In this issue, we cover the controversy over the Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North (amnesty committee) established by President Goodluck Jonathan to find solutions to the endemic Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria. President Jonathan, while inaugurating the committee in Abuja, on 24 April 2013 called on the members to produce magic in creating solutions to the Boko Haram insurgency. This is a tall order, which will require divine inspiration to members of the committee.
While there are valid arguments on both sides of the issue, we believe that President Jonathan is on the right track, if the amnesty issue is managed properly. As demonstrated by the recent confrontation in Baja, Borno State between the insurgents and the Multinational Task Force (MTF), war is not pretty. It leaves tears and sorrow in its wake. This tragic incident makes the case for dialogue and amnesty even more urgent. First of all, Boko Haram is yet to be defeated. Secondly, the group is splintering into different insurgent groups with religious, political and criminal dimensions that exacerbate insecurity in the country. Thirdly and most importantly, as the 2015 presidential election approaches and in the face of the inability to secure a military solution, the president has no choice but to examine other tools at his disposal if the country is not to spiral out of control and go over the cliff.
The longer it takes to bring the situation under control, the more destabilizing Boko Haram will become, particularly as it strengthens its external linkages. It is time therefore to try a different approach. For those opposed to amnesty, what is the alternative? The clash between the insurgents and the military in the northern town of Baja, Borno State, on 19 and 20 April 2013 and the international reaction to the clash is a wake up call that the government must find a solution quickly, one way or the other. That is, crush the insurgency now or pursue dialogue and amnesty aggressively as the alternative may be too terrible to contemplate. The solution to insecurity in Nigeria must come from within the country and the establishment of the amnesty committee is the beginning.
Yet, the committee must be careful not to overdraw the parallel between the Niger/Delta and Boko Haram because the two are not the same. While the Niger/Delta was economic, the northern insurgency is ideological. Furthermore, the committee must take account of the innocent victims of Boko Haram’s wanton killings and the churches that have been burnt by Boko Haram in various parts of the north. The committee should start by analyzing Boko Haram’s three key objectives – their demand for the Islamization of Nigeria, their opposition to democracy and releases of their members detained by the government and decide whether those who continue to adhere to these objectives deserve to be granted amnesty. Divine inspiration will indeed be required to strike various balances: between compensating victims and reconciling with atrocities of Boko Haram and between granting amnesty (pardon) and demanding Boko Haram to renounce the first two of its objectives.
To the critics who wonder if by granting amnesty to the insurgents in the north the government has opened a Pandora’s box, the answer might be a sovereign national conference to address the structural underpinnings of insecurity in Nigeria. Amnesty cannot be a one-way-street. It is an opportunity to address many unresolved issues and President Jonathan must seize and run with the baton and should not allow the proponents of amnesty to eat their cake and have it back nor allow the critics to derail the process.
The establishment of the standing committee on small arms and light weapons was long overdue as it is puzzling why it took that long to establish the committee particularly in view of the recognition by the international community that proliferation of these weapons is the trigger for violence and criminality as demonstrated by the state of insurgency in Nigeria. This should be a technical committee with experts who have technical expertise on small arms and light weapons to come up with a disarmament framework. Disarmament will be the link between the two committees, because without disarmament, amnesty will be worthless. The article on small arms and light weapons, by Eric Berman, an expert on small arms, in this issue of Africa Peace and Security Monitor, is worth reading.