YNaija Editorial: No country for amnesty

by Editorial Board

Goodluck-Jonathan looking tired




Surely, the rise of militancy in Nigeria demands action that is more carefully conceived and better executed… The best time to punish a criminal was yesterday. The next best time is today.

After being outflanked by the governors of the newly formed All Progressives Congress last week, President Jonathan made his way to Damaturu and Maiduguri to finally feel the pulse of those living with Boko Haram. Before his first visit there since becoming President, the Sultan of Sokoto had a message for him, urging an offer of amnesty to the militants.

“I want to use this opportunity to to advise the President, as we heard he is planning to visit Borno state on Thursday, to see how he can declare total amnesty to all combatants without thinking twice. This will make any other person who picks up arms to be termed as a criminal.”

To be sure, there is a precedent to this line of thought, which draws directly from the manner in which the Niger Delta amnesty came to being. With Nigeria’s crude oil production being severely affected, an amnesty programme was put in place to rehabilitate former militants, which started in 2010 and is due to end in 2015. Hence, the logic goes that what is good for the goose, is good for the gander. In a country run on principles like ‘federal character’, ‘zoning’, and ‘power rotation’, the ‘it’s our turn’ idea is a powerful one, but is ultimately flawed, especially in this case.

In the last two years, Boko Haram has actively targeted innocent civilians, Muslim and Christian alike, as well as law enforcement installations, causing sorrow, spreading fear and effectively grinding the economy of Northern Nigeria to a halt. The Nigeria Security Tracker, which monitors violence in Northern Nigeria, estimates that Boko Haram are responsible for over 1,500 deaths since May 29, 2011. Contrast with the Niger Delta militancy, which, even though some civilians were killed, it was not as a result of deliberate targeting. Offering Boko Haram amnesty will mean that they do not answer for their crimes. It would represent an insult to their victims that is beyond calculation.

Even though the Niger Delta Amnesty has proved successful in keeping the oil flowing, a bigger problem, that of oil bunkering, has arisen, with no end in sight. Various estimates are given with regard to revenue lost to these activities, but the simple fact that a sovereign state cannot secure its resources is a damning indictment.

Indeed, that is the real reason any talk of amnesty is even being entertained at all. The Nigerian state has lost its ‘monopoly of violence’, a monopoly which is absolutely essential to ensure the security of lives and property within a geographical space. The Federal government of Nigeria has not been able to ensure this for some time. That was why the first amnesty was contracted.

By tacitly admitting that it could not defeat the militants, a signal was sent that any group that causes enough havoc for a long enough period, could get a handshake from the President, instead of jail. It is the same with almost everything else these days, as the impunity with which people commit crimes and go scot free, is at an all-time high. It is out of this environment of impunity that the calls for amnesty come from: the silent question is:’So-and-so group did this, and were not punished, so why should we be?’

Another driver of this amnesty talk is a desire for the quick fix, merely throwing money at a problem instead of solving its root causes. In the case of the Niger Delta, there is no evidence that the underlying reasons for the insurgency in the first place are any nearer being resolved, outside putting a few thousand ex-militants through training programmes. In the North, the solution appears to be an entirely military one, and the Joint Task Force has recently come under scrutiny for extra-judicial killings, which further alienate the community.

Surely, the rise of militancy in Nigeria demands action that is more carefully conceived and better executed. However, the solution is certainly not to grant yet another violent group a free pass. The best time to punish a criminal was yesterday. The next best time is today.


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