FEATURE ARTICLE

E O EkeTuesday, April 9, 2013
eoeke@aol.com


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PROPOSED AMNESTY TO BOKO HARAM, PATH TO PEACE,
OR TRIUMPH OF TERROR IN THE POLITICS OF A MULTI-ETHNIC COUNTRY?

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received the news of the decision of President Goodluck Jonathan to set committee to come up with the modus operandi for granting amnesty to members of Boko Haram, the sectarian terrorist group set up by some northerners to put pressure on Nigerian government to yield to their demand, with mixed feeling. On one hand, I am delighted that it may herald the end of terrorist activities in Nigeria. It would also be welcomed news to the innocent people who have paid the true price of this terror. On the other hand, I have an uncomfortable feeling that it might signal the triumph of terror, and further embolden those who believe in violence as a legitimate means of achieving their aims. If granted, it would look like the north of Nigeria as a geopolitical area, has once again used violence to have its way and innocent Nigerians have paid the blood price.

I am further troubled because in some places in the world, religious fundamentalism is on the rise, especially Islamic militancy. They are characterised by one feature. The conviction that they are right about God and therefore justified in the use of terror against people they define as enemies. However, the peculiarity of the Nigerian situation is that, it is the first time; politicians in a supposedly secular democracy would use fundamentalist terrorism to pursue sectarian political objectives. The activities of Boko Haram strike at the heart of the unity of Nigeria and seriously threaten the survival of Nigeria as a united Country and those who sponsor and now want amnesty for them, may discover that by sponsoring Boko Haram to commit terror against innocent Nigerians and then asking for amnesty for them, that they have gained only a pyrrhic victory. What Boko Haram has made very clear is that the greatest threat to the unity and survival of Nigeria is religion and ethnic nationalism, particularly Islam and the persistence of northern states in implementation of Sharia laws and the resort to violence to put pressure on the rest of the country to grant their wishes.

The North of Nigeria, as I have argued elsewhere, is already an Islamic republic of some sort and Boko Haram, is simply being used to consolidate it; and intimidate those who may be minded to resist it. Nigeria will begin to implode when the predominate Christian south finally articulate a narrative for its response which will polarised the country and seal the faith of Nigeria in a self-destructive war. What happened in Lebanon in the 1970s and currently taking place in Syria will be child’s’ play. Nigeria will become a theatre of a mixture of ethnic and religious wars fought against perceived enemies, without clear reasons why their objectives must be achieved through violence; and the only winners will be those who are now manufacturing the guns and bullet we will need to destroy ourselves. This is the reason why I believe that only a detribalised Nigerian as president, who is prepared to treat the whole of Nigeria as his constituency, will have any chance of saving Nigeria from inevitable disintegration.

As we enter, this uncharted water of amnesty for a group which is literarily the military wing of an apparently Islamic north, one must ask, how much injustice can the Igbos bear in the name of unity of Nigeria? How much longer can this unholy marriage last? I suppose it is time to further re-examine this politics of violence in a democracy. Some of us who have a view on the rationale behind Boko Haram have insisted that it was a group set up by some leaders in the north to have their way and alter the political calculus of Nigeria in their favour, which is why they insisted on changing the national security adviser. Unfortunately, with the death of Azazi and Christian governor of Kaduna state, Nigerians may never really know those who are behind Boko Haram and why none of them have been brought to justice even though the national security adviser is said to have their telephone numbers.

