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Prof Ayodele Mobolurin
Howard University
Washington DC




Amnesty for Boko Haram: The Conundrum of Northern Political Leaders and a Lesson for Nigeria.

by Prof Ayodele Mobolurin
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The notion of the duty of the Federal Government to defend the country should be more expansive. This defense must be seen in its totality, not just policing or military actions, but extends to developing institutional structures that will sustain a strong, united country. There must be a reversal of the current tendency of the political elite is to let dangerous situations linger while nurturing selfish ambitions. Boko Haram is just a symptomatic warning. It is foolish and short-sighted to believe that Nigeria as a corporate entity can survive by not addressing the root causes of our problems, but by just muddling through from one crisis to another. In such instability no one can  be assured of safety, peace and security as can be seen by the current spate of kidnapping and ransom payments, some of which is definitely not related to Boko Haram.

The current call by segments of the Northern Leadership, including the organization Ja’amatu Nasril Islam (JNI) that amnesty be granted to Boko Haram demands dispassionate analysis of the issues.Boko Haram is organization that is leading an insurgency against the government of Nigeria


What does Boko Haram want? Its goals as inferred from its name and as stated from available public documentation can be listed as follows:

(1) First its Hausa name which translates to "Western Education is  Sinful or Sacrilege" gives a definite fundamental reason for its existence and its overarching goal - "The Elimination of Western Education"

(2) The establishment of strict Sharia Law across Nigeria, with no qualification or regard for the multi-religious and multi-ethnic nature of the country.

Some have called for dialog between the Federal Government and Boko Haram.  Any dialog with the aim of resolving conflicts between two parties with different goals require that the parties accept each other's principle goals as legitimate.  The objective of the dialog is then to bridge the differences.   If dialog is to bridge differences, then it is inconceivable how this can be achieved if there is no platform or common ground for discussion.   

It is assumed that Boko Haram consists of persons who are Nigerians and are acting to effect some political goals within the Nigerian society, then it (Boko Haram) must subject itself to the Nigerian constitution and then there can be dialog between Boko Haram and the government. The nature of the dialog however, must be circumscribed by the Nigerian constitution. Therefore Boko Haram must undertake to submit itself to the Nigerian constitution and act within the Nigerian political process.  This is the condition for any segment of the Nigerian society and it must be the same for Boko Haram.  This means that Boko Haram must come to recognize the authority of the Federal Government to uphold the constitution. 

Will Boko Haram submit to the Nigerian Constitution? Submission to the Constitution means that Boko Haram acknowledges that its insurgency and murderous actions are all violations of the Nigerian Constitution and laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.  It is only in this context that amnesty for Boko Haram or any other group that carries armed insurgency can be granted.

Recent events however belie the assumption that Boko Haram desires amnesty.  The fire power brought by Boko Haram to the fight on April 26th in the village of Baga in Borno State, its military posture and tactics and the seeming connections of the organization to al Qaeda elements in the Sahel region of West Africa show an organization pursuing an active insurgency.  The recently constituted amnesty committee as report by Leadership newspaper  has quite a ways to go to come close to its objective.  The same paper reports that prominent northern leaders have appealed to members of Boko Haram to immediately accept President Jonathan's offer on amnesty and "sheath their swords".  

This approach is problematic. The committee does not seem to know the critical actors in Boko Haram.  A general call may entice some low level elements in Boko Haram to surrender, but these elements cannot influence the subsequent actions of Boko Haram.  It is doubtful that a general call will attract sufficient number of Boko Haram members to threaten its existence. The call to "sheath their swords" is also troublesome.  Is it that they can unsheathe the sword when it suits them?

This is where the current discussion about amnesty glosses over the meaning and the implications of amnesty.  Several questions beg for answers, which the proponents of amnesty cannot answer except they purport to speak for Boko Haram. 

(1) Who is the leader of Boko Haram, who speaks for the group and how can we determine the legitimacy of such spokesman?

(2) Will Boko Haram give up any actions overt or covert for implementing its stated goals, which contravenes Nigeria's constitutional guarantees?

(3) Will Boko Haram seek to change people's mind only by peaceful means without violent agitations or incitement of people to riot or armed insurgency even if it believes that Western Education is sinful or blasphemous?

