Goodluck Jonathans Amnesty Gamble

May 1, 2013 by Open Doors in General


If Boko Haram members are granted unqualified pardons, will justice be done? Will Christians be safe?

A month ago, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said he would not negotiate with the militant Islamic sect Boko Haram because they were “ghosts,” faceless adversaries who would not step forward.

That was then. On April 24, the President was scheduled to inaugurate a committee to explore amnesty for Boko Haram in return for the end of a four-year uprising that has killed thousands of Nigerians. Suggested by the spiritual leader of Nigeria’s Muslims, studied by a national security panel, and encouraged by the leaders of Nigeria’s ravaged Northern states, which are crucial to the President’s political future, amnesty is now a real possibility for an armed group that has pushed to replace the Nigerian state with one built on Islamic law.

Jonathan’s April 17 announcement made headlines across Nigeria. Leadership Nigeria newspaper, quoting Presidential spokesman Reuben Abati, detailed the committee’s charge to “constructively engage key members of Boko Haram and define a comprehensive and workable framework for resolving the crisis of insecurity in the country,” including disarmament within 60 days, establishment of a “comprehensive victims’ support program;” and exploration of “mechanisms to address the underlying causes of insurgencies.”

Leadership Nigeria reported that Jonathan would formally inaugurate the committee on April 24th at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, the Nigerian capital. It will have 60 days to complete its work.

Why would amnesty even be considered? The idea of amnesty for Boko Haram emerged in March, when the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, proposed it at a meeting of Ja’matu Nasril Islam, or JNI, the main Nigerian Muslim umbrella group. “If amnesty is declared, it will give so many of those young men who have been running and hiding to embrace that amnesty,” Abubakar was quoted by Vanguard Media as saying on March 16.

Jonathan refused the idea during a March visit to Yobe state in northeast Nigeria. “You cannot declare amnesty for ghosts,” he stated, according to Premium Times. “Boko Haram still operates like ghosts. So you can’t talk about amnesty for Boko Haram now until you see the people you are discussing with.” Calls for him to reconsider, however, came from even within his own People’s Democratic Party. “Our people are being killed every day, our economy is crippled. We want the President to make a U-turn, grant them amnesty, protect our lives and address the security challenges in the region,” Deputy Senate Leader Abdul Ningi said on behalf of PDP National Assembly members from the northeast, Premium Times reported.

While some Christians see amnesty as a step toward peace if there is compensation to those who have lost loved ones, Christian organizations and leaders have almost universally responded negatively to the idea of amnesty for Boko Haram, whose bloody campaign has killed and injured hundreds of Christians and destroyed numerous Christian churches, schools, homes, businesses, and farms. In a statement to Vanguard Media, Dr. Simon Dolly, president of the youth wing of the Christian Association of Nigeria, declared that amnesty would be “a clarion call to all terrorism in Nigeria” that would “fuel the anger of the Christian youth. Mr. President should remember that the amnesty being advocated is for Muslim youths who are the Boko Haram members and who have killed, maimed our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and children and also bombed and burnt our churches without provocation.”

Reaction from Nigeria’s Muslim leaders is mixed according to Sahara Reporters. “Nigeria is catalytically deteriorating,” During a March 26 sermon, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi reportedly recommended that the cure for Boko Haram’s insurgency involve a Muslim military commander of “special strike squads,” with civilian cooperation, to extract the militants from Nigerian society “like removing a tumor from the brain.” As with the Christians, others viewed amnesty as a step toward peace.

Boko Haram has been less divided in its response. “Surprisingly, the Nigerian government is talking about granting us amnesty,” said Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, according to the BBC. “What wrong have we done? On the contrary, it is we that should grant you [a] pardon.” Shekau issued this refusal several days before Goodluck Jonathan’s April 17 announcement of the creation of the Presidential committee.

Clearly, reaction to Jonathan’s decision to put the question into the hands of a presidential committee has been loud and contentious. Reaction by government officials is split, and at least two committee appointees have refused to serve. Tensions have escalated between Christian and Muslim youth who are threatening a new wave of sectarian violence. Two days after the announcement, a firefight erupted between Nigerian soldiers and local militants in the northeastern town of Baga, in the heart of the region that spawned Boko Haram. By Sunday, nearly half the town had burned to the ground.

Father, for so long we have prayed for peace to preside over this troubled region in Nigeria. We bring before Your presence the many unknown factors in this proposal for amnesty that is before President Goodluck Jonathan and the presidential committee he has appointed. No one knows the answers, but You do, and so we place the plight in Your hands and pray for Your infinite wisdom to rest on them. We pray against the influence of political pressure and against hostile reactions, whatever the decision may be. We pray against other extremist groups coming in to take up the attacks, should the power of Boko Haram be diffused. We pray, Father, for a miracle to take place in Nigeria, for the light of the gospel to reign in this nation. In the name of Jesus, the light of the world, Amen.

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