20180418

Boko Haram: No Amnesty For Mass Murderers

Having, in his own opinion, “technically” defeated the Boko Haram insurgents, President Muhammadu Buhari and some interest groups are anxious to grant amnesty to “repentant” insurgents. De-radicalisation, amnesty and reconciliation are, indeed, useful tools applied by governments to solve national crises, but they are to be wisely applied and only where and when appropriate. 

In their inordinate love for amnesty, Nigeria’s leaders should not reward or allow mass murderers to walk free.

Buhari has made his offer of amnesty at home and abroad, emphasising the government’s willingness to forgive Boko Haram members who surrender unconditionally. For these ones, he said, “we are ready to rehabilitate and integrate such repentant members into the larger society.” If the goal is to persuade lower ranking commanders to break ranks and lure foot soldiers away from the jihadists, the strategy is sound.

Reports and confessions by some captured members have revealed some cases of young men, women and underage girls who had been coerced or brainwashed into joining the terror machine against their will. For some, it was “join us or die.” For those who are not indicted in any specific instance of mass murder, abduction or arson, de-radicalisation and re-integration are desirable outcomes.

But we draw a red line where blood-stained mass killers are concerned. There should be no blanket amnesty. The responsibility of the state is to apprehend and prosecute criminals as demanded by natural justice and the law.

Elsewhere, amnesty has been granted after major conflicts − to end civil wars; resolve a domestic social problem such as reprieve by the United States government to undocumented immigrants; succour for ex-guerrillas in Colombia and the ongoing, though still controversial, amnesty programme for Niger Delta militants. Amnesty has been deployed by governments when they believe that having peace and bringing deviants into compliance with the law are more beneficial than punishment, to end a conflict or facilitate reconciliation after a conflict.

Since a truce in 2009 with Niger Delta militants-cum-criminal gangs, Nigeria’s federal and state governments have become enamoured of amnesty, translated here largely to mean cash payments and undeserved privileges for perpetrators of murder, vandalism, kidnapping and mayhem. Some estimates say cash payments, scholarships and skills acquisition programmes for ex-militants have drained over N500 billion since its inception. Some N35 billion is earmarked to cater for 30,000 so-called ex-militants. That thousands more are clamouring to be included and occasionally resorting to vandalism validates findings in a study by the Brookings Institution that blanket amnesty fosters further impunity by deviants who then expect rewards for their waywardness.

We reject the long-running attempt to equate the Niger-Delta militancy with Boko Haram’s campaign of terror. Boko Haram represents Islamist terrorism, nothing more: it is an ideology with messianic aspirations; its die-hard adherents are committed to global conquest through jihad that executes terror, war and anarchy. Excessive cruelty and brutality are their favoured tools and for them, all governments are illegitimate and should be violently overthrown. According to online site, TROP, Islamist terrorists have carried out 32,880 outrages since 9/11; in the seven days to April 6, this year, 31 attacks were carried out in 10 countries in which 151 persons were killed and 172 wounded.

The atrocities of Boko Haram have seen it alternate at first and second places with ISIS as the world’s most deadly terror group on the Global Terrorism Index. It has accounted for over 100,000 deaths, according to a Borno State Government tally, displaced 2.3 million people, enslaved women and girls, razed entire towns and numerous villages to the ground and notoriously kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in Chibok in 2014 and another 103 in Dapchi in February.

Buhari must keep these in mind: as the Commander-in-Chief, he should remember how the terrorists posted a video that showed them slitting the throat of a Nigerian Air Force pilot whose aircraft had crashed; other videos of captured Nigerian Army, police, customs and immigration personnel, slaughtered and their corpses abused. Our gallant military have lost so many men and fine officers. The President should not crush their morale with blanket amnesty that will reward mass murderers and persons committing most heinous crimes against humanity. In Europe where de-radicalisation programmes are under way, a distinction is made between those lured into minor roles in the jihadist enterprise and those who actively participated in murder and provided decisive material support for terrorism. The former are tracked and rehabilitated, the latter are arrested and prosecuted.

Until recently, Nigeria sparingly prosecuted terrorists, appearing to favour indefinite detention of suspects. But Chad swiftly enacted new laws as the terror spilled into its territory and without delay executed 10 Boko Haram terrorists in August 2015 by firing squad, a trend it has sustained. Those who carried out attacks in France, England and the US, when caught are arraigned in court, including Nigeria’s Farouk Abdumutallab, who was sentenced to life for attempting to blow up a plane over Detroit city.

Known terrorist masterminds must be brought to justice. The State should deal speedily and coldly with those who engage in, or support, terrorism. It is erroneous to assume that there is a rational realistic cause for acts of terrorism and that, if the political or economic grievance is addressed properly, the trend will fade. The cultural and religious sources of radical Islamic ideology must be addressed, its sources of funding and weapons blocked. We should adopt this wise option: middling supporters should be registered, sent home and monitored by the police and intelligence services, while die-hard militants should be prosecuted. Defeating Boko Haram requires coming to terms with its driving ideology, countering it and deploying effective intelligence, policing and military resources.

- A Punch Editorial