“Go, your terrorism is forgiven”

By Emmanuel Onwubiko
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Emmanuel Onwubiko

Leadership in contemporary society anywhere in the world under any arrangement is tasking.

Leadership in a constitutional democracy is even more tasking going by the fact that the essence of exercising legitimate political authority over a sovereign entity is a multi-tasking enterprise involving the meticulous implementation of social contract between the electorate who are the real owners of the sovereignty and the elected.

The Nigerian constitution of 1999 (as amended) is very explicit on this when in section 14(2)(a) the grund norm affirms that: “sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this constitution derives all its powers and authority.”

Further down in subsection 2(b) of section 14, it says “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”

The current president Muhammadu Buhari who reportedly won election in 2015 and defeated a benevolent incumbent president, actually won his office at the back of his sacred pledge to clinically end the grave attacks and blood cuddling violence unleashed on Nigerians by the largely North East of Nigeria’s based armed Islamic rebels and terrorists known as boko haram which in English means education is sinful.

The preponderant number of Nigerians who in 2015 elected Maj.Gen. Buhari did so because during the electioneering campaigns in which the then retired major General Muhammadu Buhari traversed all states of the federation, the then opposition – All Progressives Congress presidential candidate defeated the incumbent Peoples Democratic Party’s president Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan based on his twin promises of defeating terrorists and bringing them to justice for their horrendous crimes against humanity in the mindless mass murders of over 30,000 innocent Nigerian citizens.

Democracy and constitutionalism thrive inevitably on integrity and credibility of holders of public offices and the strict adherence to campaign promises.

However, Buhari has breached his campaign promises in 2015 and 2019.

Erstwhilst British prime minister Mr. Tony Blair who led the opposition Labour party of UK to defeat a ruling conservatives party, made these facts clear in his classical book known as “Tony Blair: A Journey”

He wrote as follows: “As opposition leader, you carry great responsibility; to campaign for the top job in any country is onerous. You are the standard-bearer for your politics, your party and the beliefs both hold dear. Anyone who has ever run a campaign to win an election knows how big a task it is. There are a million decisions of organization, communication, personnel and policy which have to be taken quickly and effectively. If you can do it well, it is good preparation and a real indication of leadership, but it isn't the same in its impact on you as a person.

Tony Blair continued thus: "From the moment the mantle is on your shoulders as prime minister, you understand that the scale, importance and complexity are completely different. They are not at the end of the same spectrum of leadership. You inhabit a new dimension altogether. There is something more: running for the job, you have a team and it feels like a team. Yes, you're the leader, but your collaboration is so close, your intimacy so refined by experience, your interaction so governed by familiarity of an almost telepathic nature that you feel like a family or a cabal of like-minded conspirators."

The Guardian of United Kingdom, had in a report of April 1st 2015 stated as follows:

“Muhammadu Buhari, the president-elect of Nigeria, has pledged to crush the deadly six-year insurgency by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram".

The former military dictator was speaking in the capital, Abuja, a day after his victory over the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, in a largely peaceful election that has been praised by Barack Obama, David Cameron, Ban Ki-moon and other world leaders.

Hear him: “I assure you that Boko Haram will soon know the strength of our collective will and commitment to rid this nation of terror and bring back peace,”

“We shall spare no effort until we defeat terrorism. In tackling the insurgency, we have a tough and urgent job to do.”

Much of Buhari’s support was in the north, especially the north-east, where Boko Haram, which wants to carve out an Islamic caliphate, has killed at least 10,000 people since 2009. In real life these terrorists have in ten years killed over 30,000 Nigerians.

Jonathan’s failure to get to grips with the scourge was seen as critical in his defeat, although a military offensive in the last weeks before the election regained lost ground, says Guardian of UK.

The paoer quoted Buhari as proclaiming that: “Democracy and the rule of law will be established in the land".

“Let’s put the past behind us, especially the recent past. We must forget our old battles and past grievances and forge ahead."

“You shall be able to go to bed knowing that you are safe and that your constitutional rights remain in safe hands. You shall be able to voice your opinion without fear of reprisal or victimization. You are all my people and I shall treat every one of you as my own.”

Entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim, whose foundation awards a prize for achievement in African leadership, said: “Today, we Africans are all proud of Nigeria and President Jonathan. Thank you Mr. President. If you are seeking a legacy, you have definitely achieved it.”

However, in all of the first term of four years between 2015 to 2019, president Buhari rather than defeat Islamic terrorism, introduced an unlawful policy of pardon, reintegration and resettlement of boko haram terrorists who his government stylishly called “repentant terrorists.” These terrorists have scaled up their mass murders and the incompetent government goes on with the illegal pardon for terror suspects.

But Nigerians are rejecting this notion which is unconstitutional that goes to attempt to placate mass murderers and terrorists even when the victims of terror are left to suffer deprivations.

Infact, the failure of president Buhari to prosecute boko haram terrorists made him to almost lose the 2019 polls if not for the widespread alleged manipulation of the 2019 polls which even the United States blamed the so-called defeat of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party to the evil machination of security agents of the Federal government under the control of the then incumbent president Buhari who ran against a very popular opponent of the PDP and former vice president Alhaji Atiku Abubakar (GCON).

These are some of the few human rights related issues bordering on the terror campaigns and then the reason for the pyrrhic victory of the 2019 election awarded to the incumbent president who had then in 2019 transformed into a bad brand and still is very unpopular because he has failed to combat terrorism but has instead decided to dance naked on the graves of the victims of terror through the contrived policy of forgiving the so-called repentant terrorists.

America’s state department 2019 human rights Country report on Nigeria said: thus: “The insurgency in the Northeast by the militant terrorist groups Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa (ISIS-WA) continued.

The groups conducted numerous attacks on government and civilian targets, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries, widespread destruction, the internal displacement of more than two million persons, and external displacement of an estimated 243,875 Nigerian refugees to neighboring countries as of September 30, US said.

“Significant human rights issues included unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary detention, all the above by both government and nonstate actors; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; unlawful infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; criminal libel; violence against and unjustified arrests of journalists; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association in particular for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and religious minorities; widespread and pervasive corruption; crimes involving violence targeting LGBTI persons; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and forced and bonded labor.”

"Impunity remained widespread at all levels of government. No charges were filed in some of the significant allegations of human rights violations by security forces and cases of police or military extortion or other abuse of power.”

“Abductions by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA continued. Both groups subjected many women and girls to sexual and gender-based violence, including forced marriages, sexual slavery, and rape."

American government however ruled the 2019 poll rigged thus: "The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is the independent electoral body responsible for overseeing elections by regulating the process and preventing electoral misconduct. During the year (2019) INEC conducted the presidential election, National Assembly elections, State House Assembly elections, and local elections in all 36 states plus the FCT, as well as gubernatorial elections in 30 states. There was evidence military and security services intimidated voters, electoral officials, and election observers. In addition violence in several states contributed to lower voter participation and added to the sentiment the army is a tool of the ruling party in many parts of the country, particularly in the South. For example, widespread violence and military involvement in electoral processes, including during the vote collation process, significantly scarred the governorship election in Rivers State. Additionally several of INEC’s resident electoral commissioners (RECs) reported DSS operatives intimidated them when the RECs attempted to protect voting materials. Some RECs reported security service personnel visited them multiple times prior to the elections. Press reported certain RECs claimed the DSS was surveilling the RECs and that they had been brought to DSS offices for questioning.”

“There were reports that corruption including vote buying were historically high during the 2018-19 electoral season. Examples of vote buying were apparent in the re-run of the Osun gubernatorial election in September 2018, and during the Kano gubernatorial election on March 9.”

These irregularities marred the election in which President Buhari coyld have been defeated for soectacularly breaking his campaign oromises to tackle boko haram insurgency but has instead placated terrorists.

Around February 2020, the Borno State Government said about 1,400 repentant Boko Haram suspects have been released by the military and rehabilitated into society. This figue is fraudulent because the Unted Nations has a higher number.

“The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has disclosed that the Nigerian military released over 3,500 suspected Boko Haram terrorists from custody in the last four years.

According to a statement released by UNICEF’s Communications Officer, Sam Kaalu, a total of 223 children including 10 girls were among the latest released from Nigerian Army administrative custody and Maiduguri Maximum Security Prison after they were cleared of suspected ties with armed groups.

Kaalu said the suspects were released to the safe custody of Borno State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, UNICEF and Borno State authorities in Maiduguri, Northeast region of Nigeria.

He stated that the children will now immediately enter a programme that would help them reintegrate into their communities, re-engage with their families, and take the first steps towards creating a new life and means of livelihood.

Some of the children, he noted, had been missing for up to four to five years, with many presumed dead by their families.

According to Kaalu, since 2016, 3,559 people associated with armed groups have been released from administrative custody, including 1,743 children (1,125 boys, 618 girls). All have gone through the Bulumkutu Rehabilitation Centre in Maiduguri in Borno State and have since been reunited with their families or placed in the most appropriate alternative care, where they are accessing rehabilitation services and reintegration support in their communities.

He said that UNICEF is working closely with Nigerian state authorities to help with reintegration programmes for all children formerly associated with non-state armed groups, and others affected by the ongoing conflict in north-east Nigeria.

Borno state exposed the faulty side of this illegality when it disclosed that some boko haram terrorists released were rejected by their communities in which they killed thousands of citizens.

Borno government stated that if any person was rejected by his community for being a former Boko Haram member, the government would resettle that person.

However, the soldiers said it is wasted effort for them to have fought against Boko Haram, only for the terrorists to be released after they have been captured.

Nigerian soldiers in the front-line in the war against terrorists, have expressed disappointment with the Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government for releasing 1,400 or more 'repentant Boko Haram suspects.'

The soldiers said they do not understand why suspected Boko Haram members are being released in large numbers.

“A lot of soldiers are not happy about this. We were there at the Maimalari barracks when some of these Boko Haram people were released,” one of the soldiers who doesn't want his name mentioned said. “The authorities are releasing them, but Boko Haram are killing soldiers that they capture. This does not make sense to us at all. We continue to sweep across the bushes to flush these people out, and then the government will release them. Does that not amount to wasted efforts?” (Cited in an online report).

