Pardon in Nigeria

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Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, has declared that Boko Haram members will not be granted amnesty. A wise move by the head-of-state?

Let us start by analyzing a scenario where an amnesty would indeed be granted. In order to assess such situation one has to look at the Niger Delta, where an amnesty programme was put in place in order to end the uprisings and instability which seriously disrupted oil production – vital for Nigeria’s economy as a whole. Money and vocational training was given to militants who laid down their weapons. Such initiatives managed to appease most of the militancy and criminal activities in the Niger Delta. And why did it work out?

Militant movements in the Niger Delta began as rightful representatives of local cultures, traditions and livelihoods. It was their main goal to salvage and safeguard the environment from pollution related to oil-extraction. However, since oil became the major source of revenue in the country, by the 1990’s militant organizations evolved into groups mainly seeking wealth and power, at the same time using the ‘indigenous rights’ banner as a symbol to gather around it the support of impoverished people. These impoverished and underprivileged people – of which youths comprise a large part – look at these same organizations as fighters for their rights and also as a source of food, shelter and support.

Since such groups’ main objective is to acquire wealth – by means of resource control or criminal activity – it is obvious that an amnesty programme which includes money transfers into the upper and lower echelons of the organizations, will satisfy such material needs and, therefore, appease tensions.

Why is Goodluck Jonathan right about not granting amnesty to Boko Haram members? Part of the answer is what Boko Haram stands for. As it is known, Boko Haram intends to establish an Islamic State in Northern Nigeria, under a ‘pure form’ of Islamic Law. What some do not know is that, in its essence, Boko Haram became a standing ground against the widespread corruption that has been ravaging the country, leading to high levels of poverty and underdevelopment.  Boko Haram is therefore driven more by an ideological element than by a material one. It is in fact harder to buy-off an ideology than a taste for material wealth.

On the other hand, it is widely believed that Boko Haram is not anymore a centralized organizations. In fact, some of its known officials have been issuing declarations which are later denied or contradicted by other officials. As a result, how can one know to whom grant the amnesty? Who is the target of such programme?

Moreover, the fear of precedent comes into play. The granting of amnesties may give a sign to other existent, or prospecting groups, that crime pays, therefore giving origin to more aggressive militancy across the already divided and tense country.

Therefore, an amnesty program, whether similar to the Niger Delta one – which has been seeing some set-backs as time goes back and the root-causes of the instability fail to be assessed – or not, will never work. It does not have the power, nor the attractiveness, to lure the upper echelons of Boko Haram.

Are there any alternatives to deal with Boko Haram? Yes there are but the interests of few will never be matched by the interests of plenty. In other words, to develop the North would, for sure, weaken the appeal of religious militancy. However, to do so would involve vast amounts of funds to be applied in the North, something which the money-holders and power-grabbers would see as damaging to their interests in the short to medium-term.

All in all, the continuing crack-down on Boko Haram members has been the answer and has had its positive results. It is a fact that the Boko Haram structure has been severely damaged.  However, the despair and disaster created by a violent war in the North serves only to distance people themselves from the Federal Government and turn them into vulnerable targets for religious militancy.

Goodluck Jonathan is right in not granting an amnesty, but keeping in the same destructive path will not resolve the issues in the North. A long-term programme which target development and growth must be developed in order to garner some positive and sustainable results.

One cannot be safe from catching a cold, and ultimately get the flu, without first wrapping up with a few layers of warm clothes.

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