In the wake of the clamp down on the insurgents in Kano and other parts of the north and the President’s insistence that the sect must be confronted for who they are, the presidency is subtly sounding a note of warning that, with ethnic and religious sentiments being weaved into the fight against terror, Jonathan could as well beware of the Ides of March, GEORGE AGBA reports.
Last month which ended on Easter Sunday, the country was drenched in a national debate over the amnesty demanded by prominent northern leaders for members of the Boko Haram sect. This culminated in an intrepid confrontation between President Goodluck Jonathan and elders of Borno State in Maiduguri. It was the month of March which literally makes it instructive.
The month of March has come and gone; so, is also the Easter celebration, marking the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. But this particular month of the year 2013, unlike those of previous years, cannot be wished so soon away by the presidency. It was a month in which some issues of national interest evoked the most tremendous controversies- from the encounter President Goodluck Jonathan had with elders of Borno and Yobe states respectively when he embarked on a two day working visit to the epicenters of the Boko Haram insurgence to the public outcry that trailed the state pardon granted former Bayelsa Governor, Diepreye Alamiyeseigha, among other nerve cracking matters arising. It was in the month that Jonathan’s anchor man and chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors’ forum, Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State, felt the first double impact after boldly stepping forward to hold up the president’s hands, like Aaron and Hur did to the biblical Moses, in the battle against internal forces within the ruling party.
Appeal by northern leaders that Jonathan should grant amnesty to members of the Boko Haram sect, which reached a crescendo at the meeting between the president and the elders of Borno and Yobe, states featured prominently above other contending issues in the land last month. The debate for and against amnesty for the sect continued unabated all through the month of March, with frantic calls by eminent sons and daughters of the north that the president should heed to the plea by the Sultan of Sokoto, Abubakar Sa’ad and Speaker Aminu Tambuwal, for the cloak of grace for the insurgents the same way it was extended to the Niger Delta militants.
In March, emotions were high; apprehension saturated the ambience of articles and press statements that tripped into the media by individuals and groups on the amnesty matter, struggling to secure a space on the pages of newspapers. In this regard, Emma Onyilofor wrote in his article on Monday: “I think it is pragmatic for Mr. President to reconsider his position on granting amnesty to Boko Haram for the simple reason that Islamist terrorism is a war that we cannot win through military might. Besides, the most respected voices in the north have requested amnesty and turning it down can only strengthen the resolve of the Boko Haram to continue fighting and encourage many northerners who have been sitting on the fence to join the struggle”.
He further argued that if military might was a deterrent, the United States and its allies with their vast military superiority would have since won the global fight against terrorism, adding that curiously, America and its allies who have consistently maintained that they cannot negotiate with terrorists, are today beginning to talk of winning the hearts and minds of communities where Islamist terrorists have their havens; hence considering the possibility of negotiating with the terrorists because they cannot contain the war. Two things are, however, clear from Onyilofor’s contention here. First, President Jonathan should grant amnesty to Boko Haram or else the north will turn against him. Secondly, the president has to chicken in to the demands for amnesty because military might as demonstrated in the past few days by security forces in the country cannot work on the grounds that if world powers like America could not contain terrorism with military expertise, then Nigeria is in the shadow of its goal post for its government to imagine that it would surpass America by doing to terrorists what the world power could not do.
What this public commentator ended up achieving in the aforementioned is to follow the crowd just because everybody is getting on the band wagon. He is one among the set of Nigerians who have attempted to slant and skew religious and ethnic sentiments into the amnesty debate. Since the Sultan, Speaker Aminu Tambuwal and the Borno elders insisted on amnesty for Boko Haram, religious and ethnic bigots have tendentiously painted a picture of President Jonathan as a sectional leader. With brazen mendacity, they continue to juxtapose the amnesty for Niger Delta militants with the current terrorist activities that have claimed thousands of lives in the northern part of the country. If Jonathan is not an unhealthy subject to tribalism, they argue, he should grant amnesty to Boko Haram.
As parochial as this contention tends to be, there is a growing concern in the presidency that it may work out for those throwing it up for political gains. A top official in the presidency has called on President Jonathan to beware the Ides of March. The thinking is that, just like Julius Caesar failed to heed the warning of the soothsayer and fell cheaply into the hands of the conspirators, the president might just dismiss the amnesty demand as a mere political propaganda and realise later that what started like the ranting of disgruntled elements would soon turn out to be Brutus’ dagger which dealt Caesar the unkindest cut of all. Just like Onyilofor wrote, those opposed to his 2015 presidency are making the amnesty demand a ready tool to appeal to sentiments and swerve sympathy from the northern electorate in their favour ahead of the 2015 presidential poll.
But the president, it seems, is aware of this. Throughout the Easter period, he took time himself to spread the message and clarify why he talked tough to the elders of Borno State at a town hall meeting over the demand for amnesty for Boko Haram. While security forces were mercilessly dealing with the insurgents in Kano and other places in the country, Jonathan was busy sermonizing the need for Nigerians to collectively tackle terrorism in the country. After praying for peace in a service at Aso Villa Chapel on Good Friday, the president declared in his Easter message to the nation that members of the Boko Haram sect were not members of Islam or any religion in the country as they claim to be. This was apparently in response to those who are trying to weave religious and ethnic sentiments into the amnesty debate.
In his Easter message made available by presidential spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati on Saturday, the president said, “Those who mindlessly and indiscriminately attack churches, schools, health workers, motor parks, banks and ordinary road users must be seen as they truly are: the brainwashed pawns of international terrorism. They do not represent any true religion or section of the country and we must never play into their hands by succumbing to their nefarious ploys to incite religious, ethnic hatred and division among us.
“It follows, therefore, that to successfully achieve our vision of becoming one of the most dominant nations on the global stage in the short possible time, we must stay together as a people and continue to effectively resist by all possible means, the evil machinations of global terrorists and their misguided domestic accomplices who seek to provoke turmoil, hatred and harmful divisions among us. I assure all Nigerians that our security agencies, armed forces and I, will continue to fully discharge our constitutional responsibilities to protect the unity and territorial integrity of this country with all the powers and forces at our disposal”.
With these words, skilfully wrapped up, Jonathan may have dashed the hopes of the amnesty crusaders confining them to utter despondency in their bid to coerce him to submit feebly to their demands, using religion and ethnicity. But how the president intends to create the awareness and sensitise Nigerians, particularly those from the North that his reluctance to grant amnesty to the unrepentant Boko Haram members is not borne out of sectional interest but is what those considerate to his presidency are waiting eagerly to see. The Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Sokoto, Mathew Kukah, was apparently agreeing with the president that amnesty should not be granted to ghosts who have failed to come forward remorsefully to identify themselves when he stated in his Easter message that, “no one receives amnesty for nothing without surrendering something in return. That is, renouncing their moral perfidy. A sense of remorse, an assurance that one will get a hearing, that a prodigal son might even be considered for the role of a servant by a benevolent father. All these are conditions that we must create as we search for the lost sheep”.