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Boko Haram insurgency and the amnesty option

By Michael Jegede

Last week, the Federal Government (FG) finally succumbed to pressure, particularly from the northern leaders, and set up a committee to dialogue with members of the deadly sect, popularly known as Boko Haram.

The Presidency had announced that “President Goodluck Jonathan has approved the constitution of a Presidential Committee to constructively engage key members of Boko Haram and define a comprehensive and workable framework for resolving the crisis of insecurity in the country.”

It further stated that “The Committee's terms of reference will include developing a framework for the granting of amnesty; setting up of a framework through which disarmament could take place within a 60-day time frame; the development of a comprehensive victims' support programme, and the development of mechanisms to address the underlying causes of insurgencies that will help to prevent future occurrences.”

While many prominent Nigerians see amnesty option as a welcome development, some observers wondered why people, who have killed about 4,000 innocent citizens and destroyed property worth billions of naira, should be granted amnesty as if we are saying that terrorism is a profitable venture in Nigeria.

But the questions those in support of the development are asking are: should we allow the massacre of the innocent Nigerians to continue without finding a possible solution? Should we continue with the confrontational approach and see more Nigerians in their thousands made to go the way of all flesh?

Vice Chairman Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Nurudeen Abatemi-Usman, was one of the prominent Nigerians that hailed the Federal Government for setting up a dialogue committee to engage members of the Boko Haram sect.

While appealing to the members of the sect to gladly accept the Olive Branch the government is trying to offer them for peace to reign supreme in the country, the Senator representing Kogi Central Senatorial District said: “for the government to have gone ahead to constitute a committee to dialogue with key members of the Boko Haram, despite reports that the group rejected the planned amnesty for them, shows that as a government we are truly serious and sincere about the plan to resolve the issue in the interest of the country. The Boko Haram members must therefore have a rethink and embrace this door of dialogue that is being opened to them, as it is the only way to the peaceful resolution of any kind of conflict. We cannot continue to watch innocent Nigerians being maimed almost on a daily basis. This has to stop!”

On his part, Senate leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba said the proposed amnesty for members of the Boko Haram sect, which necessitated the setting up of the dialogue committee, should be given a chance. The Senate Leader, representing Cross River Central Senatorial District, stated this in an interview in Abuja. He described the move as a welcome development that must be embraced by all citizens of the country as a way finding lasting solution to the incessant killing of innocent Nigerians for no fault of theirs.

According to the number-three man in the Red Chamber of the National Assembly, the government must be supported in this current effort to restore peace in the north and resolve the crisis of insecurity in the country.

His words: “We cannot allow this incessant killing of innocent Nigerians to continue. Whatever we need to do must be done to stop this dastardly act. That is why I think it is very much important that we give this option of amnesty a chance and see whether it will succeed or not. We hope that it succeeds because we cannot continue to watch our countrymen and women being sent to their early grave due to the activities of the Boko Haram sect. It is an unusual situation that every Nigerian will like to see an end to. So, our approach will also be unconventional. But while trying to bring the situation under control and the phenomenon to an end, we should also know that there are victims of the acts of this group. So, the victims must also be in the picture of whatever strategy the government is putting in place.”

On the reported rejection of the proposed amnesty offer by members of the sect, Ndoma-Egba said: “That was the reaction I expected. You won't expect them to just jump at it. At this point, it is always like that. They will say we don't want to talk. We don't want to talk. Everywhere you have had this kind of situation; that is the initial reaction. So, it is not an unusual reaction. But I think it will be good for them to accept the offer in the interest of peace and unity of the country.”

For Alhaji Yusuf Ayitogo, the National Vice Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in charge of the North Central Zone, “The proposed amnesty for the boko haram sect is absolutely in order. All we need is for peace to reign and this wanton killing of our beloved brothers and sisters to stop. The federal government has taken the right step in constituting a committee to discuss with the members of the group. The opportunity has been created for them to come out and let the government know in clear terms what their grievances are. When the Niger Delta youths were aggrieved and indulge in militant activities, the government made a proposal to them, they came out and dialogued with the government and they were eventually offered amnesty, which has brought about an unalloyed peace in the area today. Therefore, the boko haram members should please come out and accept this offer.”

Former Military Head of State, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), equally threw his weight behind FG's consideration of leniency for Boko Haram. Buhari, presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) who is in the forefront of the opposition merger plan to dismantled PDP in 2015, commended Jonathan for the formation of the amnesty committee.

The ex-General said: “It is good that they have set up a committee on amnesty. I have not seen the terms of reference but it is a right step in the right direction. This is not the first time amnesty would be given to a violent group. You remember it happened in the time of Yar'Adua when he gave amnesty to the militant groups (in the Niger Delta). Whatever it takes to bring peace as a society, we should do it.”

Michael Jegede, a journalist and public affairs commentator wrote in from Abuja 07065574368