Amnesty dialogue and compromise

The elite of Niger Delta (those described as vultures by Saro Wiwa) and those of the north are traditional allies. They know each other intimately. And what defines this intimate relationship is greed. Everything is therefore politics of mutual interest. And this explains why what appeared a patriotic call by the respected Sultan of Sokoto, for amnesty for Islamic insurgency that has defied solution for three years has turned into war over oil revenue sharing, or ownership of oil blocks all of which have no direct relevance to the lives of the poor in the scorched land of the Sahel north or those on polluted waters of the Delta creeks.

We must not lose focus. President Jonathan who secured a landslide victory in the 2011 presidential election was soon to be confronted with crisis of legitimacy. Some states became no go area for the president. Literarily restricted to a fortified presidential palace for most official functions, the president appealed to the northern leaders including the traditional rulers for help. We the cynics also supported the president by insisting the northern leaders must be made to confront their nemesis- their angry hungry uneducated jobless youths using religion as a subterfuge to fight their oppressors.

Thereafter, a committee on Reconciliation, Healing and Security, chaired by Ambassador Zakari Ibrahim, was set up by the Northern States Governors’ Forum (NSGF). The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, by canvassing for total amnesty for members of Boko Haram, to end their four-year reign of terror merely echoed the recommendation of that committee.

The NSGF committee among other recommendations also requested the president to visit Borno, Yobe and Kano states, the epicenter of Boko Haram insurgency. It also urged the president to “order the immediate release of all detainees against whom there is no established case of criminal involvement, and the immediate prosecution of those against whom there is evidence of criminal involvement, before courts of competent jurisdictions.”

The Sultan, who has admitted during the recent annual meeting of the Central Council of the Jama’atul Nasril Islam, JNI, in Kaduna that ‘We northerners have put ourselves in a quagmire, because whatever that is happening in the North is our own doing’ has as a demonstration of his commitment to finding solution to the problem within his Muslim fold, recommended that the Federal Government commence the process of licensing preachers in the country to reduce the incidence of wrong indoctrination of youths.

But rejecting the Sultan’s recommendation at a Town Hall meeting in Damaturu, during his first visit to Yobe State, the president declared “We cannot declare amnesty for Boko Haram because we cannot declare amnesty for ghosts”. He has remained resolute even after it was pointed out that in 2012, we spent N1 trillion fighting the insurgency that has already led to the death of about 4,000 Nigerians and that some of those he described as ghosts are still in detention. Not even the Sultan’s logic that “even if it is only one that is identified, that one would provide a lead” impressed the president.

But as if to make the government’s work easy, Muhammed Abdulaziz the Second-in-Command (southern and northern Borno) of Boko Haram, publicly declared a ceasefire which he said was the result of a dialogue with the Borno State government. “We are going to comply with the cease- fire order and by the time we are done with that, then government security agencies can go ahead to arrest whoever they find carrying arms or killing under our name,”

If one thought that was all the lead a responsive government needed to act, one was wrong. Last Sunday several days after this press statement, the president’s spokesman issued a statement tasking the northern leaders canvassing for amnesty to identify Boko Haram members

And now lined up behind the president are the Delta warlords, militants turned contractors, intellectuals and other opinion leaders from the zone who now claim Boko Haram is sponsored by their traditional allies from the north to discredit Jonathan presidency and also for a greater portion of oil revenue. We have in the group Prof Kimse Okoko, President of Conference of Ethnic Nationalities of the Niger Delta, Ms. Ann Kio Briggs of the Ijaw Republican Assembly, former MEND leader, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, the Izon-Ebe Oil Producing Communities Forum (IOPCF) and pioneer Chairman of Traditional Rulers of Oil Mineral Producing Communities of Nigeria, (TROMPCON) Pere Charles Ayemi Botu. Not left out is HRM, King Dodo II, Pere of Bilabiri Mien Kingdom, Bayelsa state”.

Support is also coming for the president’s stand from unusual quarters – Femi Fani-Kayode who hitherto was a critic of Jonathan’s administration Understandably, the president’s hard line position is supported by Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) whose members have suffered more in the almost three years of mindless killing and burning of churches. Its National Secretary General Reverend Musa Asake, stated categorically that “the association rejects any offer of amnesty for members of the Boko Haram sect ‘“because the Sultan used the word injustice to the sect and not to the Christians”

But in this unfolding war between Niger Delta oil owners and their traditional allies, my sympathy lies with the later. Unlike the president who controls an awesome apparatus of state power which he displayed during his visit to Yola and who also has a fortified Aso rock as shield, the northern leaders and the poor under daily assault by Boko Haram have nowhere to hide. There had been attempts on the lives of the Shehu of Borno, the Emir of Kano and the Emir of Fika. The emirs are safe neither in their palaces nor in the hallowed mosques. The governors operate from adjacent states. And those who failed to make a difference when they were in power like the celebrated oil block owners and the fuel subsidy fraudsters have migrated to Lagos or abroad. I take side with them because their individual members alone can tell where the shoe pinches.

And this perhaps explains why Abdulsalami Abubakar, former military Head of state whose Niger State witnessed brutal murder of youth corpers not too long ago, chose far away New York to lend his voice to the call for amnesty for Boko Haram: “People are made homeless, people are made orphans, they are made widows, so if amnesty to this people will bring peace and bring succour to our country, why not?”, he had said in an answer to a reporter.

Alhaji Abubakar Tsav former Commissioner of Police, Lagos State; Nuru Ribadu, Nasir El Rufai andnd Hafiz Rigim, the former IG who escaped death by the whiskers and who is now seeking asylum in Britain, are voices from outside the troubled area supporting amnesty for Boko Haram.

National Assembly members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, from the North-east have also appealed to President Goodluck Jonathan. The Deputy Senate Leader, Abdul Ningi, made the appeal saying “We want the president to make a u-turn, grant them amnesty, protect our lives and address the security challenges in the region”.

Besides, the voiceless poor in the embattled north eastern Nigeria are also caught in between two deep seas. The Amnesty International Report entitled, “Nigeria: Trapped in the Cycle of Violence’’, was recently released. It documented the atrocities carried out by Boko Haram as well as the alleged human rights violations carried out by security forces in response. The report spoke of ‘disappearance, torture, extrajudicial executions, the torching of homes and detention without trial’.

This column has canvassed for dialogue for two years. That is because the beauty of democracy is dialogue even when other option like coercion is available. And in a federal arrangement, compromise which comes only through dialogue without preconditions is a celebrated virtue. Those who committed crime deserve punishment. The president must however know that Boko Haram like any group in our multi ethnic society owes no one an apology for wanting to be different.

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