Lest we forget the reasons why some leaders from the north justified the activities of Boko Haram, I will recall the statements of some northern leaders. As Boko Haram stepped up its terrorist activities, beheading Igbos, burning and bombing churches, murdering expatriates in Nigeria and Fulani herdsmen continued with their Janjaweed style ethnic cleansing in Benue-plateau region. The 19 Northern governors demand review of the revenue allocation formula “to reflect current realities.” Governor of Niger State, Dr. Babangida Aliyu, Chairman of the Northern Governors' described as unfair, a situation where a state like Niger got between N4.2bn and N4.5bn as monthly allocation while some other states received 20 times the amount. He also argued that Niger State spend half of its monthly allocation on payment of salaries and other overheads. This, according to him, leaves the state with barely enough to provide infrastructure and other needs of the people. The governor said he and other governors of the region hoped that the revenue allocation formula would be looked at before the end of the 2012. He also said, “But there are other issues that would come. For example, there were oil wells that were over 200 kilometres away of the shore of the country. Those ones before the passage of law by the National Assembly were supposed to be oil wells for the whole country”. “But now, they have been made to be given only to the contiguous states in addition to the 13 per cent derivation. So, if you look at that, you will say that it will not serve everybody well if certain parts of the country are not doing well while some parts are doing exceptionally well. So, the pressure will continue until we are able to find a solution.” I suppose the pressure is Boko Haram.

In an interview to London Times in 2012, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Lamido Sanusi, decried what he termed the low allocation to Northern states from the Federation Account. Sanusi for the first time publicly linked violence in the North, particularly the activities of the violent Islamic sect, Boko Haram, to the uneven distribution of the country's wealth. He had said that attempts to redress historic grievances in Nigeria's oil-rich south might have inadvertently helped create the conditions for the sect's insurgency. Sanusi also said that it was necessary to focus funds on regenerating other regions, if Nigeria wanted to secure long-term stability.

He said, “When you look at the figures and look at the size of the population in the North, you can see that there is a structural imbalance of enormous proportions. Those states simply do not have enough money to meet basic needs while some states have too much money. “The imbalance is so stark because the state still depends on oil for more than 80 per cent of its revenues.” Currently, the revenue allocation formula is 52.68 for the Federal Government, 26.72 per cent for states and 20.6 per cent for council areas. Thirteen per cent is also given to the oil-producing states as derivation. It has not escaped my attention that the call for amnesty for Boko Haram came after the north had their way in the PIB bill. I will not bore the reader with what the governor of Kano state said when Sambo Dasuki was appointed the National security Adviser. I think Nigerians should have no doubt in their mind about who created, and funded Boko Haram and what their objectives are.

Now that the race for 2015 is heating up, the northern leaders of Boko Haram have realised that the group would be a liability in an election year, and they have demanded amnesty for the group and the president has obediently complied. Even IRA did not demand amnesty for all its members. They only demanded amnesty for its members who were convicted and they renounced violence. President Jonathan was right when he said he cannot grant amnesty to ghosts. Now that he has changed his mind, he will realise that ghosts never go away for the simple reason that they are invisible. How can a sane government grant amnesty to people it does not know? The government should at least insist on knowing the people it is granting amnesty before going ahead. One thing that the president may not wish to acknowledge is that appeasing a man who has put a gun to one’s head only saves his bullet. He retains the gun and bullet and may try again next time if he does not get what he wants. I honestly hope that regional terrorist group will not become another pervasive feature of the Nigeria democracy. What the amnesty to Boko Haram and MEND is saying is that if you want Nigerian government to listen, set up a terrorist group, explode some bombs, instil fear in the people and sustain the pressure at the cost of human life, according to governor of Niger state, until your wish is granted. Northern Nigerian leaders should study careful what is happening in Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Pakistan and Iraq, to understand what happens to a country when a people mixes Islam and ethnicity with politics in the way it has, and change its political strategy for the good of all Nigerians.

I hope this development will be an eye opener to Igbo leaders whose greed, corruption, selfish attitude, opportunistic politics and cowardice; stopped them from speaking out against this evil and minimising the lives of Igbos lost. While the northern leaders are asking for amnesty for the criminals and terrorists who inflicted the calamity on Igbos, no single Igbo leader of the calibre of Sultan of Sokoto or the governor Aliyu, has spoken up for the need for justice for the Igbos and other Nigerians who were slaughtered like goats and this is the real tragedy. There has been no concerted effort to ensure justice for the victims of the atrocities of Boko Haram in form of payment of appropriate compensation to their families. No attempt is being made to ensure that the victims will never be forgotten and that this will never happen again, and should they be minded to try it again, it will be nipped in the bud. Without this, blanket amnesty to Boko Haram terrorists will leave a sour taste in the mouth of victims, their families and people, and will fan anger that will one day explode in a way and manner, Nigerians are yet to imagine. Injustice breads resentment, and resentment breads conflict and conflict lead to disunity. Those who thought that they would secure and consolidate their position in Nigeria by violence, may wake up one day to discover that they have made the disintegration of Nigeria inevitable and that no one can have oil that is 200 kilometres of shore when his country is 600 kilometres from the sea.

