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Senator Ihenyen: No playing to the gallery on amnesty for ghosts

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Senator Ihenyen: No playing to the gallery on amnesty for ghosts

by Senator Ihenyen

There are certain things we throw to hunt our targets down that sooner or later become boomerangs that fly in a circle and come back to us. Sometimes, we make boomerangs out of our inactions too. There are also situations where even the best of intentions boomerangs on us.

Interestingly, there are mainly two leading actors in the Nigerian polity today whose actions or inactions, if left unattended, are bound to boomerang sooner or later: Northern leaders clamour for amnesty for the faceless Boko Haram sect; and the 2015-minded President Goodluck Jonathan’s position on a possible amnesty for the sect.

The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, had last Tuesday appealed to President Goodluck Jonathan to grant “total amnesty” to all the armed groups in the country, including the Islamic Fundamentalist group, Boko Haram. Not surprisingly, the Arewa Consultative Forum is in support of the Sultan’s call, but the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has reacted by faulting it.

According to the Association, such decision is not in the best interest of the country.

President Goodluck Jonathan did not totally buy the idea of granting amnesty to Boko Haram. During his official visit to Yobe State last Thursday, the President specifically responding to demands for amnesty for Boko Haram by some stakeholders in Yobe State, said amnesty could not be granted to ghosts.

“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,” he said.

The President’s position is a very reasonable one. No matter how we wish to look at the appeal, the issue of amnesty for Boko Haram does not arise, particularly at this time. It is utterly premature and unjustifiable. Amnesty cannot be granted to a faceless group. The sect has not even come out to state what they are fighting for.

“You cannot declare amnesty for people that are operating under a veil so we can’t even discuss the issue of amnesty. Let them come. Let them tell us their problems;” the president said.

Mostly, the approach taken by most Northern leaders on the amnesty issue is to hastily refer to the recent amnesty granted to Niger  Delta militants under the late Yar’ adua administration. Thankfully, the president made it clear that in contrast to the amnesty granted to Niger Delta militants, no leader of Boko Haram has made himself visible for dialogue.

“When you call the Niger Delta militants, they will come; but nobody has agreed that he is Boko Haram; no one has come forward.”

I am inclined to agree with the President. It is wrong for anyone to attempt drawing any comparison between the activities of the Boko Haram sect and those of the Niger Delta militants. Such approach is a symptom of the recurring disease of ethno-religious discord and disharmony between what has gradually become Southern Nigeria and Northern Nigeria.

The Niger Delta violence was driven by a mission to save the region from total destruction. Millions of Niger Deltans were experiencing the most unfavourable living conditions over decades under various extractive administrations that compromised human rights to life, health and a safe environment for oil exploration. Of course, as characteristic of such armed agitations, some criminal elements took advantage of the violent activities to perpetrate criminal acts.

Can we say the same of Boko Haram’s deadly activities? I think not so!

The activities of the sect constitute an utter violation of the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution. Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees the fundamental right to freedom, thought, conscience and religion for every Nigerian. Whether in public or private, the innocent Christians that have been killed in their constitutional and lawful manifestation and propagation of their religion or belief in Christian worship, teaching, practice and observance have been continually violated by the Islamic Fundamentalist group.

Our social order is founded on ideals of freedom, equality and justice. More specifically, section 10 of the 1999 Constitution completely prohibits the Federal government or any state government from adoption of any religion as a state religion. Boko Haram is not supreme to the Nigerian Constitution. And never will. All the Northern states put together are not supreme to the Nigerian Constitution. No religion is supreme to the Nigerian Constitution.

But I have my reservations for the commitment inherent in the President’s statement that: “If amnesty can solve the situation, then no problem.” I consider those words rather too generous. Although this may have been a 2015 re-election strategic statement, it appears to be suggesting that the only condition for amnesty is for the leaders of the sect to make themselves visible. But again, the statement may end up being as empty as President Jonathan’s word in 2011 that he is going to serve for just a single term!  Although,  if the handwriting on the wall is anything to go by, particularly considering the present unfriendly Northern position on President Jonathan’s 2015 ambition, there are reasons to believe this conditional amnesty commitment is most likely going to end up being a boomerang on him!

Let it be reiterated that the President has a sacred duty to protect every Nigerian citizen at all times. This is no time to play to the gallery. No amnesty for ghosts, no security compromise for 2015.  For the President, this should not be another mass mobilisation strategy on the wave of ethno-religious sentiments in the country.  For the Northern leaders, it should not be a weapon of blackmail where any refusal by the President to grant amnesty to Boko Haram would be readily interpreted as ethno-religious discrimination. When such greedy and myopic moves boomerang, the political actors would have themselves to blame.

Thousands of lives have been lost. Opportunities for infrastructural and human development have been missed. Foreign direct investments have been affected. Our national image internationally has been badly battered. The seed of distrust and suspicion have been sown across the soils of our six geo-political zones. Even electioneering promises of 2011 remain greatly threatened, leaving many Nigerians little or nothing to hold on to for any 2015 re-election ambition.

Rather than play politics with the call for amnesty, Mr. President should do what is in the best interest of Nigerians. The wrong precedent must not be set – if only for posterity’s sake!

Senator Ihenyen is a lawyer and an author. When he is not in court, he is researching the law. When he is not researching, he is writing. When he is not writing, he is working on the next big idea or managing a youth NGO. When he's not doing any of these? He's busy contributing on politics, policies and current affairs on The Scoop because it's the smart thing to do. Disclaimer: Senator is Senator's given name even though Facebook doesn't believe and so shortened the name to 'Sen' on that site. Unlike those who bear the name as a title, Senator has never accepted the millions of Naira which they receive as allowance - not like he's ever been offered though.

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