A flurry of opposition on Wednesday greeted the Sultan of Sokoto’s amnesty demand for members of the violent Islamist sect, Boko Haram, with the major ethnic associations outside of the North condemning the demand.
Both the pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere; and youth wing of Ndigbo kicked against the Sultan Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar’s call which they described as unfortunate and outrageous.
A former President-General of the main Ohaneze Ndigbo, Dr. Dozie Ikedife, said it was premature at this stage to be talking about granting amnesty to members of the Boko Haram sect.
Ikedife told one of our correspondents on the telephone that inasmuch as there was an urgent need to stop the senseless killings by the Boko Haram sect, it was more important first to identify the sect’s leaders and their backers and dialogue with them to know what they really wanted.
“There is a need to stop the senseless killings. But what type of amnesty are you talking about? They have not been seen and there is the need to understand what their grievances are, then they can say grant them amnesty or not,” he said.
Also, the Christian Association of Nigeria and the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties faulted the demand. The two bodies said there was the need for Boko Haram members to first unveil themselves and cease fire before the issue of amnesty could be suggested.
But a former Commissioner of Police in Lagos State, Abubakar Tsav, said he was in support of the Sultan’s demand.
The Sultan, who is the spiritual head of Muslims in the country, had on Tuesday asked for “total amnesty” for members of the sect which had killed over 1,500 persons since they embarked on campaign of violence against the Federal Government and its agencies.
He had argued that a presidential amnesty to even one member of the sect could make others to lay down their arms for peace to reign in the nation and blamed the security challenges confronting the country on injustice “meted out to the people.”
Abubakar spoke at the meeting of the Central Council of the Jama’atu Nasril Islam in Kaduna.
But the octogenarian leader of the Afenifere, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, on Wednesday described the Sultan’s call for amnesty for Boko Haram as “outrageous and highly unfortunate.”
Fasoranti, who spoke to one of our correspondents in Akure, Ondo State, said, “The Sultan’s call for Amnesty for Boko Haram is outrageous and highly unfortunate. It is an express approval of the caliphate for the mass killings, devastation and destructive activities of the dreaded sect over the years.
“I cannot imagine why a highly placed person in the calibre of Sultan be seeking amnesty for a sect whose activities had rendered many homeless and left thousands of children as orphans.
“The sultan’s call is obviously an indication that the caliphate is encouraging and condoning bloody violence. It is unheard of that the Sultan, who should speak up and denounce the evil sect, wanted them treated with kid gloves.
“Our position in Afenifere is that the Boko Haram members are evil. They should be identified and severely dealt with according to the laws of the land.”
The Igbo youths who spoke through the National Organising Secretary of Ohaneze Ndigbo Youths, Mr. Okechukwu Isiguzoro, said they were very sure that the Federal Government would not give attention to the Sultan’s demand.
Isiguzor, in an interview with one of our correspondents in Enugu, said, “Having held our meeting, our view is that the Federal Government should first of all fight and conquer terrorism before anyone begins to talk about amnesty.
“Well, we are very optimistic that the Federal Government would not give room to such talks. Moreover, granting them amnesty would expose President Jonathan as being soft to the security challenges facing Nigeria.”
A statement issued on Wednesday night by the General Secretary of CAN, Dr. Musa Asake, wondered what the Sultan meant by injustice in relation to the activities of the Boko Haram sect “when members of the group are a bunch of fundamentalists who have killed, maimed, deformed Christians and made orphans and widows of otherwise peaceful and lovely families.”
He said, “We believe that for the talk about amnesty to hold water, the Islamist militant group must first of all renounce their extreme ideology and embrace the ceasefire plan. What President Goodluck Jonathan should do is to first of all give the sect members an ultimatum within which they should organise a ceasefire, failing which the sect members should be confronted vigorously, in line with what was done to the Niger Delta militants who refused the amnesty offered by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Otherwise, how can government grant amnesty to faceless people?
“We wonder the kind of amnesty contemplated by the Sultan. This is why we are puzzled. We therefore say categorically that we reject any offer of amnesty for members of the Boko Haram sect. We ask government to do same. One group of people cannot continue to pay the price for one Nigeria. We must sit together as brothers and discuss issues.”
The CNPP argued that it was necessary for members of Boko Haram to unmask themselves before they could get presidential amnesty.
Rivers State Chairman of the CNPP, Dr. Manaidi Dagogo-Jack, who spoke with The PUNCH in a telephone interview on Tuesday, described the call for amnesty to Boko Haram members as an error from the Sultan of Sokoto.
Dagogo-Jack explained that it would be difficult for President Jonathan to grant amnesty to faceless people, insisting that members of the sect must be identified before they could get any reprieve.
He stated that it was wrong for anybody to compare the Niger Delta agitation to the activities of members of the Islamic sect whose abhorrence for western education had been a reason for violence in the North.
Dagogo-Jack said, “This (call for amnesty for Boko Haram) is an error from the Sultan. The President would be setting a very bad precedent if he accepts to grant a faceless Boko Haram amnesty. Nigerians should be able to know members of the sect. We should be able to know the faces behind those masks.
“We respect the Sultan’s opinion, but the government should ask him to identify who they (Boko Haram members) are first before talking about amnesty.”
But Tsav said, “I am in support of the Sultan’s appeal to President Goodluck Jonathan to grant general amnesty to members of the Boko Haram. I want to stress that the proposed visit of Mr. President to Borno and Yobe states without the grant of general and unconditional amnesty will have no impact or significance whatsoever.
“Already the 12 courageous and patriotic All Progressives Congress governors have stolen the show, by not only risking their personal safety, but by also donating N200m to the state government. I commend them for this. Jonathan can only beat this by granting general and unconditional amnesty to the sect members just as the late President Umaru Yar’Adua did to the Niger Delta militants.
“Anything short of general amnesty will mean nothing but a visit to mock the traumatised government and people of the two states. Those who are not in support of amnesty may be benefiting from the situation.”