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AMNESTY FOR BOKO HARAM A BIG MISTAKE; Mr. President, they don’t deserve it!

By Emeka Ugwuonye on 23/04/2013

Views: 3,474

Nigerians love peace, but only a lasting peace would be worth it. Nigerians love an end to the bombings, but they love justice more. The amnesty deal the government offered to Boko Haram lacks the ability to usher in a lasting peace, and it lacks every attribute of justice. Therefore it is not worth it. And in any case, the offer has been rejected by those to whom it was made, raising all doubts that the government knows what it is doing.

The offer of amnesty is like a marriage proposal. You don’t make it to a bribe you haven’t seen her face, especially one that had previously turned down your proposal and told you to your face that she hated you. To keep begging is so unbecoming of a President and a country.

I first read about Boko Haram in January of 2011. I happened to learn about the cases of several young people, some aged 10 to 15 years, who were being detained en mass in various prisons because they were suspected of being members of the Boko Haram sect. I had wondered what sort of country it was that would be so afraid of its citizens aged 10 to 15 that it had to lock them up en mass. I knew instantly that there was something wrong. When I had the opportunity to read more about this sect, I learned how its founder, quite a trouble maker no doubt, was captured by the Nigerian soldiers, placed in handcuffs and handed over to the Nigerian police, only for the police to shoot him dead while still in handcuffs. News media accounts indicated that many more of his members were similarly and summarily killed by the Nigerian police. It would seem that with them died justice and due process, and that was a sign of a bad beginning.

By the end of 2011, Boko Haram had become the metaphor for terror. By August of 2011, it had gone as far as bringing down the United Nations building in in Abuja in an unprecedented attack. Countless similar explosions, including one at the Nigerian police headquarters in Abuja, followed. Boko Haram’s methodology in its campaign of terror was unknown to Nigerians. In a country where people tend to want to live at all costs and against all odds, a suicide attack is something the people would find difficult to cope with. In response to the problem, the Nigerian Government exhibited all manner of weakness and incompetence.

First, the government could not quite make up its mind on how to communicate on the matter. Even to articulate a clear and consistent message to the people or to the world or to Boko Haram was so impossible for the Nigerian authorities. The President basically told Nigerians that it was just the country’s turn to get its share of terrorism. Then the President announced to the amazement of the world that he believed that supporters of Boko Haram were in his government, the legislature and the judiciary as well. Also, the President allowed his supporters to occasionally blame the insurgency on General Muhammadu Buhari and some other political opponents. Yet Again, the Presidency did not know how to keep the loquacious former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, from openly advancing different opinions on the matter. It got to a point where Obasanjo and the Presidency publicly disagreed. Even the National Security Advisor had a public position that was different from that of the President. The former blamed Boko Haram on the PDP leadership problems, only for the President to publicly denounce his views within hours. Clearly the President did not know how to define the problem, how much less how to go about solving it.

On the operational front, the government has shown similar degree of incompetence and ineptitude. It appeared not to have made up its mind on how to use military force to deal with the sect. There was a heavy mobilization of the Nigerian troops, as if to fight a conventional war along defined battlefields. Yet, this has been an asymmetrical warfare that called for strategies and tactics, for which a conventional army is most unsuitable. Indeed, Obasanjo had hammered on this gap, even though he failed to proffer a credible alternative. But the fact is that you do not put out armored tanks and uniformed infantrymen in the streets against an un-uniformed part-time militant who could be cruising around the town on bikes or mingling with traders in the fruit market. It appears that the Nigerian Army and other security forces lacked the intelligence with which to isolate Boko Haram and dislodge it.

In would appear that the heavyhanded boots-on-the ground method which the Nigerian Government adopted was an absolute disaster. It isolated the local population that would have provided the critical intelligence the government needed to combat the group. When America faced a similar situation in Iraq, it realized that the best way to defeat Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his men was to work with the local population that provided cover for him. The proper target was to warm up to the population and embrace it. Within months, al-Zarqawi was routed and his forces destroyed, leading to a victory over al-Qaeda-linked militants in Iraq. On the contrary, Nigerian forces’ indiscriminate use of heavy armor and firepower in Borno and other affected states in the North-East actually strengthened Boko Haram and gave it a political advantage.

