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DOES BOKO HARAM DESERVE AMNESTY?

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Few weeks ago, the Sultan of Sokoto, Abubakar Sa’ad asked the Federal Government to grant members of the militant group, Boko Haram, a “total and unconditional amnesty” for the sake of peace in the country. The Sultan’s basis is premised on the fact that a presidential amnesty to even one member of the sect could make others to lay down their arms for peace to reign in the nation. In reaction to the sultan’s call, President Jonathan, during his visit to Maiduguri, said his administration would not grant members of the group amnesty until such a time the group comes out in the public to dialogue with the federal government. Since these two prominent figures made these comments, Nigerians seem to have been divided on the justification of amnesty for Boko Haram. Although this division can be understood if viewed from different perspectives, it is quite disappointing that most of the views expressed are either beclouded by sentiments or emotions, especially on the part of those who think that an amnesty for Boko Haram will be a tragic mistake. It is even more disheartening when those who are in support of amnesty for Boko Haram are immediately branded Boko Haram sympathizers, just because they dared to proffer a solution. It doesn’t even matter to this people if you have been affected in one way or the other.

I particularly decided to write this piece to add the Christian perspective to the ongoing public opinion on the matter. Terrorism by any person or group of persons based on political, religious or any other persuasion that results in killing of people and destruction of properties is evil and condemnable. If Boko Haram by their activities of killing Christians, People from the Southern part of Nigeria and destruction of Churches and their properties fit being described as terrorist organization, do they deserve amnesty? What qualifies a terrorist organization being granted amnesty? Can we equate the militant agitation of the Niger Delta Militants with the activities of Boko Haram? God’s view and method are the standard to analyze any given situation in life. The Bible, God’s Word reveals God’s intent, requirements and methodology. When man rebelled against God by doing what was wrong and became violent and hostile to God’s righteous demand. God did not only express condemnation of the act but proffer solution to the situation. He became solution for the redemption of fallen man with condition. “If you believe the finished work of redemption through Jesus Christ”, “accept and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour”. Furthermore, Luke 17:3-4, “3Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him”. What if the offender refused to repent? What should be done? Jesus Christ died for the whole world but the benefits of his death is not received or enjoyed by all…only those who believe and are remorseful over their wrong.

In light of the present situation, does Boko Haram deserve amnesty? Here are some opinions on this question: Abubakar Sidiq Usman is an Urban Planning Consultant; Blogger and an Active Citizen working towards a better Nigeria has this to say: “I do not live in any of those states where Boko Haram have laid siege and fortunately, I have not been directly affected by any of their atrocities, but I do not need to be or wait till I am before I seek a way out of the evil perpetrated by these men for whatever reason, because I may not be this lucky forever. My support for amnesty is not spontaneous. I actually kicked against it when it was first suggested, but over time, I realized the need for it and that reason is not borne out of the fact that I think Boko Haram deserves amnesty. Those evil men have caused untold harm to the Nigerian state and her people. Ordinarily, they should be made to face justice for their crimes and this I believe is the argument advanced by many of those who kicked against granting them amnesty, but while this has failed to bring about peace or at least succeed in putting a stop to the insurgency, it is only normal to give amnesty a try so as to prevent further carnage. After all, an unjust peace in the views of Cicero is better than a just war”.

“Even as some persons kicked against the amnesty, they have not been able to tell us what they think can solve the problem or at least guarantee peace to the affected people, except for a continued military onslaught whose outcome has resulted in more deaths of civilians than the Boko Haram members itself. There is no guarantee that amnesty will be all that is needed, but there is even a guarantee that the presence of the JTF in those areas affected will not stop the killing of citizens of those states. At least we have seen that for over five years. The argument by some of these people is that amnesty for Boko Haram is not in any way comparable to the amnesty granted Niger Delta militants. What they failed to realize is that crime against a state is a crime. No doubt, the Boko Haram sect has killed countless number of people and destroyed properties belonging to individuals and the authority, but if Wikipedia’s definition of terrorism which it says “refers to those violent acts which are intended to create fear (terror); are perpetrated for a religious, political or, ideological goal; and deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants (civilians)” is anything to go by, then the Niger Delta militants are also liable, because they’ve also killed and destroyed properties, whether comparable or not to Boko Haram. Although I quite agree with what the agitations of the militants were about, assuming it is true they did what they did in the overall interest of the Niger Deltans, it still doesn’t exonerate them from what many people want for Boko Haram. That is by the way though”.

“An amnesty for Boko Haram does not necessarily need to be the same amnesty granted to Niger Delta Militants. Fact is that not everybody in the sect will accept amnesty, especially those who are hardliners like Abubakar Shekau, but you can be sure that a good number of them will accept it, especially those who joined because their mosques were destroyed, their leaders or members were killed extra-judiciously or even those who joined because they suffered victimization from the hands of security agencies. Personally, I think amnesty for Boko Haram should come with a lot of conditions. Those who are willing for example could be asked to submit their arms; all members should be screened and those who actually deserve the gesture should be given, while those who are found to have committed heinous crimes should be made to face the course of justice. Also, the training and monthly allowance as is the case with Niger Delta militants should either be minimal or completely excluded from the amnesty package. As this is going on, a combined strategy of dialogue, improved intelligence gathering and use of force will be stepped up to tackle those who will not accept the amnesty. Gains against this terror group are even more realistic now that there seem to be different factions in the sect, as this must have weakened their ranks. There are no guarantees of success with this strategy though, but it will go a long way in reducing the number of enemies the government will have to deal with”.

