By Emma Onyilofor
Some Nigerians applauded President Goodluck Jonathan’s tough talk against terrorism when he visited Maiduguri recently. He dismissed the amnesty request made by elders of Borno state when he categorically stated that he will not grant amnesty to Boko Haram on the grounds that it is a faceless terrorist group. Prior to the Borno elder’s request,
The Sultan of Sokoto Alhaji Saa’d Abubakar made a similar request, in line with the views that had variously been expressed by sections of the northern elite, including the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF). Hawkish commentators believe that Boko Haram does not deserve amnesty and should not be granted amnesty. Such commentators allege that the scourge of Boko Haram has persisted because of the perception of G Jonathan as a weak president.
They typically allege that if Boko Haram had sprouted during the tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, they would long have been history. They swear that he would have meted out the Odi treatment to the hotbeds of Boko Haram insurgency in Northern Nigeria and peace would have since returned to the region. My question to such hawks is, did peace return to the Niger Delta as a result of the Odi massacre?
Not at all, rather the insurgency became bolder and more daring. Infact, the Odi massacre became a major turning point to the low intensity agitation existing in the region at that time. The aggrieved militant groups of the Niger Delta terrorized the region putting our national oil infrastructure at grave risk. The Federal Government’s Joint Military Task Force moved in to restore sanity to the region.
They succeeded in bloodying the nose of the militants but failed woefully in imposing peace in the region until the late President Musa Yar’Adua offered amnesty to the militants. Boko Haram is a different kettle of fish. The worst enemy you can have is one who is willing to kill himself in order to hurt you. It requires a bizarre mentality to load bombs on yourself or in a car and head for your target knowing fully well that you are on a journey of no return. As vicious as the Niger Delta militants were, they all wanted to live.
None of them deliberately sought to kill himself. It is catastrophic for any nation to have thousands of suicide driven insurgents within its borders. It is double jeopardy if the insurgents have learned to operate through widely scattered cells, making it hard to contain them. Consequently, I am tempted to ask, is this a war that can be won through military might? My answer is a capital NO. The pattern across the world is that military successes in the fight against terrorism are routinely matched with reversals.
That is why our Joint Task Force routinely announces the capture or killing of leading Boko Haram commanders and the capture of large cache of arms and few days later the group engages in lethal strikes somewhere else. A case in point was the killing of 52 Boko Haram members after Mr President left Maiduguri, and two days later the insurgents shot two PDP leaders in the state. A week later they successfully sacked a prison in Gwoza, Borno State. If military power is a deterrent, America and its allies with their vast military superiority would have since won the global fight against terrorism, especially in countries like Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan etc.
If military power can do it, Israel would have achieved peace with the Palestinians. In the past two years Israel invested more than ten billion dollars in Israeli Defense Force (IDF) operations in Palestine. But the IDF killed or captured only about 1500 Palestinians, most not proven terrorists. Worse still, IDF could not stop suicide bombers from hitting targets within Israel. America and its allies have consistently maintained that they cannot negotiate with terrorists. Surprisingly that policy is changing.
Today, they are beginning to talk of winning the hearts and minds of communities where Islamist terrorists have their havens. Beyond that, they are beginning to consider the possibility of negotiating with terrorists because the war cannot be contained. The human costs are simply appalling. In Palestine, like in Northern Nigeria, the lives of thousands of innocent people have been disturbed, permanently changed or destroyed by only a handful of terrorists. Killing people without trial or proof of guilt invites anarchy. This brings me to the story of a 5-year old boy in Maiduguri who witnessed the brutalization and death of his father in the hands of soldiers.
Few weeks later, the boy was sent by his mother to buy detergent with N5. He got to the shop and said to the shopkeeper that he will like to buy a bomb. Soldiers were alerted and they subsequently questioned the boy. He told them that his mother sent him to buy detergent but he will rather buy a bomb. Why do you need a bomb? He said he needs it to kill the soldiers who killed his father. In effect, as you get rid of one generation of terrorists, their bitter children are taking their place. This is precisely why Israel has not achieved peace with its neighbours and it is precisely why America and its allies are beginning to consider winning the hearts and minds of communities bearing the scourge of terrorism.
I think it is pragmatic for Mr President to reconsider his position on granting amnesty to Boko Haram for the simple reason that Islamist terrorism is a war that we cannot win through military power. Besides, the most respected voices in the North have requested for amnesty and turning it down can only strengthen the resolve of Boko Haram to continue fighting and encourage many Northerners who have been sitting on the fence to join the struggle. It is in our collective interest to work towards a closure of this scourge because the next phase of the insurgency may not be limited to the North. May the Almighty grant us the wisdom to solve our problems.