On the legal and justice angle, there is even a more palpable failure. Apart from the mass arrests and detentions of every kid that looked like them, the Nigerian Ministry of Justice totally failed to live up to the challenge. A wiser approach would have been for the Ministry of Justice to play a more robust role in the effort to defeat Boko Haram. If the Presidency continued to suggest that certain people were supporting and aiding Boko Haram, how come that the Ministry of Justice did not press charges or issue indictments against such people? What is the Ministry of Justice waiting for? How come that the Ministry had no plan to answer to the allegations of widespread human rights abuses associated with the campaign against Boko Haram? How come that the Ministry did not advise the country against the haphazard and ill-informed declaration of state of emergency in 2011? In respect of the few arrests made, how come that the Ministry of Justice did not put up vigorous prosecution against the individuals arrested? Indeed, in the case against Senator Ali Ndume, who was arrested on the allegations of aiding Boko Haram, Justice Gabriel Kolawole, Abuja Federal High Court Judge, presiding over the case, was so furious at the lackadaisical attitude of the prosecution that he threatened to dismiss the case for want of diligent prosecution.

Also, on the social and political justice of the matter, the government seems to have absolutely no consideration for the victims of the terrorist attacks. There has been absolutely no talk of compensation for the victims. This is a terrible gap in policy thinking and calculation. If indeed the government honestly believed that Boko Haram had a political objective behind the bombings, it must acknowledge that the victims were caught in the crossfire of a political conflict, and they are victims of no fault of their own. How come then that the government has not considered the wellbeing of the victims and fashioned a meaningful compensation program? That would be the just thing to do, it seems. And quite troubling is the ethnic and religious dimension to the insurgency. The leaders of Boko Haram are from one part of the country while the victims are predominantly from another part. There has been a deliberate targeting of the Igbos, Southerners and Christians. It became no longer a coincidence when you consider the message of Boko Haram confirming that it wanted a total islamization of Nigeria or its polity, and that it wanted non-indigenes to leave the North. Finally on this point, it is an incredible irony that the same Igbos that went to all odds to elect Jonathan would be the ones to pay the greatest price for an insurgency that is determined to overthrow him, and the Igbos go totally uncompensated for their losses. Apparently, the interest of these victims is actually the least in the thoughts of the government.

Equally, the Nigerian Government failed to persuade the international community to take a clear and supporting position on its struggles against Boko Haram. Indeed, America, the most critical supporting force, failed to declare Boko Haram a terrorist organization. The signal was clear. It meant that the international community was not convinced that the cause of Boko Haram does not have some merits, even if its method is violent and terrorism-oriented. The attitude of the international community suggests some belief that Boko Haram might have some legitimate grievance, particularly against corruption in the government and social injustices and inequities in Nigeria. Indirectly, this attitude blames the government for the insurgency.

With things as they are, what then is the basis of the amnesty being offered to Boko Haram, which it has predictably rejected? For whose benefit is this amnesty because apparently Boko Haram does not seem to think it is in its interest? It would seem that the decision of Jonathan’s administration to offer amnesty at this time is borne out of a desire to sustain this administration at some level of viability to enable the President to remain a winning candidate in the next election. With the blunders that the government has made over Boko Haram so far, it is only a matter of time before the failures of the government would become a glaring impediment to the President’s political future. So, it seems that a quick fix is what they are looking for, and not a lasting solution. And despite all appearances to the contrary, it seems that it is the government and supporters of the President for the next election that are eager to create the appearance of peace by pleading with the Boko Haram to accept amnesty and observe a ceasefire perhaps until after the elections. But really, Nigerians deserve better.
The dilemma the President faces in any event is that the victims of this insurgency, who have been treated like sacrificial lambs with little value afterwards, would not forget easily. Their votes put the President in office, and their votes would be sufficient to keep him away from it in the future. The Boko Haram issue, therefore, ought not to be handled with kids’ glove. The Government ought to return to the drawing board and try to fix many of the gaping wholes in its thinking, strategy and tactics. Only a lasting peace will do. A mere ceasefire is unacceptable at this point.

Ugwuonye, whose photo appears alongside this piece, is a U.S.-based lawyer admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States.

Source News Express

Posted 23/04/2013 11:21:31 AM





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