WAR AS THE LOGIC OF PEACE: A CASE AGAINST AMNESTY
When I first read the maxim “A drowning man catches straw” I must admit I never bothered to contend with its critical reservations. With the usual simplicity of an uncritical mind, I thought that the struggle to save one’s life from danger is a do or die affair. But reality with all its complexities has a way of getting us to review and possibly unseat our most passionate convictions. It now makes sense to me. It is in the very nature of exigency that at times it can force men to broker pact with the devil, turn a saint into a sinner, a virgin into prostitute, a priest into rapist and even push a great mass of righteous humans, to explore other strange routes of compromise. So a drowning man being so desperate for survival, can seek help anywhere even from the beckoning hand of the devil. However, the thought of a drowning man reaching out to grab the helping hand of the devil makes one question inevitable. And the question goes thus; is the death he is running away from going to be worse or better than the life he is meaning to embrace? For a discussion as critical as the feasibility or otherwise, of the proposed amnesty for the Boko Haram insurgents, the answer to the above question seems unmistakably decisive.
Apart from Biafran war, there was no other time in the history of Nigeria when the contingency of human life was as heightened as it is in this age of Boko Haram. Boko Haram age? Of course those who will write the history Nigeria will not fail to tell the world and posterity, that 2009 till the day Boko Haram nightmare will end, was the age of Boko Haram. Just like the world has computer, jet and internet age, Nigeria has Boko Haram age; otherwise what other incident in the last five years could be more significant than the tragic death of over 3000 Nigerians in a country that is not at daggers-drawn with any nation. Right from its emergence, Boko Haram insurgents have left a track record dotted with blood of defenceless and innocent victims. Think of the rising number of widows and orphans, the homeless and those made indigents by their terrible onslaught. Giving these tragic realities, the fate of Nigeria is unarguably not different from that of the drowning man that seeks to catch a straw. Yes! Truth be told, Nigerians are tired of this mindless killing.
There is an unspoken expression that seems to say ‘when will these nightmares, this shedding of blood, this human carnage ever be over’. When will Nigeria know peace again? Most Nigerians if not all want peace at all cost, even if it means entering into pact with the devil. Of course, the feeling is well understood. The recent rise in the spiral of violence has brought the survival of human life to its lowest ebb. Nigeria is under the crushing sway and ruthless grip of the most terrible form of political of exigency. And since it is in the very nature of exigency to leave men with little or no time to work out bases for lasting solution, moments of exigency like blackmail are mostly then moments of compromise. This could be the persuasion informing the proposed amnesty program for the Boko Haram sect. The present political realities in Nigeria seem to make the option of amnesty undebatable. One might even doubt the wisdom of sticking to the idealistic claims of law and constitution, when all odds are practically against every of our chances for survival as a nation. The law and all of its towering idealism, it is argued, can no longer survive contact with the realities on ground in Nigeria. Why not compromise the laws of the land in order to live, after all laws are meant for man and not man for law? Life is mankind’s’ highest good and we must do everything to secure it by fighting death at all cost.
Yes! We have to fight death at all cost. We have to compromise in order to live. The argument sounds rational and convincing. However, if we must know, compromise doesn’t enjoy much popularity in the noble world of value. A life built on value is far more rewarding than a life built on compromise. Winston Churchill, the great British prime minister is mostly remembered for the way he carried the affairs of the United Kingdom during the restive years of the Second World War. During the Second World War, Hitler’s military might was more than devastating. Within a few weeks of battle, Hitler's army had conquered Holland, Luxembourg and Belgium. Returning from the battle field, Winston made straight for the House of Commons and related to the lords about the disastrous turn of events in Europe. He made it clear to them that Britain stood alone against the seemingly defeating might of Hitler’s military machine. Judging by the fact that Britain cannot match the military prowess of the much dreaded German machines, the lords in the House of Common thought he had come to garner their support, to sue for armistice just like French did.
However he stunned them, when he declared his resolve to go on with the battle, in spite of the terrible odds against their survival prospects. Expressing his resolve in speech, he said; “I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.” This is the very spirit that made Churchill and Britain to tick up till today.
Humanity will always regard that life or nation that proved resilient in the face of defeating challenges. Martin Luther King Jr. will be remembered not for living too long; of course his life span wasn’t up to seven decades, but for refusing to compromise his racial struggle. Nelson Mandela would not have spent 27 years in prison if he didn’t strongly believe that man must not walk down the path of compromise in order to live. Today he is well over 80 years and battling with ill health, yet the world is yet to have enough of him. This goes to confirm the claim that humanity has much regard for a life that proved resilient and dauntless in the face of defeating challenges. Heavenly true was that passage from the holy writ which said; he who loses his life will save it and he who saves his life will lose it. Until we learn how to die, we may never live the best of life.
