Nigerian President Explores Amnesty for Christian Persecutor Boko Haram


Date:  2013-04-24

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

NIGERIA (ANS) -- A month ago, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said he would not negotiate with the militant Islamic sect Boko Haram because they were "ghosts," faceless adversaries who would not step forward.

Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan during the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting
in Australia.
(Commonwealth Secretariat / Creative Commons)

According to a story by World Watch Monitor (written using a variety of news accounts), that was then. This Wednesday, the President was scheduled to formally inaugurate a committee to explore amnesty for Boko Haram in return for the end of a four-year uprising that has killed thousands of Nigerians.
World Watch Monitor said amnesty has been suggested by the spiritual leader of Nigeria's Muslims, studied by a national security panel, and encouraged by the leaders of Nigeria's ravaged Northern states crucial to the President's political future. It is now a real probability for an armed group that has declared its desire to replace the Nigerian state, about to celebrate its 100th anniversary, with one built upon Islamic law.
World Watch Monitor said reaction to Jonathan's April 17 decision to put the question into the hands of a Presidential committee has been loud and contentious. 
World Watch Monitor said most Christian leaders have denounced the idea as a gross injustice, though some have given a qualified endorsement. Muslim reaction is less than unanimous. Boko Haram itself has rejected the idea. Reaction by government officials is split, and at least two committee appointees have refused to serve. 
In addition, it has intensified tensions between Christian and Muslim youth who are threatening a new wave of sectarian violence.
World Watch Monitor said Nigeria has considered amnesty for insurgent groups before. In 2009, militants in the Nigeria's southern Delta, upset at the exploitation of the region by oil companies, laid down arms in return for a greater share of the wealth being extracted from the oilfields.
The idea of amnesty for Boko Haram gained traction in March, when the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa'ad Abubakar III, proposed it at a meeting of Ja'matu Nasril Islam, or JNI, the main Nigerian Muslim umbrella group. 
Sokoto, in Nigeria's northwest, is a seat of Islamic learning and the Sultan is the country's Muslim spiritual leader.  "If amnesty is declared, it will give so many of those young men who have been running and hiding to embrace that amnesty," World Watch Monitor said he was quoted by Vanguard Media as saying on March 16.
Jonathan was quick to refuse, during a March visit to Yobe state in northeast Nigeria. "You cannot declare amnesty for ghosts," he was quoted as saying by Premium Times and other news agencies. "Boko Haram still operates like ghosts. So you can't talk about amnesty for Boko Haram now until you see the people you are discussing with."
World Watch Monitor said calls for him to reconsider came from within his own People's Democratic Party. 
"Our people are being killed every day, our economy is crippled. We want the President to make a U-turn, grant them amnesty, protect our lives and address the security challenges in the region," Deputy Senate Leader Abdul Ningi said on behalf of PDP National Assembly members from the northeast, Premium Times reported.
World Watch Monitor said Northern governors and traditional leaders pressed the same message during an April 3 meeting with Jonathan, according to Sahara Reporters, a New York-based news service devoted to exposing what it calls "rampant kleptocracy on the continent of Africa." 
Citing "sources at the Presidential Villa," World Watch Monitor said Sahara Reporters noted that Nigerian military commanders arrived the next day, spending five hours trying to convince the President that amnesty is a bad idea.
The officers were barely out of the palace before the government  "set up a technical committee to advise President Goodluck Jonathan on whether to grant amnesty to Boko Haram," the Catholic News Service reported.
World Watch Monitor said as the Amnesty Security Committee began its work, lobbying intensified and the amnesty question began to take on a life of its own. 
The Northern Traditional Rulers Council, led by the Sultan of Sokoto, presented its position paper and met with Jonathan. Military leaders convened again, this time indicating to the committee they would support amnesty only if soldiers remained deployed in dangerous areas. 
Meanwhile, World Watch Monitor said, Leadership Nigeria newspapers reported that governors of four northern states - Bauchi, Yobe, Borno and Gombe - had, on their own, "initiate(d) talks with members of the Boko Haram sect to embrace the amnesty offered them by the federal government," even though an amnesty plan has not yet been defined, let alone offered.
Christian reaction
World Watch Monitor said Christian organizations and leaders have responded almost universally negatively to the idea of amnesty for Boko Haram, whose bloody campaign across the Northern states has killed and injured hundreds of Christians and destroyed numerous Christian churches, schools, homes, businesses and farms. 
Boko Haram reaction
World Watch Monitor asked what Boko Haram thinks about the amnesty. 
"Surprisingly, the Nigerian government is talking about granting us amnesty. What wrong have we done? On the contrary, it is we that should grant you (a) pardon," said Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, according to the BBC, citing an Agence France-Presse transcription of an audio statement issued by the sect's leader. 
Shekau issued his refusal days before Goodluck Jonathan's April 17 announcement of the creation of the Presidential committee. 
World Watch Monitor said Vanguard Media reported that "another factional leader of the sect, Abu Dardam, had spurned the offer by the government, describing it as an insult. He claimed that the group rejected the offer because it did not recognize democracy as a form of government and the Nigerian Constitution."
In an editorial, World Watch Monitor said the Nigerian Tribune commented that Boko Haram elements had continued murderous attacks since the government's study of amnesty began in early April.  
The Tribune wrote, "The question that now arises is: what next - an unconditional surrender to terror and peace at any price? Boko Haram is a potent threat to the fabric of Nigeria as a political entity.  It is an insurrection that is aimed at dismantling everything that holds Nigeria together."

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