By Theophilus Ilevbare
President Goodluck Jonathan
The effort of government to find a lasting solution to the Boko Haram menace hit a brick wall with the rejection of a pre-amnesty offer by the Abubakar Shekau-led faction of Boko Haram.
It stands every reasoning on its head, that the gravy train of amnesty was contemplated for a radical and remorseless sect that has slaughtered over 4, 000 people since it began an offensive against the Nigerian state in 2009.
Pardon with its financial rewards as it is done in the country, is a disincentive to the ‘real Boko Haram.’ It beats every logic that in an attempt to buy peace, a hurriedly packaged amnesty was offered to terrorists on a platter of gold.
When they first began their violent attacks, we were at a loss what their grievance were. From seeking vengeance for their slain former leader, Yusuf, to an onslaught against the institutions of government which they considered ‘haram,’ non-islamic and too secular for their religious inclinations.
Their radical beliefs soon took a different turn. Soon they saw all forms of western education and influence as sin. But as of today, the reason for their continuous bombing, wanton destruction of lives and properties is to entrench an Islamic government in north-eastern states and by extension Nigeria.
It was expected that after the president’s meeting with the northern elders where the decision to set up a committee to dialogue and consider the feasibility or otherwise of granting pardon to the Boko Haram adherents, President Jonathan should have first commissioned them to go back and do their home work in identifying and establishing contact with the leaders of the Jihadists before acceding to their demands of setting up a committee.
Since the Northern Elders Forum will have us believe that the blood thirsty renegades deserve clemency like the Niger Delta militants, they need not be reminded of the crucial role Niger Delta elders and leaders played in persuading the militants to unmask and come out from their hideouts in the creeks to negotiate with government. Northern leaders cannot continue to claim ignorance of the leaders’ of the sect. In this regard, the buck stop with them.
The criminal and political factions of Boko Haram will eventually jump on the amnesty bandwagon but hardliners like Shekau and his minions, which is by far the deadliest faction, will continue to reject pardon in a manner that will further ridicule the Jonathan government.
Indeed, Boko Haram has boxed the state to a corner. The President’s inconsistent stance has fuelled rumour that the whole idea of pardon was politically motivated.
The Presidential Committee on Dialogue is the latest cash cow in town.
Grapevine sources say the so-called northern elders jostled and lobbied to be on the committee. They fail to realise that the closeness of the committee members to government might end up scuttling any peace initiative as President Jonathan apologists might not meet the approbation of Boko Haram.
In Damaturu, we saw a president talking tough. He spoke with a certain conviction as he expressed doubt on the feasibility of an amnesty as advocated by the Sultan. But as soon as he returned to Abuja, after a clandestine meeting with the Northern Elders Forum, he made a U-turn. Probably, he realised that amnesty to the Jihadists is a bait to negotiate his second term bid with the North in 2015 and the northern elders hold the ace.
There is a school of thought that Boko Haram will die a natural death when a northerner becomes President. To buttress this, the sect made good their threats to make the country ungovernable should Goodluck Jonathan become president.
Sadly, Jonathan knew those who have fanned the embers the insurgency but lacks the political will to go after them. The northerners respect their elders, be it religious or political leaders. Boko Haram will never have grown to such deadly proportion if the president was of northern extraction.
As 2015 approaches, analysts are predicting a rise in the wave of attacks so as to make it almost impossible for Jonathan to win re-election. Considering they have a preponderance of electoral votes in the north, it might be all too easy. There are arguments in some quarters though, that the activities of the Haramists are religious rather than political.
But the rejection of a pre-amnesty offer by the government is the strongest indication yet that there leaning is political. They crave an Islamised Nigeria and care no less if the country breaks up, else a northerner succeeds President Jonathan.
Beyond amnesty and dialogue, government must begin to explore other avenues to speedily bring the crisis, threatening to tear the country apart, to an end. Dollars and naira cannot convince a radical Shekau to give up his Jihadist belief. Hence, the government must not completely rule out the use of military might.
The Odi massacre for whatever it was sent a strong message to the Niger Delta militants who sent subliminal signals to then president, Olusegun Obasanjo, to grant them amnesty.
Bill Clinton, when he was President of the United States, ordered the Waco massacre after the killing of four American law enforcement agents. The president, ordered a military raid of Branch Davidian, an area of Waco, Texas, in the wee hours of Monday, April 19, 1993.
Tanks and amoured vehicles rolled into the area, reducing everything thereupon to ashes. Branch Davidian, Odi and Boko Haram hideouts are analogous in this context. To those of us from the Niger Delta, the Odi incident left a bitter pill in our mouths, but then, Obasanjo did what had to be done to end the restiveness in the Niger Delta. The communities in the north shielding the members of Boko Haram must be warned forthwith.
In Algeria, what started as election grievances from an Islamist group snowballed into a prolonged terrorist attack against the state spanning over a decade, around the early 90s until 2002. Many presidents fought a bloody guerilla war with insurgents resulting in over 100,000 deaths and shelling of many communities.
No one would wish such cataclysm for Nigeria. Military force was used to break down Islamist insurgency before dialogue and some sort of amnesty was offered in the end to resolve the conflict.
Only a President Jonathan will defend his compatriots from years of incessant brutality and terror by the ever rampaging and blood thirsty Boko Haram terrorist with amnesty.
The country is tottering precariously on the brink of disaster. President Jonathan must act now. Nigeria must not be allowed to descend into another civil war. Issues of security must be separated from politics – his 2015 ambition.
There is an exigency, that he must as a matter of urgency take decisive action to protect the lives of Nigerians and unity of Nigeria. He cannot shy away from this. He must throw down the gauntlet. The Nigerian state must begin to act more intelligently and forcefully.