The call by religious leaders under the umbrella of Northern Inter-Faith and Religious Organisations of Nigeria (NIFRON) for repentant Boko Haram members to be granted the type of amnesty scheme designed for former Niger Delta militants, is not totally surprising.
This is not the first time we are having this type of suggestion. Some other leaders of public opinion, especially at the hotbed of the insurgency in the North-East, have mooted the idea at different occasions in the past. The amnesty programme introduced by the late Umaru Yar’Adua administration has become a precedent which is being cited to justify amnesty for repentant terrorists.
But, are the conditions precedent the same? Indeed, is this case not premature? In the Niger Delta militancy case, the agitators were not faceless and their cause was well articulated. They had a discernible modus operandi too. Once the leadership of the country was able to reach out to them through arduous negotiations, the majority of the militants were ready to lay down their arms and embrace reconciliation, which greatly facilitated the amnesty programme.
The experience with the Boko Haram insurgency has not quite been the same. The terrorists have, so far, presented themselves as an amorphous and faceless group, which does not subscribe to anything other than furthering its own version of Islam and turning the North and perhaps the rest of the country to a theocracy. So, how can anyone negotiate with this group or propose amnesty for its members? With the difficulty government is experiencing identifying a credible leadership, or even mediators, how is a negotiation even going to hold?
What we think is possible is for government to rehabilitate and fully re-integrate into the civilised society, those elements of the Boko Haram insurgency who may have been lured into it by ignorance and extreme deprivation. Reports, over time, of some captured or surrendered Boko Haram insurgents, mostly youths, suggest that some of them are amenable to such rehabilitation programmes.
We, therefore, call on all levels of government and all stakeholders to concentrate efforts on this rehabilitation plan as a disincentive for the insurgency.
Radicalised, but vulnerable youths and girls who have been won back from the vice-grip of Boko Haram must be de-briefed and put through qualitative education with the ultimate aim of liberating their minds and making it possible for them to get good employment. It is not sheer coincidence that the North-East, which has the worst statistics in terms of education, health, employment and general infrastructural development, is a fertile recruitment ground for the Boko Haram insurgency. The nexus between poverty, ignorance and the insurgency in the North-East is quite clear.
What the region needs, and which we hope NIFRON can understand, is our own kind of Marshall Plan for the geo-political zone, and perhaps the entire North. For too long, we have ignored the danger signals starring us in the face, and now we are reaping the whirlwind.
This is the stark reality that stares us in the face. The country needs to pay special attention to the North-East. This has been missing so far. The Boko Haram insurgency should provide the opportunity for this much-needed action.
We hope that the government understands the magnitude of the work that needs to be done in this area. For a start, the resources required are beyond the purview of the federal and affected state governments. All of our multi-lateral partners and international donor agencies need to be actively involved.
We note the fact that President Buhari has identified the huge potentials of a revived Lake Chad Basin to the economy and environment of the region. This, and many more specially-designed and targeted interventions will do a lot to revamp and reclaim the much neglected North-East zone – not an amnesty programme that the Boko Haram members neither want nor appreciate.