the region is still there and the situation is far from normal. At least, successive governments can build on that foundation.
The ‘instant success’ recorded by the Yar’Adua amnesty in the Niger Delta must have encouraged the highly revered Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammed Abubakar III, to come out with such a proposal to end the senseless killings in some parts of the country. With his military background and his preeminent status, I am sure the Sultan actually knew what he was talking about. But since last week when he gave the ‘advise’, it has generated heated debates all over the country. Though this was not the first time such a proposal was being championed by influential people in the North, particularly in Borno State, the intensity of the debate has far removed from the issue at stake- finding a lasting peace in the North.
Without mincing words, there is obvious lack of sincerity in the approach to find peace to the brigandage that is going on in certain parts of the North. In my honest and candid view, we are all guilty: the federal government, the northern elders and the rest of us.
It would appear that President Goodluck Jonathan’s recent showing in Maiduguri was the first time he had spoken as “President and Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. He pointedly told his audience that his government cannot declare “amnesty for ghosts”. This is an obvious reference to the Boko Haram sect which has donned a toga of secrecy while killing and maiming innocent people all over the place.
Our sensibilities have continued to be assaulted with such ridiculous stories that the insurgents are unknown. Yet, several times, the security agencies have stumbled on so many leads which could have been explored to unmask those behind this façade of a jihad, without anything coming out of them. The perpetrators of these heinous crimes are on the internet every now and then, but what we hear all the time is that they are faceless.
The other day, a group of masked men came out to address a press conference but they are still classified as unknown people. Some of them also came out to hold meetings with the Monsignor Hassan Kukah-led panel at the Government House in Maiduguri, yet they are still passed on as faceless. This is why I say that the whole episode bears some tinge of insincerity.
Assuming that the security agencies do not know those behind this wanton destruction of lives and property, what about those at the receiving end? I mean the elders and leaders of the affected areas. Is there anything wrong if these people could be patriotic enough to provide useful information that could assist the security agencies to unmask these evil people in their midst?
As for the security agencies, their big bosses in air-conditioned offices in Abuja and elsewhere may be complacent because it is ‘the boys’ who are facing the heat at the trouble-zone. Who knows what is actually happening to the allowances meant for the boys? We all know what happened to the stipends of the boys who went for peacekeeping in some West African countries in the recent past. They were short-changed. And when they ventured to show their resentment through protest, they were summarily carted to jail.
What I am saying here is that I don’t want to believe the story that the security agencies have not been able to unmask the brains behind this Boko Haram insurgency. The President actually admitted sometimes ago that the sect members had infiltrated the security agencies and even his government. Are we to believe that non-Boko Haram security agents or top government officials do not know their colleagues who have sympathy for the satanic sect? Are we saying that the Army cannot unmask those who gave away the movement of troops who were recently attacked in Kogi State on their way to Mali?
A former governor of Borno State who presided over the state when Boko Haram notoriety hit newspaper headlines in 2009 has been carrying on as if he does not have any idea whatsoever about the leaders of this murderous group. Is that former governor still denying the fact that he does not have any idea of who the sponsors of Boko Haram are? What about the lawmaker whose call logs contained calls made to known Boko Haram agents? And what about the man in whose house one of the wanted commanders of the sect was allegedly apprehended? Are we all still claiming that the people are ghosts?
Since three years ago, when the activities of the sect peaked to a frightening proportion in Maiduguri and environs, some leaders and elders of Borno State have not changed their tunes. All they have been saying is: dialogue with the people; withdraw the soldiers; and now, amnesty. I am sure that the relentlessness of the Northern leaders and elders on their calls for dialogue and or amnesty for the Boko Haram insurgents is a deliberate attempt to hoodwink the government of the day to achieve what violence has not been able to achieve. Why are they so particular about dialogue and amnesty? Would it be out of place, if they equally encourage these ‘ghosts’ to show up, renounce violence and then ask for amnesty for their members?
Boko Haram or whichever name the splinter groups now go about is an offshoot of the Maitasine sect that shook some parts of the north during the second republic. The late Muhammed Marwa, who founded the Maitasine sect at that time, had a stronghold in Maiduguri, precisely at Bulumkutu Quarters. They were later dislodged, only for them to regroup in Kano. It was in Kano that they confronted the government of former President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari in the early 80s. Shagari took the bull by the horns and quickly called in the Army. Within a few days, the soldiers succeeded in neutralising the sect and their leaders. It was a combined military offensive involving the army, navy and air force.
I am quite sure that if Mr. President had not listened to those who initially encouraged him to be soft on the sect members three years ago when their nonsense escalated, by now, we would have been spared the orgy of violence that has crippled a substantial section of the country.
The leaders and elders of the North will do us some good if they can truly unmask those among them who are the source of oxygen for the insurgents. It is not enough to tell us that it is the duty of the government to bring perpetrators of evil to book. That is true. But no government or security agency can go it alone if those who should know and show the way are not ready to do so. They are guilty of a conspiracy of silence. That is why the talk of amnesty cannot hold water, at least, for now. Period!
‘I am sure that the relentlessness of the Northern leaders and elders on their calls for dialogue and or amnesty for the Boko Haram insurgents is a deliberate attempt to hoodwink the government of the day to achieve what violence has not been able to achieve’