by Senator Ihenyen
Following a meeting between President Goodluck Jonathan and security chiefs at Aso Rock last week, a National Security Council Committee has been set up to consider the requests for amnesty for the fundamentalist sect, Boko Haram.
As a matter of fact, within two weeks, the Committee is expected to consider the feasibility of granting amnesty to the sect, and recommend the modalities for same, if amnesty is considered a feasible option.
Obviously, the President had to bow to pressure from northern leaders by keeping open arms to the gathering call for amnesty for the sect, and understandably so.
To be fair to the presidency, unlike the u-turn made in the case of fuel subsidy removal recently, the Presidency had kept its options open when it earlier said amnesty could not be granted to ghosts. The music must have changed, not because the fundamentalist sect had stopped being ghosts or the Presidency has just discovered how to communicate with ghosts, but perhaps because President Jonathan has rarely failed to show us that he is not very good at handling pressure.
We must tread cautiously though. The issue of Boko Haram is a very complex one. Many factors are involved. This is about a nation being continually torn apart by unprecedented terrorism since 2009. It also has some religious, ethnic and political colouration to it. From these angles, any political solution reached in a hurry is bound to boomerang on us all sooner than expected.
Also, the issue of amnesty is not one the Presidency should work out in a hurry. Need we be reminded that even the amnesty granted to Niger Delta militants has not been an all-round success?
To the nation’s economic convenience as an oil-rich nation now exporting about 2.4 million barrels per day, one would be naïve to expect the Federal government to be complaining. As a matter of fact, according to the Presidency, it is in the spirit of the President’s celebration of the percentage increase in national economic growth due to the increasing number of barrels exported from the Niger Delta per day that had informed the unpopular presidential pardon granted to Mr. Alamieyeseigha, the ex-convict. But has the amnesty addressed the root causes of the militancy in the first place or is the Niger Delta a time bomb waiting to explode?
Perhaps, the recent threats by MEND to go back to the creeks and take up arms is just one of the many symptoms of the un-cured disease in the body system of the Niger Delta. Of course, euphemistically speaking, in the case of amnesty to Boko Haram, peace may not come in a hurry.
No doubt, the National Security Council Committee just set up has been given a very great task. And it is a sensitive one too. Considering that the issue of Boko Haram and amnesty are central to our national security, I do not think there is need to remind every member of that Committee that the national security of this country has been put in their hands ad hoc. With about 3000 lives already lost to the Boko Haram menace, the economy of the northern part of the country badly damaged, and Kano the City of Commerce being literally brought on its knees, there is need to be cautious. It is not also going to be hyperbolic to say that this sole amnesty issue can destroy the Goodluck Jonathan administration completely, or save it from itself.
Another worrisome dimension to the Boko Haram amnesty issue is the problem of factions in the sect, including the rate at which new terrorist groups like JAMBS (JAMA’ATU ANSARUL MUSLIMINA FI BILADIS-SUDAN) and Ansar al-Muslimeen are dangerously coming up. This development will have great implications on how the Federal government is to establish reliable communication, effective dialogue, reach mutual agreements, and come up with workable modalities for amnesty, if eventually recommended. These are some of the major challenges we cannot easily wish away for any political convenience as 2015 elections draw closer.
The Committee should also consider the constitutional implications of the amnesty, if recommended in its report. The deadly activities of the sect violate the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution, which guarantees the fundamental right to freedom, thought, conscience and religion for every Nigerian. If one of the aims of Boko Haram is to Islamise Nigeria as commonly believed, I strongly hope the Committee will not fail to consider section 10 of the 1999 Constitution on state religion. The Federal government or any state government is completely prohibited from adopting any religion as a state religion. Even the presidency or the National Assembly does not have such powers as the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria remains supreme.
The international dimension is another issue, since various reports have linked the activities of these terrorist groups to Al Qaeda. Opening dialogue with any one of the Boko Haram factions may not bring the much desired sustainable peace and security in the country.
Salient issues arise and questions left undetermined. In solving the Boko Haram challenge, is the Federal government prepared to also dialogue with Al Queda? Would President Jonathan freeze his talks and engagements with the British and American government over the collective fight against terrorism? Is Aso Rock prepared to change its position on its recent military intervention in Mali? What about the National Policy on Education? Is Boko going to become Haram in violation of the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy enscrined in Chapter II of the Nigerian Constitution?
This is no time for politics. No excuses for mistakes. Perhaps, for the purpose of emphasis, let me repeat a relevant paragraph from a previous post: No Playing to the Gallery on Amnesty for Ghosts:
“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.”
Let us, in good faith, await the report of the National Security Council Committee.