Nigerians leaders must learn a lesson form history in dealing with groups like MEND, Boko Haram and the northern leaders behind them, especially in a multi ethnic country like Nigeria. They will always resort to violence, if it would enable them to achieve their aim, and appeasing them only encourages them and makes them think that they have been right all along. It does not help them to re-examine their unrealistic demands and sense of entitlement. It strengthens them and does not allow them to make the concession they must make for peace and harmony. In the end, those who pay the price of the intransigence of the groups will finally vote with their feet and a civil war may ensure. Granting amnesty to Boko Haram in the way and manner their sponsors have demanded, would only further weaken the faith of more people in Nigeria and hasten the demise of Nigeria, if the government fails to manage the expectations of the rest of the people properly. The government should be very careful of what it agrees and promises during negotiation with ghosts, and make sure that handing over of all weapons, complete disbarment and renouncing of violence will be part of the amnesty. In addition, the government must make it crystal clear to the ghosts it would be negotiating with that there will never be another amnesty if the group resort to violence if their candidate fails to win in 2015. Without this, President Goodluck Jonathan would have failed Nigerians and that would be the real tragedy.

No people can build a united nation on violence, intimidation, and injustice. Nigerians who hoped that a united country is possible will realise that no one should share a country with a people who will put a gun to one’s head when things are not going their way. Amnesty to Boko Haram must be followed by justice to the victims of their crimes and renegotiation of the unity of Nigeria, if Nigeria will endure. Further degree of autonomy and abrogation of the land use degree, and must be part of this amnesty so that, Igbos who are often victims of violence from the north can settle in their own part of the country. Otherwise, Nigerians may just wake up one day to realise that not only Boko Haram and MEND can import AK 47, rocket propelled grenades, make IEDS and car bombs, and kill innocent people; that any part of Nigeria can raise a terror group and destabilise the country until they are paid off. I therefore call on President Jonathan to ensure that justice for all the victims of this unforgivable and unforgettable atrocity, and building of a befitting monument in their memory in Abuja, will be part of the amnesty to start with.

The activities of Boko must never be forgotten and the victims of the heinous and unprovoked evil they unleashed on the people and country must never be forgotten. We may find it in our magnanimous hearts to contain it for the sake peace in Nigeria, but will never forget that this evil was unprovoked, premeditated, carefully planned and timed, and executed with military precision and single mindedness. We will always remember those behind it, those who supported it directly and indirectly by their silence and those who benefited from it. We will ensure that the world will never forget the evils of Boko Haram, what they stand for, who sponsored them, who asked for amnesty for them, who suffered in their actions and who benefited from it. This is the least we can do at this time. Amnesty for Boko Haram may likely be the last goodwill from those who pay the price of their unprovoked evil for the continued existence of Nigeria. There may never be another one. It would be asking for the humanly impossible to expect Igbos to endure another pogrom without retaliation. The government of Nigeria must know that the Igbos cannot absorb another targeted ethnic killing; either in the north or any other region of Nigeria and that another targeted killing of Igbos anywhere in Nigeria again, will be the beginning of the end of Nigeria. Enough must be enough.

E O Eke is qualified in medicine. At various times he has been a General medical practitioner, Medical missionary, Medical Director and senior medical officer of health in Nigeria. He specializes in child, Adolescent and adult psychiatry and lives in England with his family. His interest is in health, religion philosophy and politics. He cares for body and mind.

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