In the summer of 2009, when the idea of a presidential amnesty for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta was brought to my attention, I railed against it. I was vehemently against it for several reasons — including but not limited to the fact that MEND, at that time, had the upper hand. Consequently, the group was in a position to dictate the terms of engagement, or, at the very least, to secure more meaningful concessions from the Federal Government and the multinational oil corporations. Sadly, some self-serving individuals within the region talked sections of the group into accepting an amnesty that was essentially pitiful, hollow, and meaningless.
Events in the intervening years have borne me out: Much of the region is still in a Stone Age condition; the ecology worsens every month; youth restlessness has remained unabated; and there is anxiety and fear in many enclaves. Anyone who thinks, or believes there is peace and stability in the Niger Delta presently is mistaken. This is a region waiting to explode again. The amnesty programme is nothing but a money machine for a select few. The programme spends $100 for what could have been got for $15. And the goods and services they render and or receive are, for the most part, inferior. Until the state and federal governments, along with the various oil firms that operate in the region do what is right and proper, there will never be real and tenable peace.
Four years after the late President Umaru Yar’Adua amnesty, the Jonathan administration is considering offering the Boko Haram sect a presidential pardon. But this time, I make no judgment as to whether or not President Goodluck Jonathan should offer the terrorist group a new beginning — or whether or not the group should accept or decline it. But one thing is clear: no policy in very recent years — calculated or brash–is likely to be as defining as what is being considered. Yes, we have issues relating to corruption, poor governance, weak institutions, terrible economic conditions and malfeasance in our private and public spaces, but this – amnesty for Boko Haram – will have a far-reaching implication for this President and his Presidency.
Four years ago, the Yar’Adua government knew MEND’s leadership (and many of its foot-soldiers). Second, the raison d’être of the group was within international standards. Third, except perhaps on three occasions, civilians were not targeted. But instead, it was the Nigerian government, by way of the Joint Military Task Force that killed scores of innocent civilians; sacked many villages in the Niger Delta; and in some cases, dehumanised traditional rulers.
The bonafide MEND was a movement: a justice-seeking group. And what it wanted was simple: Laws to adequately control the activities of oil companies; proper cleanup of polluted land and rivers; befitting compensation for oil-producing communities whose land and rivers had been wasted and or destroyed; just distribution of earnings from oil; state control of resources; the creation of three or more federating states in the region; the provision of basic amenities, and the infrastructural development of the region. There was no unreasonableness to its demands.
In addition, the group wanted the Nigerian government to convene a Sovereign National Conference so as to, amongst other matters, address issues relating to governance and governing institutions, and the question of true federalism in the country. When you take these and other factors into consideration, it becomes clear why the offer of an amnesty by the Yar’Adua government was in order.
Now, fast-forward to 2013 and to a very simple question: What does Boko Haram want? And why is it going about its demands the way it has in the last 18 months or so – with more than 2,500 innocent civilians killed; hundreds of houses and places of worship destroyed; and causing the desertion of many neighbourhoods. The group is indiscriminate, and with no method to its extralegalities. It has also rubbished security and intelligence agencies in the country.
Bearing in mind the mayhem Boko Haram created, why is the Nigerian government considering an amnesty? Did the group ask for it, or does the government simply want to shove it down its throat? Or, perhaps President Jonathan is bowing to pressure from the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, and from the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Aminu Tambuwal. While it is true that peace is cheaper and more desirable than war, what manner of peace are we talking about here, and at what cost?
It is the President’s prerogative whether or not he should offer Boko Haram an amnesty. Not mine or yours. But he should tell us why he thinks a presidential amnesty is the correct and most sensible call. What are the benefits that are likely to accrue to the nation? He may also want to tell us why, in spite of the billions of dollars and millions of manpower that have been devoted to the challenges of crime and insecurity in recent years especially under his administration, there has been no measurable and significant progress. Is this an admission of ineptitude and failure on his part, and on the part of his national security team? An admission that they are not up to the challenges posed by Boko Haram and others?
While anything is possible, I cannot imagine Boko Haram asking for a pardon. For the group to ask for political and legal forgiveness, it means – at the very least –that it has decided to give up on its various demands, and ready to rejoin Nigeria as it is. But of course, it is more complicated than that: Is the group willing to confess its sins; give up all its ammunition; name its ardent supporters and financiers; agree to government’s command to assemble at a given location to fill out surrender-forms; and agree to re-enter and conform to the dictates of a society it considers too western, too pagan, too secular, and utterly degenerate?
It’s been alleged in many quarters that Boko Haram – at least its post-2010 version – is being sponsored and supported by private and public individuals who swore to make the country ungovernable for Jonathan. Assuming this is true, would these individuals — ghosts, as the President calls them — come to the market square and admit to their offences? If they refuse, what recourse does the President have? After all, the continuity of his government, and the survival of the nation, are at stake, here. This cannot be an easy undertaking. Not at all, I tell you!
Sabella Abidde (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Article culled from Punch