Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Presidency has justified a planned amnesty for members of Boko Haram who are ready to drop their arms and embrace peace.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu told State House Correspondents, at the weekend, that, in the final analysis, the amnesty option will work for Nigeria.
“It is a win-win situation,” Shehu said.
On March 23, President Muhammadu Buhari, in Aso Rock, when he received the 105 schoolgirls who were abducted from their school in Dapchi, Yobe State, and released, promised to grant amnesty to Boko Haram members who are ready to embrace peace.
“While further efforts are being made to secure the release of every abducted citizen in Nigeria, the government is ever ready to accept the unconditional laying down of arms by any member of the Boko Haram group who shows strong commitment in that regard.
“We are ready to rehabilitate and integrate such repentant members into the larger society.
“This country has suffered enough of hostility. Government is, therefore, appealing to all to embrace peace for the overall development of our people and the country,” the president said then.
Asked to react to the assertion that Buhari is shielding herdsmen from prosecution and even begging them to accept amnesty, Shehu replied: “This is an administration that has done so so extremely well and to a president, who has sworn to an oath to defend the Constitution and protect every life and property, it is unfair and uncharitable to say that he will shield anybody.
“And, in any case, the president controls only one layer of authority, what are the (state) governors doing? Is the social media also saying that the governors are protecting the herdsmen from the law, are they saying the local governments are also protecting them?
“You see, it has to take everyone at various levels of authority to shield somebody from the law in those circumstances and, the president himself, his passion is for the country, this is a president whose passion is not even for the office, even when everyone is asking him to go for a second term he is keeping quiet because his focus remains the nation and the problem of the country.
“Whoever is peddling these rumours that Boko Haram is being granted amnesty and so on, I would ask them who doesn’t want to make peace with the enemy?
“In any case, as it is proverbially said, all wars end up in the boardroom.
“You can defeat people technically in the field but, at the end, you must come to the conference room to resolve all issues.
“So, if Boko Haram would lay down their arms and stop fighting and stop preaching that negative ideology, the country should be able to embrace them, welcome all of them so that they continue to live normal lives and be useful to the nation.
“What that means is that we will be saving cost, saving lives that are being lost through bombing, killing of service personnel and we will be saving money that we are using to procure weapons so that such money can go into services and infrastructure and welfare of the citizens of this country. It is a win -win situation.”
Asked if he would advise president Buhari to run for the office in 2019, Shehu said: “Yes, I will, because he richly deserves a second term in office.”
On Buhari’s former military allies and former presidents asking him not to run, the presidential media aide replied: “My response to them is that if they like they can come and contest against president Buhari. He will defeat them, all of them.”
Shehu also reacted to reports that Buhari should not be talking about second term when people are hungry.
“With all the noise the PDP is making, even during their tenure, as president, did they give breakfast lunch and dinner to every citizen? Is there any country where someone does not go hungry? I am not saying it is perfectly in order but they are just politicising these issues.
“This is a government that has removed this country from the shame of food importation, every state of the country, now, is into rice production and we are feeding not only Nigeria but West Africa.
“And, government is working on having respectable prices for food items, food inflation is coming down grossly. Everyone complaining of hunger should go and work. And, you know that this is the only government that has introduced social investment schemes. We pay out now for the poorest of the poor, the least they will get is N5,000.
“And, a lot of these jobs that are being created are from loans; with little or no interest from the Central Bank of Nigeria, Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture, Development Bank and the rest.
“So, there is a lot going for people who really want to go out there to work ;especially in agriculture.”
Shehu also reacted to calls for Buhari to reshuffle his cabinet.
“The president is the one who wears the shoes; he know where it pinches.
“If the president hasn’t sacked his ministers, it means that he wants to continue to work with them.
“Maybe those agitating for the sack of the ministers are also looking for a chance to come in; to replace those who are there, in that case, then, they are driven by selfish motive. As president and commander-in-chief, he reserves the right to hire and fire. For the fact that he hasn’t done that does not mean that he does not have the power to do that.
“I am sure if he wants do it, he will do it at his own pace and time but people who want to become ministers, how many minister can we even appoint in this country? I think people should just be busy, let them go and start farming, instead of sitting down to speculate whether they can be made ministers or not.”
On Nigerians saying the president has failed in the area of security, after incessant farmers, herders clashes, Shehu noted that “the problem between farmers and herdsmen predates the independence of Nigeria.
“If you read history, you will see that farmers and herdsmen had fought for space in this country; even when British colonial rulers were here. So, this is not something new; I am not saying it is welcome but, I think it is over amplified now. There is media spotlight on it because the opposition cannot engage Buhari’s administration on any other issue other than this lacuna that they have found.
“They cannot discuss the war against corruption because that’s a very uncomfortable area for them, they don’t want to discuss issues of infrastructure with Buhari, they don’t want to discuss economic diversification which this administration has achieved a lot of success.
“Today, we have 12 million rice farmers in this country, six million new jobs are being created in other sectors by agriculture alone. Food import has gone down by 95 percent, we are feeding ourselves…”