Similarly, another soldier stated that most of the Boko Haram insurgents who were being released on a 'repentant' claim, have found their way back to terrorism, unleashing mayhem in Nigerian communities.

He said, “You wonder why Boko Haram members are on the increase? When we arrest them and bring them here, some top people would come and start negotiating their release. But, I will tell you some of these so-called suspects are returning to the bush and they were never repentant.”

To add salt to injury, last two weeks, the Senate began deliberations on a bill that seeks to establish an agency that would see to the rehabilitation, deradicalisation and integration of repentant insurgents in the country.

A bill, sponsored by Ibrahim Gaidam of Yobe East senatorial district, was read for the first time on the floor of the Senate Thursday.

The military authority see it differently. Military chiefs say rehabilitation of fighters who surrender are parts of the war effort to bring about peace. But what of the International laws on war crimes? How do you pardon war criminals and undermine the extant laws?

Clients, the military euphemism for the repentant insurgents, were said to have been exposed to formal literacy classes, skills acquisition and Islamic Religious Knowledge (IRK) as well as drug and psycho-therapists during their training. So we are told by the Army not to panic. Those of the frontlines think otherwise.

A group of Borno elders, led by ex-governor Kashim Shettima, last year, had frowned at the initiative, saying the military’s operation was not well thought out.

They feared that releasing the purported repentant Boko Haram militants into civilian population could be counterproductive as hardened fighters would return to the terror group to commit more atrocities.

“The ongoing de-radicalization and reintegration of repentant Boko Haram insurgents under the “operation safe corridor” of the defense headquarters is a course for concern for members of the Civilian JTF and some stakeholders in the State,” the group wrote in a letter last year.

“(We) suspect that “Boko Haram members do not repent” hence the de-radicalization programme may be breeding spies and agents of recruitment for the Boko Haram,” they had said.

They urged the president to approve the suspension of the programme.

The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, HURIWA, warned against the Rehabilitation, Deradicalisation and Reintegration bill sponsored by Senator Ibrahim Gaidam of Yobe East Senatorial District.

HURIWA, a prominent civil rights advocacy group said the bill which proposes outright pardon of repentant armed terrorists under the guise of deradicalization programme could result in civil war either in the short, medium or long term.

The rights group warned that the bill was unconstitutional and offends all relevant anti-terrorism laws of the federation.

HURIWA alleged that some lawmakers were conniving with armed terrorists to introduce “satanic legislation.”

The group said: “Let us from the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) caution the section of the National legislators who are actively conniving with armed terrorists to introduce a satanic legislation that will overlook the mindboggling crimes of genocides committed by terrorists and the killings of over 30,000 innocent Nigerians in the last ten years with the view to appease terrorists even when the victims of terrorism are scattered in different internally displaced people camps in Nigeria and are external refugees in so many nearby Countries.

“If this bill to legalize the freeing of arrested terror suspects under any guise succeeds, then the nation should be prepared for the consequences of their unconstitutional action because the hundreds of thousands of innocent victims of the terrorists attacks in the last decade will definitely not fold their hands whilst those who killed their loved ones are pardoned through roguish means by the passage of this criminally minded bill that is meant to legalize belonging to terror cells and participating in mass murders.

“This bill before the senate is not only satanic and unconstitutional, but will paint the picture of a rogue nation because in all civilizations, those who declare war against innocent citizens and participate in genocide are rounded up and prosecuted and made to face the full weight of the law. History is replete with a plethora of trials of persons who have joined terror gangs and carried out mass killings. The plot by the National Assembly to therefore permit the wanton defecation of the constitution of Nigeria by forgiving mass murderers must never be allowed to succeed,” HURIWA affirms.

“The government must engage in a law based war by enforcing anti-terrorism laws. Section 1A (4) of the TPA (as amended) empowers “the law enforcement agencies” to “enforce all laws and regulations on counter–terrorism in Nigeria”. Prior to the TPA, Section 46 of the EFCC Act 2004 defines “terrorism” to mean a violation of the Criminal Code or the Penal Code and with likelihood of endangering life, integrity or freedom, or causing serious injury or death with the intent to force the person(s) or body or government to do or not to do certain things or disrupt and includes financing or aiding terrorism. The punishment for the crime by Section 15 of the EFCC Act is imprisonment for life.”

That is the essence of substantial justice.
The refusal of president Buhari to subject terrorists to the fuller rigours of substantial justice is a violation of the constitution and indeed a graphic depiction of Nigeria as a gangsters’ land.

As Aristotle rightly stated: “law is order, and good law is good order.” And Augustine of Hippo (314-430 CE) says: “If justice be taken away, what are governments but great bands of robbers?”

Nigerians must therefore mount pressure on this government not to pardon terrorists but to prosecute and punish them for the crimes against humanity.

Anything contrary is to make Nigeria a “paradise for terrorists.”

Emmanuel Onwubiko, former Federal commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). Blogs @ www.huriwanigeria.com ; www.thenigerianinsidernews.com ; [email protected] ; www.emmanuelonwubiko.com

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