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Perhaps, more than any other issue, amnesty to members of the Islamic sect, Boko Haram has generated serious controversies in the country. While many are of the view that the measure would play a key role in checking the activities of the terror group, others believe that the sect members do not deserve the grace going by the regime of destruction they had visited on residents of the northern part of the country.
However, throwing his weight behind the call for grace for Boko Haram members, Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III, has asked President Goodluck Jonathan to grant amnesty to all of them as a way of encouraging them to lay down their arms.
Abubakar, who is also the President-General of Ja’matu Nasril Islam (JNI), the umbrella association of all Muslim unions, equally deplored the recent development in Wukari, Taraba State, where several people died, describing it as “madness beyond comprehension”. He lamented that Muslims were the major victims.
The Sultan spoke at the opening of the annual central meeting of the JNI in Kaduna where the Minister of State for Health, Dr. Mohammed Aliyu Pate, was invited to enlighten the gathering on the controversy surrounding vaccination against polio.
While expressing deep concern over the spate of bomb attacks and kidnappings by terrorists in parts of the country, he argued that extending amnesty to the sect members would pave the way for dialogue between the sect and the Federal Government.
Making reference to a similar amnesty declared for militants in the Niger Delta, he said: “The type of amnesty that ended militants’ unrest in the Niger Delta will be suitable for the North. Initiating a restoration and rehabilitation programme that would integrate the terrorists into the larger society will pave the way for dialogue rather than engaging them in an endless war.
“We want to use this opportunity to call on the government, especially Mr. President, to see how he can declare total amnesty for all combatants (Boko Haram) without thinking twice. That will make any other person who picks up arms to be termed a criminal.
He added; “If amnesty is declared, it will give so many of those young men who have been running and hiding to embrace that amnesty. Some of them have already come out, because we have read in the papers that some have already come out.
“Even if it is only one person that denounces terrorism, it is the duty of the government to accept that person and see how he can be used to reach out to others. It is left for the government to use that person, evaluate him and see whether he is genuine or fake.”
Despite Sultan’s stance, amnesty to Boko Haram has not gone down well with many Nigerians. Critics believe that the Niger Delta situation could not be compared with what obtains in the north where members of the sect unleash terror on Nigerians daily.
George Ekeh, activist and former National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) chieftain, for instance, queried the rationale behind granting amnesty to Boko Haram members. According to him, the north is angry because power has moved from the region to the South-South adding that the region has been in power for 40 years.
“I think the Sultan is talking about something that shouldn’t be encouraged to happen at all, something that doesn’t make any commonsense and something that is insulting to other communities and ethnic groups that make up this country. The Sultan cannot tell the Federal Government to pay amnesty to criminals who go into churches to burn and kill little babies, who murder women, cut off their heads; who went and killed nurses that were administering polio vaccine, among other atrocities. Those guys are criminals and they should be treated as such. You cannot compare what happened in the Niger Delta with the north. The militants in the Niger Delta were fighting against neglect of the area. But what is the basis of the Boko Haram insurgency? With what is evolving, it shows that the north has agenda,” he said.