Boko Haram and the Case For Amnesty
The following was originally published in Foreign Policy Journal, penned by former Governor of Abia State Orji Uzor Kalu on the notion of amnesty for Boko Haram:
French poet Victor Hugo once stated that “amnesty is as good for those who give it as for those who receive it. It has the admirable quality of bestowing mercy on both sides”. However, as much as we have witnessed steps taken by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan toward embracing this ideology and attempting to understand our would-be adversaries, Boko Haram, we must truly incentivize and steward talks as best we can—and perhaps on their terms—in order to bring about lasting peace and reconciliation.
Nigerians are facing many challenges, perpetual stumbling blocks hindering a smooth transition to prosperity and geopolitical competition. Yet there is none so blaringly obvious as the complacency our national leadership has emanated while our citizens routinely put their lives in jeopardy simply walking to school, attending church, or going to work. The threat of ‘domestic terrorism’ looms large and weighs heavy on our consciousness; in fact, Nobel-prize winner Wole Soyinka remarked no more than a week ago that Nigeria is on the verge of a ‘potential civil war’.
At present, we have nowhere collectively to hide or turn to but government, looking to accountable leadership to provide a lasting solution. But there are questions lingering in the air, on strategic execution rather than simple theorization.
One must of course commend the Federal institutions for standing steadfast in a commitment to restore peace and attempting to quell international criticism while nations encourage their citizens and with them their businesses to ‘escape’ from Nigeria. We must continue to applaud the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) for suggesting that offering a reprieve to members of Boko Haram remains an important option, put forward solely in order to right the insurgency in the North, a plague systematically destroying the region’s socio-economic fabric.
However, as I have remarked over the course of the last weeks and indeed months across the globe, we must be willing to dialogue directly one-to-one and moreover seek alternative solutions under an umbrella of amnesty should the broad theoretical suggestion not take flight in practice (as the notion has thus far been unilaterally rejected by Boko Haram spokesmen).
We must make a concerted effort in order to return our national reputation to its lost glory, as a bright light emanating throughout West Africa, beaconing international integration.
As I and separately MURIC representatives have mentioned in-past, one viable alternative suggests that a dedicated civilian-based initiative be implemented. This would supplement or perhaps even replace military exercises in contemporary Boko Haram engagement. Much like the hiring of outside counsel in a civil matter, negotiations would and should be held from spokesman to spokesman, in a manner that befits all parties involved. This is an advocacy role I have aimed to secure for the last year.
Indeed our officers are no safer than our families in dealing with those we do not fully understand, as we learn of twelve souls now missing after an attack by the armed Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), perhaps in-part due to such a call for amnesty being promoted while concurrently exercising combative operations.
Nigeria must also refresh her own appreciation of the ramifications of un-checked intimidation. Continued violence not only plagues the lives of citizens in-country but promotes instability and a lack of infrastructural confidence to communities in the Diaspora and colleagues on the global stage. Infighting, as this truly is, perpetually erodes Nigeria’s aspirations of joining the echelon of the BRICS and pigeonholes us in a vicious cycle of violence begetting poverty and poverty begetting violence once more.
We must work closely with our global colleagues as this is not simply ‘our problem’ anymore. Nigeria has long served as a symbol of African economic power and potential; with the help of our trusted investors and trade partners, we continue to have in front of us an opportunity to sustainably develop our nation above and beyond the wildest dreams of our children.
Ultimately, we must settle our differences in the interest of unified, national healing and mutual prosperity, whether coming to such a binding resolution is the drive of a government committee, executive leadership, or achieved from a single actor speaking on behalf of his people. And though the threat to our fiscal trajectory remains a sincere concern, the human toll has penetrated our bureaucracy and elevated the urgency in ending our veritable self-implosion.
Though it is in our hands to create tangible change, we as a nation must be willing to break the barriers of old and seek innovative answers to solving the challenges of our new Nigerian century.