13th May, 2013
By Tayo Ogunbiyi
Nigeria is a blessed nation. Its people are unbelievable. Its leaders are ingenious. Quite very ingenious leaders! From the late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to the incumbent Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, our leaders have been incredible. Take, for instance, the late President Umaru Shehu Yar’Adua. He met on ground a delicate situation in the oil rich Niger- Delta, which, if not well managed, could have torn the nation apart. Niger Delta youths were angry. Perhaps, reasonably so. They felt they were not getting a fair share of the natural resources which nature has endowed their land with. Consequently, they resorted to militancy to draw the attention of appropriate authorities to their grievances. Thus, began an era of sorrow, tears and blood in the Niger Delta. It was so bad that estimated national revenue from oil started to dwindle since expatriates working in the various oil fields across the region had to flee from the rampaging militants. Sadly, as much as the various security agencies tried, they were no match for the excessively aggressive, well armed and determined Niger-Delta militants.
This was, indeed, the situation when the late President Yar’Adua came into the picture. Widely acclaimed as the very first graduate president to rule the country, Yar’Adua did not disappoint. The scientist that he was, he took the Niger-Delta problem to the laboratory and after series of experiments, he eventually came out with a very innovative result which gave birth to the now famous amnesty programme. The core feature of the programme was for militants who were willing to embrace the Federal Government olive branch to surrender their weapons, within a certain period of time, in exchange for official state pardon.
Oh, how it worked like magic! Soon, Aso Rock became a Mecca of sort with several leaders of the various militant groups visiting the Villa to pay homage to Yar’Adua as well as pledge their support to the new amnesty arrangement. In a twinkling of an eye, peace returned to the once volatile Niger Delta region. Of course, it has to be. The leaders of the various militant groups secured mouth-watering deals with the Federal Government while some of their foot soldiers were sent to various schools abroad to acquire quality education aside from being put on good monthly salary packages. Thus, while the oil czars smile to the bank, the militants also have their own share of the proverbial national cake. The end result is that everybody is happy.
Lucky President Goodluck! At the demise of his Principal, Yar’Adua, he inherited a peaceful Niger Delta. But, as it is with leadership, he was soon to face his own challenge through the activities of the Islamic insurgence group popularly referred to as Boko Haram. The group, which had been in existence before the Goodluck presidency, for reasons best known to it, chose the period of the Jonathan presidency to demonstrate to Nigerians that it could be as daring ( if not more ) as the Niger Delta Militants. Till date, the group has continued to hold the northern part of the country hostage with its numerous acts of terrorism which have led to loss of countless human lives in addition to destruction of private and public properties. The economy of most of the affected northern states, no thanks to Boko Haram activities, is now in shambles.
Like his late principal, President Jonathan is a scientist. Perhaps, a better one at that considering he holds a Ph.D zoology. Many, understandably so, looked forward to the President coming up with his own version of another scientific solution to the Boko Haram crisis which has now led to the inglorious exit of many top security officials from office. With the President keeping his battle strategy against the Islamic sect close to his chest, prominent northern figures began to agitate for the adoption of the now tested and trusted amnesty option to ward off the Boko Haram challenge. Soon, powerful individuals began to put pressure on the presidency to enter into dialogue with the group for the sake of peace.
But the President would have none of that. How do you dialogue with a faceless group? he wondered. On an unusual visit to Maiduguri, a city that is perhaps the worst hit in the Boko Haram onslaught, the President foreclosed entering into dialogue with the group by reiterating his earlier held view that it is a group without identity. However, prominent leaders continue to canvass for amnesty with the revered Sultan of Sokoto adding his respected voice to the call. With time, the Federal Government shifted its position on the issue. A committee comprising eminent Nigerians has been put in place to fashion out strategies that would bring about engagement with Boko Haram. Most analysts see this step as a prelude to the process that will lead to granting amnesty to Boko Haram group. To those who support this plan, if amnesty is working wonders in the Niger Delta, it should bring about the much needed peace in the crisis ridden northern states.
Now, as we contemplate granting amnesty to Boko Haram, there is another major dissident group in the country that one would like to draw the attention of appropriate authorities and other powerful individuals to. Like the Niger-Delta militants and Boko Haram, this group is equally angry with the country. They are angry that government has not been able to solve the problem of unemployment. Their anger also stems from widespread corruption that has continued unabated in the system coupled with other social ills bedevilling the nation. But unlike the Niger-Delta militants and Boko Haram, their operational style is different. It is not really violent in outlook. They just look out for cash worthy individuals who could be kidnapped, for some time, in exchange for handsome sum of money and the circle continues. Welcome to the world of kidnappers!
As it was the case with the Niger Delta militants and the Boko Haram, government is yet to come up with the much needed solution to tackle the activities of kidnappers across the country. But, why look for another solution when we already have one that is working well? Is it not true that you don’t change a winning formula? To stem the tide of kidnapping in the country, we need to begin the process that will bring up a national discourse on the need to grant amnesty to kidnappers. Respected monarchs, politicians and other powerful individuals across the country should begin to bring the issue to the front burner. The press should, as well, echo it. Kidnappers, on their own, need to form themselves into one powerful association with functioning web site and other channels of modern communication since the government is averse to discussing with faceless groups.
Before we all become victims of the dastardly act of kidnapping, government should begin to give serious consideration to granting amnesty to kidnappers whose main grouse is joblessness. Like the Niger Delta militants, they could be sent to good universities abroad and equally place on mouth watering monthly salaries. As it is often said, no development can take place without peace. If we are to achieve the much needed national development, we should begin the process of granting amnesty to kidnappers now. Lest I forget, we could also extend the amnesty arrangement to other aggrieved members of the society such as armed robbers, rapists, pipeline vandals, 419ers among others. We must not spare anything in our quest for a peaceful society. This way, our over-stretched security agencies would have a break and we shall all live in peace. God bless Nigeria!
•Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unity, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.