“The government really needs to step up its responsibility of protecting the lives and properties of every Nigerians instead of playing politics with the issue. The claim by President Jonathan that Boko Haram is ghost and therefore cannot be granted amnesty is not only laughable, but irresponsible. We have not forgotten that the government told us severally that it is in dialogue with Boko Haram. We have also not forgotten that at a point, the government promised to publish the names of their sponsors which it never did. How come these same people all of a sudden became ghosts? President Jonathan said the elders of the terrorist stronghold should fish out the Boko Haram members. When late President Yar Adua granted amnesty to Niger delta Militants, he didn’t sit down in Aso Rock and asked leaders in the Niger Delta to fish out the militants. He empowered his vice president, who incidentally is now the President to enter into the creeks and dialogue with the militants before they finally accepted amnesty. Dr Goodluck Jonathan as vice president then worked in conjunction with governors and elders of the Niger Delta states to dialogue with the militants which eventually ended up in the amnesty. That exactly is what President Jonathan ought to do, especially now that the vice president is also a son from the north and not to sit down in Aso Rock and hand over his responsibility solely to those who do not have the requisite capacity to carry out such assignment. Until we are ready to explore as many options as possible part of which is an amnesty, we may just have to continue to live with the evils of Boko Haram for a long time coming”

Another view from the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) represented by the General Secretary, Rev. Musa Asake: “Our position is very clear. We don’t support amnesty for Boko Haram. You don’t give amnesty to people you don’t know. If those people who are calling for the amnesty know these people called Boko Haram, and they are seeking peace, let them come out and tell us why they are killing people. Their targets are Christians and they have been going after Christians and they have been saying it without mincing words. They have been saying that the Nigerian Constitution should be removed from the North and be replaced with the Sharia, if not, the violence will go on. For somebody to come out and say there should be amnesty for people like that, without considering the people that have been made widows and orphans, without considering the places of worship and schools that have been burnt down, is insensitive. In calling for amnesty, they never mentioned those widows, those orphans; they never mentioned the grave injustice that has been done to Christians. This leaves me with a very big question mark. What is the motive behind the call? There was a time that some Muslims denied that Boko Haram members were Muslims. But none of the Muslims is ready to support our position. We want to know them. What are they fighting for?”

Don’t you think granting Boko Haram amnesty could bring the crisis in the North to an end? “ Do you have a guarantee for that? We can’t play games when people’s lives are being wasted daily. Their leader, Ibrahim Shekau, came out recently and said they were fighting the cause of Allah. He never talked about injustice. He never said they were looking for justice. I really don’t understand. And there are some people, who are just trying to attract attention by comparing them with the Niger Delta militants. What happened in Niger Delta was completely different. There was a cause that they were fighting for. But the goal of this people is to destroy churches and kill Christians. When you say there is no justice, I ask: who needs justice; is it the person who is killing others or the person who is being killed? We as Nigerians need to be very sincere with ourselves. Nobody is saying anything about the people who have lost their loved ones and their places of worship destroyed. All we are hearing is that Boko Haram, faceless people, who are fighting no just cause, should be granted amnesty. I’m from the North. And I can tell you that the North has been shattered by the activities of Boko Haram members. So, it bothers me to hear someone calling for amnesty for these people”

This issue seems to have become a subject of argument between Christians and Muslims. Is there a political dimension to this or is it strictly religious? “I don’t think these people (Boko Haram members) have at anytime convinced anybody about their mission. Right from the onset, they declared that Christians are enemies of Allah, so they are out to get rid of Christians. And look at their activities. It’s only Christians they go after. They have burnt down several churches, and they killed so many Christians. So, this is not an issue that somebody should begin to scratch his head over who their target is. If you listen to all they have said, they have never minced words about eliminating Christians. So, you don’t believe poverty has a hand in this. “If you are poor, do you begin to fight and kill others? Is that the way to get rich? Can the firearms they are using, the AK 47 they are using in their numbers, be purchased by poor people? Does it make sense to say you are poor and you are holding AK 47? We are more than this kind of argument. Let’s talk of the real thing. Let’s call black black and white white. Let’s be honest with ourselves. This has nothing to do with poverty”

FOR the past four years, federal government has been fighting to end Boko Haram insurgency in the northern part of the country with little or no success. This has prompted some northern elders and legislators from that part of the country to call on the federal government to grant amnesty to the members of the Islamic sect. This call has generated a lot of controversy among Nigerians. While some people argue that Boko Haram does not deserve amnesty, others insist that amnesty is the only way out of the prevailing security challenges. God did not force salvation on people to ensure peace. He declared and called for repentance. Has Boko Haram show remorse? Who guarantees peace, security and order if amnesty is granted without fulfilling these conditions? What is your view of this?

Written By Dr. Lewis Akpogena
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