Should Nigeria grant amnesty – unrepentant Boko Haram?

April 18, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-lead

Thousands of people have been killed in Boko Haram's insurgencyNigeria, April 17, 2013: The formation of a committee by the Nigerian government to consider the feasibility of granting an amnesty to Boko Haram has polarised opinion in the country. Supporters believe it could put an end to the Islamist militant group’s bloody campaign, while opponents, including leading Christian organisations, fear that such a move will only give licence to further violence. Boko Haram itself has rejected any potential amnesty deal, claiming that it has “not committed any wrong to deserve amnesty”. How should the Nigerian government respond to this unrepentant menace?

I have just returned from a visit to Nigeria, where I met with Christian leaders who told me how Boko Haram’s violent campaign to establish an Islamic state in Northern Nigeria has ravaged the Church. Several thousand Christians have been killed – a figure that has been massively under-reported – and hundreds of church buildings destroyed. Boko Haram’s insurgency, which started in 2009, has also targeted the security forces and Muslim critics.

Yet in an audacious statement, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau listed what he described as the state’s “atrocities” against Muslims and said:

Surprisingly, the Nigerian government is talking about granting us amnesty. What wrong have we done? On the contrary, it is we that should grant you pardon.

President Goodluck Jonathan formed the “amnesty” panel, comprising national security officials, Northern leaders and others, earlier this month, and it is due to present its findings next week.


The influential Northern Elders’ Forum has been pushing for an amnesty, and, according to Tukur Abdulkadir, senior lecturer at the University of Kaduna, there is “a great deal of support” for the prospect among the people in the North. He said that “everyone is desirous of an end to this conflict” and argued that “force cannot bring about an end to this problem”.

Advocates of the move point to the amnesty offered in 2009 to militants behind an insurgency in the Niger Delta region, which has been credited with significantly reducing unrest there.

Former military ruler of Nigeria, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, who lost the 2011 presidential election to Mr Jonathan, said that Boko Haram should be granted an amnesty, adding, “whatever that would bring us peace as a society we should do it”.


But others are not convinced that such a move would lead to peace. In a strongly-worded statement, Islamic group Muslims Against Terror warned President Jonathan that granting an amnesty would plunge the country into more security crises. It said:

The so-called Northern Elders impressed it upon you to offer a so-called amnesty to this cult and you fell for it, you all are misled and can only be doing this for personal gain, to win elections and not for the peace and progress of Nigeria.

The group called for Boko Haram to be brought to justice and for the rolling out of a social welfare, youth empowerment and employment system, starting with the poorest northern states, arguing that similar programmes in other nations had helped to reduce crime.

Leading Nigerian Christian organisations have also denounced the amnesty in vociferous terms.

Matthew Owojaiye, chairman of the Christian Elders Forum of Northern States (NOSCEF), also suggested that the government may have political and/or economic reasons for considering an amnesty plan.

He said:
If somebody went to the church and throw bomb and killed people and destroy businesses and you are taking care of the man that did the damage without first taking care of the people that have been damaged then something is wrong with our sense of reasoning.

Contemplating granting amnesty to the people who have wrought wanton destruction of lives and property in this nation is a call to other interest groups to rise up in arms against their fatherland, in order to be blessed when such an action should be treated as treason!

Mr Owojaiye lamented that the government was not coming to the aid of those whose lives have been destroyed by the Islamists. He called for the establishment of a Northern Minority Commission to be headed by a minister that would be responsible for the plight of Christians in the North.

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), which has been at the forefront of a campaign to try to persuade the US to designate Boko Haram aForeign Terrorist Organisation, likewise slammed the prospect of a pardon.

Secretary General the Rev. Dr Musa Asake described calls for an amnesty as outright insensitivity to the thousands of victims who had either died, been maimed or been left displaced as a result of Boko Haram’s campaign.

And Dr Simon Dolly, president of CAN’s Youth Wing, said that the “planned amnesty for murderers is potentially dangerous to Nigeria and Nigerians because it is a clarion call to more terrorism in the country”.


The Nigerian authorities have thus far been trying to quash Boko Haram’s insurgency by force, and this has clearly been ineffective, as the violence rages on. The people of the North have had enough of living in fear of the next deadly attack and are desperate for peace. It is understandable then that the government is considering other means to bring an end to the fighting.

But an amnesty can work only if both parties are willing to acknowledge their own contribution to the conflict and commit themselves to peace. At the moment, the Nigerian government is ceding all the ground, while Boko Haram remains unmoved. And it seems clear from the statement by Boko Haram’s leader that the group is unrepentant and unlikely to change its stance.

In this context, the offer of an amnesty would only weaken the government’s position. It needs more international support if it is going to defeat Boko Haram, whose deadly activities arespreading beyond the Nigerian border. There has been a failure to recognise the group for the terrorist operation that it is and a consequent failure to respond to the militants with the strength necessary to thwart them.

– dr patrick sookhdeo, barnabas international director

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