Considering Nigeria’s political exigencies at the moment, compromise seems to be the best option. We have to grant amnesty to Boko Haram sect to save our life. In fact, judging by the death toll, it would be most unreasonable to oppose amnesty. But before Nigeria ever charts the course of this amnesty program, it will be most necessary and fundamental to consider the very question asked at the beginning of this discourse. The question remains; will the death brought by the Boko Haram sect which Nigeria is running away from be worse or better than the life she is about to take from amnesty. Is this amnesty not going to be like the case of a drowning man reaching out to grab the saving hand of the devil? If he succeeds in grabbing the hand of the devil, what kind of life will the devil give him? For me that life will be worse than death. The ancient Greek sage, Socrates, reasoned that unexamined life is not worth living. Amnesty program when considered critically, seems to hold the same prospect. Amnesty may give us life today but not tomorrow. It may save Nigeria’s today and destroy Nigeria’s tomorrow. Of what use is living today only to die tomorrow when tomorrow’s life is what will give meaning to today’s life? Unfortunately, that is Nigeria’s greatest problem.
Nigeria loves living today only to die tomorrow. The death we are dying today could be because of the type of life we lived yesterday. T.S Eliot must have been of this opinion when he asked; where is the life we have lost in living? There is a life we have lost in living. The life Nigerians are living now is a life threatened by insecurity, assault, and other terrible death prospects. Surrounded by all these terrible prospects of death, we Nigerians have become like the fated Shakespearean cowards who must die many times before their death. So the question remains; where is the life we have lost in living?
I think Achebe has the answer to this question. According to him; the vicious circle of impunity is responsible for these dastardly criminal acts of killings of precious lives, because the apparatus of law enforcement has consistently failed to bring perpetrators to trial. Now to get this point clear, you remember the heydays of the Niger Delta militants and how they terrorized Nigeria. The kidnapping and killing of oil workers as well as the blowing off of our pipe lines that were their stock in trade, were met with only amnesty. The law did not bind them with the ram of justice. May be the Yara Dua led administration thought that the exacting nature of justice, would prolong their onslaught that has already dealt a heavy blow on Nigeria’s economy. He therefore offered them mercy. It worked because it brought their nefarious activities to a halt. But today what is happening? Where is that peace we enjoyed then? That amnesty gesture seems to be part of the factors fuelling our present predicament. Kidnapping has not stopped neither has oil bunkering ceased.
Funny enough, another amnesty program is just on the offing. What Nigeria doesn’t know is that each amnesty package makes the bases of our statehood vulnerable. Amnesty could as well not be the best way to sue for lasting peace. I remember the famous Nuremberg trial and what it stood for in the annals of mankind’s history. It was when humanity said no to impunity and went ahead to bring to justice all those who in the Second World War were guilty of crime against humanity. Amidst objections and outcries against such a move, an American born attorney, Telford Taylor, gave an intervention that proved the reasonability of such move. According to him, “The gas chambers, mountains of corpses, human-skin lamp-shades, shrunken skulls, freezing experiments and the bank vaults filled with gold teeth…civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored because they cannot survive their being repeated.” Today the building housing the International Military Tribunal (IMT) stands to warn modern day Hitlers that crime against humanity cannot escape justice. The very existence of this institution has brought impunity to its barest minimum. No wonder history is yet to have another Hitler.
This goes to prove that peace has logic. That man who said ‘if you want peace prepare for war’ must have offered the best logic for peace. Every move for peace must bring the aspect of sword to bear. When God wanted to make peace with fallen humanity, the blood of Jesus Christ was the essential logic. But why Nigeria has chosen amnesty as a route to securing lasting peace in spite of its obvious difficulties is what I can’t understand. It is either that security challenges are beyond her sovereign power or that her leaders lack the political will to incorporate the aspect of war in the logic of amnesty.
Whatever is the case, however we choose to go about this, Nigeria should be told about the demand history will make on her regarding her attitude toward all the tragic humanitarian emergencies wrought by Boko Haram Insurgents. And on this point, Achebe has this to say; does it not worry us that history which neither personal wealth nor power can pre-empt, will pass a terrible judgment on us, pronounce anathema on our names when we have accomplished our betrayal and passed on? We have lost the twentieth century; are we bent on seeing that our children also lose the twenty-first century? God forbid concluded Achebe. Yes! God will forbid but only if we know that heaven helps those who help themselves. We have to decide how our country will be. We must not live in a country where there will always be cases of people who will rise up in arms against us, kill us at their behest and turn back to receive amnesty from us. This is impunity at its most terrible form and we must shun it. How we fight this battle will determine not just how we are to live from hence but most importantly how history will judge us.
Finally as I move to conclude this debate, I draw attention once again to the military wisdom of Winston Churchill. The path to lasting peace is not the path of compromise or that of justice thwarted by amnesty, but that of resiliency amidst revolting circumstances. I mean of justice seasoned by amnesty. Therefore, the survival of the very institutions of governance in Nigeria depends on how the Boko Haram and other likely assaults are resolved. Whether we win or lose is not so much of importance. What is most important is that the world, the posterity and history would look back and say; ‘This was Nigeria’s finest hour’ the very hour when it seemed like we had said, over our dead body would impunity stalk high in our land again.
Written By Onyeagolu Tochukwu