Amnesty cannot be granted in a vacuum. Amnesty implies pardon and absolution for wrong doing granted to a group for offenses or violations of laws committed by the group, without changing the laws violated  (AMNESTY).  Amnesty can also be limited to certain members of the group  that violated those laws. It is the prerogative of the government granting the amnesty to limit its application and determine who is covered under the amnesty.  In this case amnesty if granted given an understanding of its purpose must necessarily be constrained by a set of strict conditions, including who can benefit from such amnesty.  Boko Haram members simply cannot sheath their swords and expect to get amnesty.  To have a chance of successfully bring this insurgency to an end, the following minimum conditions must be enjoined on Boko Haram members who want to take up the offer of amnesty:

(1) They must give up their weapons;

(2) Supply the government with necessary information to combat recalcitrant elements, which will not be used against them in any judicial proceedings;

(3) Renounce violence and separate themselves from any future insurgency;

(4)  They need to be reintegrated into the community and therefore must apologize for their destructive actions to the communities affected or made to do some community service as restitution.

In a free, multi-ethnic, multi-religious society any individual can hold any belief, including the belief that "Western Education is Sinful", or that everyone should submit to Sharia Law, but you cannot coerce anyone to agree with your beliefs.  Even if an overwhelming majority of the population hold these beliefs, this majority cannot force its beliefs on a single individual who does not want to accept such beliefs.  This means the government (Federal, State or Local) cannot institute laws that forces anyone to violate their conscience with respect to religion, or custom, or the practice thereof.

The implementation of Sharia driven by politics and its uneven application is the seed of the present conundrum. In the not too distant past or maybe even till present, some Northern governors were pushing for the implementation of Sharia Laws, without any clear guarantees that only those who want  to be subject to such laws will come under the jurisdiction of the laws, even if they are Muslims.  The constitution has the same guarantees for a Muslim to decide that he/she does not want to be subject to Sharia Laws.  A Muslim can be considered a bad Muslim, because he/she refuses to be subject to Sharia Laws that is his/her prerogative under our constitution. 

The implementation of Sharia Laws in the Northern States that adopted them left many non-Muslims unsettled about how this was going to be implemented and it seems for political purposes there was never any clear guarantee given that no one who does not want to be brought before a Sharia Court will be exempted and given an alternate judicial process. This ambiguity might have served a political purpose and pleased those who were the most ardent proponents of Sharia. The political leadership might have found these absolutists useful in their struggle against the government of then President Obasanjo. However, I submit that it encouraged those who want to be absolutists and purist to push even further.  They were disappointed by the implementation of Sharia, which seems to apply only to the poorer elements of the society "the talakawas" and saw that their political leaders were not going far enough or being hypocritical in the implementation of Sharia Laws.  The absolutist then took control of the vacuum created by the political leadership to gather followers to confront the constituted authorities, which in their eyes have lost legitimacy.

The recent stand of Arewa Consultative Forum is refreshing.  The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) through its publicity secretary Mr. Anthony Sani, declared that the northern region has no sympathy for members of Boko Haram. However, it would have been better if this position was unequivocally reflected in the earlier utterances of most of the regional leaders from the north. Rather apologetic statements were made that the insurgency is due to marginalization of the northern zone and all such statements which tended to give comfort to Boko Haram members or maybe caused them amusement that these leaders were really not listening to the demands and the goals of Boko Haram. They should have taken a strong stance at the incipient stage of the rebellion. There were even calls for monetary incentives for members of Boko Haram to lay down their arms, because the reason for their insurgency is poverty.  The Boko Haram itself did not say they are poor, definitely they have enough money to acquire modern military weapons for their insurgency campaigns.

 The hesitancy of northern leaders gave the impression that they were looking at the political calculus of the situation and maybe hoping to use it in their struggle to get back  the presidency for the north.   The current strident call for call for amnesty, by most political leaders in the north is an attempt to salvage the situation that has deteriorated and gone out of their control. The call for amnesty seems desperate at times and seems to forgo all requirements for the implementation of any meaningful amnesty that will result in a permanent solution to the Boko Haram menace.

Religion and politics is a combustible mix. The instructive lesson in the development of the Boko Haram insurgency is that the combustible mix of religion and politics can unleash forces, which the actors will find beyond their control.  Many governors of the Northern States and some of the Northern leaders were playing the politics of Sharia, whipping up emotions on an issue that can fracture the delicate political structure of Nigeria when their focus should have been on economic development. Many people wonder why Sharia became such a dominant issue as soon as a Northerner was no longer the Head of State.  This is an issue for soul searching by those who were the involved in this dangerous game. There is a question begging for an answer. What has the ordinary Nigerian Muslim living in those states that were bent on implementing "political" Sharia gained, compared to other Nigerians? Religious piety and fervor or the observance of religious doctrines should not be the concern of any government. Government's only responsibility in this sphere is not to put obstacles in the practice or exercise of religion as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others.  Sharia Laws were implemented under the Penal Code from the time of the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello.  His progenitors cannot claim to be more Muslim than he was.  

