By Efe Wanogho
Only a few days ago, the Nigerian media houses, traditional and new, were awash with news of President Jonathan’s triumphant entryinto Borno and Yobe States, the epicenter of the directionless and misguided activities of members of the Boko Haram sect. Of course, kudos must be given to the trail-blazing visit to the crises region by the opposition governors, for giving the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the Federal Republic, the required courage to finally visit the States that have proven to be havens of terrorist activity; for it smacks of callousness, if not sheer cowardice, on the part of a sitting President, that a blind eye could be turned on a part of the territory which he swore on oath to protect, while Nigerians were being mindlessly slaughtered.
In the course of the visit, there was a town-hall style meeting between Mr. President and key stakeholders of the troubled region. Responding to a call for unconditional amnesty for the Boko Haram extremists and bloodthirsty terrorists, and the withdrawal of the members of the Joint Task Force, JTF, by elders of the area, President Jonathan was reported to have sounded as Presidential as he could possibly be, by challenging the elders to guarantee the safety and security of the area should he withdraw the JTF from the States. He added that calls for amnesty for Boko Haram, were misguided and ill-informed, as he could not grant amnesty to ghosts. The plank of his argument was that the members of the sect that continue to terrorize Nigerians, must make themselves visible and demonstrate a willingness to embrace peace before amnesty can be contemplated. Not a few Nigerians, applauded his new found resolve of steel.
Whereas I think the call for amnesty for the terrorists is sickening and can only serve to further criminality and impunity in the land, as did the so-called amnesty for Niger Delta militants, and whereas Boko Haram cannot be treated the same way the Niger Delta militants were treated, in that their modus operandi were different; methinks there was nothing presidential in the President’s outburst and grandstanding of sorts.
Criminals are criminals, be they from the creeks of the Niger Delta or from the vast lands of Borno. Anyone who takes up arms against the State and its citizens, should not be given a pat on the back and rewarded for his criminality. Agreed that the Niger Delta didn’t witness the level of bloodletting that the North has witnessed, the argument for amnesty for the militants was lame and not in the interest of an ordered development of society. That amnesty saw criminals and warlords being chauffeured in presidential jets, and being rewarded with mouthwatering contracts that made them overnight millionaires; while law abiding citizens are abandoned to languish in peasantine penury and excruciating poverty informed by large scale unemployment; the message to them was clear: take up arms, and the government would take you seriously.
So, my response to the elders calling for amnesty for Boko Haram is simple. Let them never hesitate to condemn the terrorism that threatens the decimation and annihilation of the North, and let them not fear to ask the government to perform its constitutionally prescribed task of ensuring the safety and security of every Nigerian.
To President Jonathan and those who think his ghost rhetoric was presidential and worth commending; be informed that the Borno and Yobe elders, nay the entire elders from the North, do not wield political power at the highest level, as does the President, to be able to competently direct and coordinate the entire security agencies of the country to rein in Boko Haram. The President’s charge is an abdication of responsibility. Being Presidential is not about deploying troops in the streets of Nigeria with little to show for it. That you are fighting terrorists should not imply that innocent Nigerians, who are themselves victims of terrorism, would have their right to life and dignity of human person, breached by the very military who should serve their best interests.
The President must realize that the elders are not the ones who should ensure that there’s no unauthorized access to, and possession of prohibited weaponry. The elders are not in control of the State Security Service and it’s intelligence network that ought to enhance the internal security of the nation. The elders have no control over theimmigration officers who ought to ensure that no illegal immigrants have access to our shores. The elders have no control of the unitary, and arbitrarily centralized Police Force that ought to maintain law and order across the length and breadth of the country. The elders are not the Commanders-in-Chief of the armed forces of the Federal Republic. The President must do his job, and leave the Northern elders out of it.
Further, the President must realize that Nigerians do not have to chose between the subsisting arrangement in which citizens live in fear of terrorists and also of the JTF, and a situation in which the JTF would be withdrawn and Boko Haram would be left to it’s own devises, unleashing an unimpeded free reign of terror on the land. Governance is best enjoyed when proactivity is the watchword of the government, and not when knee-jerk reactionary decisions characterize it.
President Goodluck Jonathan is at the helm of affairs today. The onus is upon him to ensure that peace and security anchored on justice, returns to the North, and in fact, to every nook and cranny of Nigeria.
And talking about amnesty and presidential pardons, how come the President failed to remember the slain environmental rights activist, Ken Saro Wiwa, in his exercise of his prerogative of mercy, but remembered the likes of DSP Alamieyeseigha, whose criminality, no doubt, is partly responsible for the dearth of critical infrastructure in the President’s home State of Bayelsa. Is Dr. Jonathan not aware that the public official that steals public funds and neglects to respond appropriately to the pressing needs of the citizenry, and whose criminal negligence results in the death of many, is as guilty, if not more guilty, as the bomb-detonating and AK47 wielding terrorist? Is he not aware that death is the result of both their actions and inactions?
In reality, if anyone should have been pardoned, it isn’t the errant and thieving public official who swore on oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the country, only to negate the sacred oath and betray the trust of the citizens. By granting pardon to thieves, be they benefactors of the President or not, Mr. President is signaling a new order of State-endorsed criminality. He, by the singular action of granting amnesty to DSP Alamieyeseigha, has effectively bid goodbye to any traces of a war against corruption. Mr. President and his handlers must understand that in public office, it isn’t entirely about the legality or illegality of an action, but also about the implications of ones actions.
I am @efewanogho on Twitter.