For the first time since the increasingly strident calls by the Northern establishment for amnesty for members of the Boko Haram sect began to gather momentum, the Federal Government, last week, took a considered action with the inauguration of a committee to explore the possibilities.
We believe this is a good and commendable first step by President Goodluck Jonathan, despite the perils. We are mindful of the fact that amnesty is not a panacea to terrorism and that it even comes fraught with its own contradictions and challenges, but the move by the President is pragmatic and astute. It is capable of defusing the rising tensions, thinking out of the box and starting the process of finding a lasting solution to this seemingly intractable problem.
The newly-inaugurated amnesty committee has been saddled with the task of considering the feasibility of granting pardon to the Boko Haram members; collating clamours arising from different interest groups seeking clemency for members of the extreme sect; and recommending modalities for granting and implementing the pardon, should such step become the logical one to take under the prevailing circumstance.
No doubt, the greatest threat to lives and properties, and our way of life as a nation at the moment is the deadly activities of the Boko Haram. Seeking lasting ways to address this threat should therefore be top national priority. Even though the military have been waging a relentless campaign against Boko Haram, the concrete steps taken by government in the past few days have changed the national conversation on the issue and offered renewed hope that a solution to the security challenge posed by the group may be in the offing. Clearly the military has not been defeated as our security forces can hold their heads high in their efforts to stem the tide and safeguard life and property. But the sect has also not been vanquished. Despite several fatal blows, they find a way of regrouping and launching fresh attacks, knowing that even if 99% of their attacks are foiled, the 1% success is one attack too many.
Thus, it may be time to explore the doctrine of winning the peace without further violence. In doing so, we, as a newspaper have always maintained that no option must be taken off the table, especially because this security challenge has bumped the country into a clearly uncharted territory where there are no easy answers or perfect formulas. It is therefore in this light that we welcome the ongoing efforts by the President to look beyond the military option in the search for a peaceful resolution of this crisis.
But we dare to warn that just as the amnesty option has its promises, so does it have its perils– and they are legion. While the prospect of amnesty for Boko Haram adherents has raised hopes that a solution to the crisis may be in sight, it has also fueled anger in several parts of the country and among many interest groups, which feel they have suffered immeasurable losses that could only be ameliorated by justice. We identify with the pains of these groups, after all we are victims too – our Abuja office was gutted and our staff killed by Boko Haram attackers – but we are also mindful that insisting on justice from a State that was not designed to confront unconventional and faceless enemies may not be a practical demand under the present circumstances.
The first step to justice is to end the orgy of further senseless killings and provide some comfort. Beyond justice, other perils include precedence. Are we saying that when non-state militants confront us as a nation we reward them with amnesty? In the case of Niger Delta militants, not only did we give them amnesty we went overboard and rewarded them with choice security contracts and or appointments, so much so, we sent the wrong message that there is ample reward if you hold the State to ransom through violent means. The committee and indeed the Federal Government thus must learn from the Niger Delta experience in considering the amnesty option for Boko Haram insurgents so we may not be planting the seeds for other violent groups. Where we draw the line between criminals and insurgents must be uppermost in this new initiative; we must be clear on sectarian rascality and respect for the lives and freedom of others in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state.
The fundamental questions are of the nature and psychology of fundamentalist terrorism as well as the nexus between poverty and extreme deprivation and sectarian terrorism must also be a part of the longer term solution.
Amnesty, like any other conflict resolution tool, is a difficult process that involves all sides playing their roles. There is no guaranty that Boko Haram insurgents will accept any amnesty offer or a peace process.
However, the Jonathan administration has taken the first step. Those who would be the beneficiaries of this offer should be made to start showing signs that they are ready and willing to accept such clemency if and when proclaimed by reciprocating with an unconditional ceasefire, handing over their munitions and giving dialogue a chance. Definitely, there are difficult days ahead. Unlike in the past, Boko Haram now looks like a highly diffused group lacking a centralised structure.
In a situation like this, carrying all members of the sect along, some of whom are believed to have fled abroad from where they now coordinate attacks, may be a daunting task. It is now a challenge to all well-meaning leaders in the North who have promoted amnesty to persuade the core leaders of the group to come out of hiding and embrace a peaceful resolution of the crisis.
We believe the peace process is fraught with many perils, but then there is promise in the air. The amnesty option is worth exploring without prejudice to ongoing military efforts until there is a ceasefire.