By Nelson Ekujumi
Recently, His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto and President-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar was reported in the media to have canvassed granting of amnesty to members of Boko Haram as a way forward in arresting the state of insecurity that has beclouded the Northern part of Nigeria in particular. While one cannot but commend the revered traditional ruler for expressing his opinion on the way forward out of this mess, one cannot but disagree with him.
Unlike those who are criticizing the Sultan’s position based on the premise that the situation that warranted granting of amnesty to Niger Delta militants was not the same with what is prevailing in the North now, the truth of the matter is that the situations are the same. The criminality being perpetuated by Boko Haram elements is similar to the criminality exhibited by the Niger Delta militants who also pioneered the crime of kidnapping for ransom which has now assumed a life of its own.
While some people are of the opinion that what the Niger Delta militants were fighting was environmental degradation and exploitation, one can safely assert that what one understood Boko Haram was fighting for initially but which has been abused was the right to self determination, which is a tenet of federalism. A major cause of the crises bedeviling us as a people and which has earned us the reputation of a failed state based on noted indexes, is the absence of true federalism, which we mouth, but practice Unitarianism. One can also say that a major calamity that has befallen us as a people is the absence of democratic ethos which has culminated in the lack of listening ear to legitimate demands by those in authority, who always use violence to suppress people’s agitations. This was what led to violence and criminality in the Niger Delta and now Boko Haram in the North.
There is also the school of thought in which Mr. President belong to, that says that you cannot grant amnesty to people you don’t know or to put it properly in the Presidents words, “ghosts”. This line of argument can be countered from the position that if Mr. President is sincerely asserting that Boko Haram as a group are ghosts, then it means he’s not in charge or that he is being misled by his security chiefs who ought to know better if they are alive to their constitutional duties.
A worrying dimension to the issue of Boko Haram is that it seems some of the security challenges being experienced in the North raise a lot of questions about the capability of the security agencies who are always quick to ascribe any act of criminality to Boko Haram just to cover their inefficiencies. The pervasiveness of insecurity all over the country today is alarming and calls for concerted efforts by all.
Granting of amnesty to criminals is a condemnable act because it amounts to endorsing criminality, which is a violation not only of our laws but also of our values as Africans, which was one of the reasons why some Nigerians opposed the granting of amnesty to criminals in the Niger Delta, masquerading as freedom fighters. The question that comes to mind is that in what ways has amnesty resolved the youth restiveness in the Niger Delta which has manifested in crimes such as oil theft, stealing, cultism, armed robbery, kidnapping, bunkering, etc? Criminals, because of their penchant for booties are never satisfied and will keep asking for more and so, the only way to reform is to whip them into the line of societal approved conduct rather than condoning them through amnesty. The failure of the amnesty programme was one of the reasons that made President Goodluck Jonathan to award the contract for the protection of oil pipelines to some of his kiths and kin at the expense of the constitutional responsibility of the security agencies.
Instead of granting amnesty to Boko Haram members and legitimizing criminality like the Nigerian state has done with regard to Niger Delta, it is our fervent desire and hope that Mr. President and the National Assembly would sincerely and patriotically realize the enormity of the problems at hand which has the potential to destroy us. It is hoped that our elected officials at all levels should realize the need for the convocation of a genuine Sovereign National Conference (SNC) of ethnic nationalities as a way forward. The faulty structure of the Nigerian state, our army of unemployed youths, our distorted values, etc are recipe for violence and the only way to stop the drift is for us to discuss true federalism.
A word is enough for the wise.
(Ekujumi is the Executive Director,
Centre for Rights and Grassroots Initiative (CRGI)
26a Adesina Street, Ikeja, Lagos.