By Paul Onomuakpokpo
It was President Muhammadu Buhari’s veiled sympathy for Boko Haram that found expression in his slouching through the murky water of proposing to dialogue with the murderous bandits. This having failed to resonate with the citizens, the government is flailing toward the option of granting amnesty to Boko Haram members. But neither dialogue nor amnesty is the appropriate response to Boko Haram now. The government is propelled onto the path of offering amnesty because it has reached its wits’ end as regards the insurgents. It is now confronted with the stark futility of its triumphalism over what it dubbed a technical defeat of the killers.
Instead of contemplating amnesty, the government should declare that it has been defeated by Boko Haram, technically or otherwise. A follow-up to such a declaration is that the government should award the contract for a fight against Boko Haram to contractors to prosecute. Such contractors should be foreigners. For, we need our doubts to be cleared about the invincibility or otherwise of Boko Haram through foreigners who do not sympathise with them fighting them. A complicity of events since the emergence of Buhari as the president has rendered it difficult for us not to align with the suspicion that Boko Haram enjoys official sympathy. Or was it not state sympathy that would make Boko Haram to invade Dapchi in a convoy of trucks, abduct 110 schoolgirls and return them in the same manner without any obstruction from security operatives and other citizens?
What Boko Haram needs is not amnesty. After all, they have not asked for this. A proposal for amnesty ought to have been preceded by its would-be recipient showing convincing remorse for the carnage it has inflicted on both citizens and foreigners and the deracination of communities and property that are causing billions to rebuild. But this not the case. Thus, while the government is contemplating amnesty for them, Boko Haram members are continuing with its pillage and abduction and killing of citizens.
In the absence of dialogue, we do not know the grievances of Boko Haram, except that of the well-worn killing of its leader Mohammed Yusuf in 2009 when the group was still not unbound. And if they have been unwilling so that the citizens could identify their actual grievances and resolve them, how would they accept amnesty? As we have been reminded, what the Buhari government is contemplating is tantamount to offering Osama Bin Laden amnesty despite his lethal mockery of the security apparatus of the United States simply because he had defied capture and his Al Qaeda was still unleashing terrorism on the citizens of the U.S.
Yes, we appreciate the huge sacrifices of our soldiers in the course of the battle against Boko Haram. Against odds such as a lack of weapons and an alleged searing official betrayal, they have persisted in denying the terrorists the boast that they continue to hold on to vast swaths of the nation’s territory. Many of them have paid the supreme price. Yet, the Buhari government’s response to Boko Haram gives the impression thTeam Nigeria officials want Blessing Okagbare-Ighotegunor to defend her 100m title at the on-going Commonwealth Games holding in Gold Coast, Australia. at it has not done all that it could to deal with the issue. For, while the government gives the impression that Boko Haram members are ghosts that are not known to it, the backers of the president give the impression that the group’s leaders are familiar to them.
They know why they are fighting and what could be done to appease them. Among these is Ango Abdullahi who claims to know so much about the Boko Haram leaders. He tells us that the Boko Haram leadership is not made up of some unlettered charlatans who are really opposed to Western education. He says that some of the leaders of the group are people who have gone the whole hog of Western education to acquire doctoral degrees. Again, Mrs. Aisha Wakil, otherwise known as Mama Boko Haram refers to them as our errant children who should be forgiven. How did these private citizens get to know so much about Boko Haram where the government and its security agents have failed? How do they interact with them such that their communications escape the radar of our security operatives? Should these people who know so much about Boko Haram not also know the source of their funding?
We are thus left with the impression that Buhari as president has continued his tolerance of Boko Haram while he was outside Aso Rock. In this regard, we must not forget that Buhari was among northern leaders who declared that the efforts by the then President Goodluck Jonathan to tame Boko Haram such as a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa in 2013 were tantamount to declaring war on the entire people of the northern region. The option of amnesty offers the fatuous appeal that would bring an end to the crisis. But beyond amnesty and the deployment of weapons and troops in the battlefield, Buhari has not shown a clear resolve to defeat Boko Haram. Or why has he failed to declare it a terrorist group against the wise counsel of the citizens? Now, the Buhari government unabashedly tells us that it engaged in back-channel deal with Boko Haram to free the Dapchi girls except one, Leah Sharibu. The nation is waiting for the government to also use this back channel to free her.
The government is falling for the amnesty trap because it has not been able to identify who deserves it. The advocates of amnesty for Boko Haram like Buhari often latch on to the notion that after all militants in the Niger Delta were granted amnesty. They are paid allowances after they have given up their guns. But lost on them is the tragic conflation of Boko Haram as unconscionable murderers and Niger Delta as freedom fighters. While the former are actuated by misbegotten religious bigotry, the latter are motivated by a quest to regain freedom from an oppressive state that would brook no scruples in exploiting their oil resources while leaving them impoverished.
It is this iniquitous fluidity in the identification of who qualifies for amnesty that would also make the government to think of granting amnesty to killer Fulani herdsmen. Amnesty is thus stripped of all its virtues and only stands as a conduit for corruption. But the Buhari government might as well liberalise this brand of corruption and make as its recipients the Shiites whose leader Ibraheem El-zakzaky is being incarcerated despite courts’ orders for him to be released. The government should also extend amnesty to the looters of the treasury so that it can concentrate on its responsibilities of governance instead of running from pillar to post to draw up lists of looters that remain ludicrous as long as members of the Buhari government are not on them. It should not be only the members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) who should exclusively enjoy this amnesty as it is the case now.
But the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) might have to inconsolably rue its fate for being decimated before the liberalisation of amnesty. But in the spirit of Buhari’s amnesty, he should apologise to IPOB’s members for unfairly treating them. Then Buhari should remove the tag of terrorist from IPOB and unban it. After all, the charges of mass murder and destruction of property and sexual predations hanging on Boko Haram cannot by any means be associated with IPOB. The IPOB’s members were only asking for a separation from a federation in which they felt that oppression and a lack of opportunities were their grim lot.
Buhari is free to sympathise with Boko Haram. He is free to make them enjoy freedom and repay him with massive support for his 2019 presidential bid. However he wants to attain these warped objectives must not negate the interests of the nation and its citizens. Boko Haram must not be given amnesty that would make it escape paying for its egregious crimes against the state and its citizens.
This article by Paul Onomuakpokpo original appeared in The Guardian