Boko Haram is becoming a sophisticated operation. Observing the impunity with which the Boko Haram can strike in parts of the northern zone suggests that they must have some powerful supporters in and out of Nigeria. Earlier President Jonathan seems to suggest that some of these supporters are in his government. Boko Haram will no longer need these supporters  that the President is worried about. It can exploit the debilitating corruption in the Nigerian Security Forces and in fact in the whole of Nigerian society, build sanctuaries outside of Nigeria and linked up with elements of al Qaeda in the Maghreb. At this point the Boko Haram menace should not be seen in isolation from what is going on in the West African region.  The goal of the faithful core of the Boko Haram seems to suggest that they are bent on building the type of fighting capacity that will make any offer of amnesty by the Nigerian government laughable    

The Nigerian government has an urgent need to identify effective policies to combat the threat of insurgency.  Otherwise Boko Haram may win the minds of the a large section of the common people in the Northern part of the country. The Washington Post in an editorial May 7th, 2013 decried the tactics of the Nigerian Military in fighting Boko Haram.  The Washington Post editorial lacks the wider  perspective that should be considered in this conflict and glosses over the existential threat the Boko Haram atrocities represents an existential threat to Nigeria. Of course it is very important that civilians casualties should be avoided at all cost, because it is counterproductive.

The following suggestions, are contributions to the discussion, hoping that the observers of the situation and the government will see these as components to consider in fashioning a strategy to defeat Boko Haram and end the insurgency:

(1)  Northern political leaders should put aside sentiments and see Boko Haram for what it is, an insurgency that is an existential threat first to the states in the north and then to the existence of Nigeria as a unit. Sharia cannot become the Law of the Land, if Nigeria is to remain a unified country.

(2) All the processes connected with the conduct of the coming Nigerian Elections, not just on election day itself, must be managed in a fair and transparent manner. The strategy of Boko Haram is to drive a wedge into the political and ethnic fissures that currently exists in the Nigerian society. This strategy is having some limited success at present.  However, as the competition for electoral power heats up as we go towards 2015, I believe Boko Haram will see its opportunity and exploit it.

(3) The Federal Government must deploy a more sophisticated policing and insurgency strategy. The Federal Government needs to develop better intelligence capability and devise means of indentifying who are the leaders of Boo Haram and its  organizational structure, no matter how amorphous and then a suitable strategy can be deployed.

(4) The government must win the hearts and minds of the population, whether Christian or Muslim.  Maitasinne, Boko Haram, MEND or any other insurgency no matter its goal is a symptom of a larger problem.  Counter-Insurgency strategy must not alienate the population that the Boko Haram is trying to use and it must guard against what happened recently  in Baga, Borno State or at Odi Bayelsa State and Zaki Biam in Katsina-Ala local government, Benue State, during the administration of President Obasanjo.

(5) The victims of Boko Haram atrocities (initially Christians and churches, but later even some Muslims) must not be forgotten in the rush to grant amnesty.  Boko Haram members who want to avail themselves of amnesty must be made to acknowledge the harm they have done and the victims must be compensated in some way. No compensation must be given to those who are members of Boko Haram, they voluntarily took up arms against their fellow citizens.  It violates the principle of natural justice to compensate the perpetrators. 

(6) Is the condition right for Amnesty to be a strategy that will put this insurgency to rest once and for all? The government cannot afford to be making amnesty offers to an entity that has declared itself as enemy of the Nigerian corporate body and does not show any intention of engaging in dialog. The government will be negotiating against itself.  How far can it go to entice Boko Haram to the table?  If the government cannot show that it has an effective strategy against Boko Haram, Why should it surrender to the government or the Nigerian Constitution for which it has no regard? 

 (7)  While compensating victims money is not the solution to curing a cancerous condition. It requires delicate surgery guided by the right intelligence of the situation so as not to cause more harm. The government and the political leaders must come to an understanding that the fissures in the Nigerian society; endemic corruption, the weak and rickety federal political structure that builds dependency on the oil mono-culture controlled by the Federal Government stifles innovation must be revamped.  These fissures cannot be eliminated overnight, but there must be sincere steps taken urgently towards beginning some repair.  This is not the time for political gamesmanship or pursuit of political enemies in the name curbing corruption. Nobody, even the people regarded by these leaders as "simpleton" is fooled.

The notion of the duty of the Federal Government to defend the country should be more expansive. This defense must be seen in its totality, not just policing or military actions, but extends to developing institutional structures that will sustain a strong, united country. There must be a reversal of the current tendency of the political elite is to let dangerous situations linger while nurturing selfish ambitions. Boko Haram is just a symptomatic warning. It is foolish and short-sighted to believe that Nigeria as a corporate entity can survive by not addressing the root causes of our problems, but by just muddling through from one crisis to another. In such instability no one can  be assured of safety, peace and security as can be seen by the current spate of kidnapping and ransom payments, some of which is definitely not related to Boko Haram.


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