12th March, 2013
DENIAL OF AMNESTY FOR BOKO HARAM:
A GROSS MISCALCULATION
President Goodluck Jonathan rejected amnesty for the notorious Boko Haram group over the weekend claiming facelessness of the group for his decision. The rejection came during the president's official visit to Borno, the centerpiece of the Boko Haram insurgency.
The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) is deeply disturbed by this development. It is our belief that the president lost a great opportunity to steer the country back on the path of peace. This rejection is now part of history. Politicians act on the spur of the moment, statesmen base their actions on vision and the overall interest of the country at large. As long as today is born from the wombs of yesterday, posterity will judge whether Jonathan is a mere politician or a statesman.
There are concerns in some quarters that the president of Nigeria is acting the script of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). The statement credited to CAN after Jonathan rejected the request for amnesty lends credence to this fear. CAN reportedly commended the president for his action. MURIC regards CAN's statement at this point in time as unfortunate, tactless and unguarded.
President Jonathan hinged his refusal on the facelessness of Boko Haram. This is a lame excuse. It smirks of lack of sensitivity to the colossal loss of lives and property in the region. If Boko Haram is faceless, are the dead bodies of their innocent victims equally faceless? Are the widowed and orphaned victims real or imaginary?
The president should be more concerned with the killing of innocent people, Christian clerics and Imams. A concerned leader will seize the opportunity to avoid further carnage. The president's action suggests that he believes that force will end this saga. This is a gross miscalculation. Albert Einstein once said, "Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding."
MURIC is not unaware of the allegation of insincerity on the part of the Federal Government made by some Northern leaders sometime ago. It was alleged that Boko Haram leaders were arrested by security agents each time they were coaxed into showing up for dialogue. This may lead us to ask if there is a conspiracy theory in the whole brouhaha. Is the government ready to keep its own words? It bothers on integrity.
The events which led to the declaration of amnesty in the Niger Delta are still fresh in our memory. Militant leaders were initially hounded from pillar to post just as we are now doing to Boko Haram. They did not come out to say, "Here we are" until the Federal Government guaranteed their safety if they came forward. They did and they were thereafter invited to Aso Rock and granted amnesty. The records are still there for all to see. President Jonathan has fallen short of doing this.
For the avoidance of doubts, we say for the umpteenth time that attack on places of worship is unIslamic, totally criminal and inhuman. But the same people are the ones attacking mosques and killing ordinary Muslims and Imams. We must therefore look beyond religion. We do not support Boko Haram or its unorthodox methods. Yet we must strive towards finding a peaceful solution to the problem at hand. We have seen the destruction in war-torn areas like Congo, Zaire, Iraq and Syria. Nigerian children do not deserve to become refugees on account of the neglect and recklessness of the adults. We want peace in Nigeria and we want to co-exist peacefully with our Christian neighbours.
MURIC believes that hope is not yet lost. We call on President Jonathan to first guarantee the safety of members of Boko Haram who are in hiding. They need assurances that they will not be arrested if they come out. The assurance must be given wide publicity. Peace-making is cheaper than war and Nigeria needs to seize every straw that may lead to peace now more than ever before. Only thus shall we hail Jonathan as a true leader.
We remind Nigerians of the wise words of Shaykh Uthman Dan Fodio, "In an unjust society silence is a crime..." We therefore call on all men of goodwill, true patriots and lovers of peace to persuade the Federal Government to tow the path of dialogue. Jaw-jaw is always better than war-war. Two years into the Syrian civil war, the children are dying, schools are closed, businesses are paralysed. We have no other land than Nigeria and if we turn Nigeria into a war theater, our children will ask us in future: "How did you drag us into this mess?"
Professor Is-haq Akintola,
Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC),