Between amnesty and state of emergency

Casmir Igbokwe

Delusion should have been Nigeria’s other name. The colonial masters deluded us to believe that we are one country with one destiny. We have continued to live in that delusion. And to worsen it all, we have almost made delusion the cardinal principle of our state policy.

Nothing typifies this more than the proposed amnesty for Boko Haram members. A number of Nigerians have expressed their support for the amnesty. To them, dialogue is better than the use of force. They argued that force had never achieved peace in any society. They gave example with the amnesty granted Niger Delta militants to justify their support for dialogue with the Boko Haram members.

Under normal circumstances, they are correct. But things are not normal in Nigeria. And any abnormal situation demands abnormal response. I had argued here that members of the Boko Haram Islamist sect do not want our amnesty. Their clear objectives are to Islamise Nigeria and entrench Sharia as the Constitution or penal code of the country. They also do not want anything called western education in Nigeria.

Apparently to defer to those who want amnesty, especially prominent people like the Sultan of Sokoto, the Federal Government decided that amnesty is the right way to go. Hence, it constituted the amnesty committee the other day to hold dialogue with Boko Haram members.

But so far, it has been dialogue of the deaf. Which means that amnesty or no amnesty, Nigeria deserves more than mere platitudes to bring it out of the woods. First, the killings and other terror acts have not abated. In less than one week, hundreds of people have perished in the crossfire between soldiers and terrorists in Borno and Yobe States. The terrorists have even graduated to abducting women and children for reasons best known to them.

Besides Boko Haram, other terrorist groups have emerged to kill and maim and, perhaps, ask for their own amnesty. In Nasarawa State, a cult group called Ombatse, ambushed and killed scores of policemen who were sent to dislodge them. Some of the policemen are still missing up until now. Last Sunday, gunmen reportedly killed no fewer than 47 mourners who gathered to carry out burial rites for two of the murdered police officers in Agatu Local Government Area of Benue State. They also burnt houses.

Down South, kidnappers are on the prowl. Their latest victims are the wife of a Supreme Court Justice, Mrs Bode Rhodes-Vivour, his daughter and driver. These unfortunate people were travelling to Edo State from Lagos for the wedding ceremony of the Justice’s daughter when the incident happened near Okada in Edo State. So far, they are still in custody.

Anarchy is gradually taking over our land. Asari Dokubo is threatening fire and brimstone if Jonathan is not returned to power in 2015. Different cult and terrorist groups have emerged as alternative government. Not even in Somalia, the number one failed state in the world, do we have this kind of criminality. There is danger everywhere and all our rulers say is, “We are on top of the situation.”

But as the Catholic Bishop of Ekiti , Felix Ajakaye, reportedly said, President Goodluck Jonathan must learn to be “on top of the action” instead of always being “on top of the situation”.  

This is why the state of emergency the President declared yesterday in three states is welcome. Already, there are conflicting signals indicating that the so-called amnesty is doomed to fail. The committee said it had visited the suspected bomber of the St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla, Niger State, Kabiru Sokoto. Mr. Sokoto said the committee was lying; that nobody visited him.

As if to pooh-pooh this amnesty thing, a group of illegal refinery operators have urged the Federal Government to legalise their operations and grant them amnesty. After a major stakeholders meeting in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State, the group urged President Jonathan to halt ongoing military clampdown, which, to them, would precipitate bigger crisis than the government could handle.

What this means is that terrorists, oil pipeline vandals, kidnappers and sundry criminals now dictate how the country should be governed. I have never seen a country that rewards criminality except Nigeria. The United States of America did not have to reward or grant amnesty to Osama Bin Ladin and his group for bombing the World Trade Centre in September 2001. Neither has the country done so for the two brothers who masterminded the recent explosion in Boston. In such countries, the rule of law prevails and there is no question of giving preferential treatment to a certain group of criminals. Whoever commits any crime must be made to pay for it.

The principal function of a government is to ensure the security of lives and properties. Once a government fails in this responsibility, it has no moral right to continue to be in power.

The onus is on President Jonathan to take the bull by the horns and tackle the insecurity challenges facing this country. The President must show that he has the situation under control. He has taken the first step by declaring a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States. But this alone may not provide the necessary relief if the security agents fail to do their duties with utmost sense of patriotism and professionalism. He needs to go the extra mile to ensure that our security men adhere strictly to the modern method of counterinsurgency. 

          First published in Hallmark on Wednesday, May 15, 2013.

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