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Africa

Nigeria weighs amnesty for Boko Haram insurgents

The Nigerian government has formed a committee to evaluate granting an amnesty to members of the Islamist sect Boko Haram which is held reponsible for numerous attacks and killings.

The Nigerian government has set up a committee to investigate the feasibility of granting an amnesty to members of militant Islamist sect Boko Haram. The committee has been given two weeks to examine the pros and cons of such a move and submit a report. President Goodluck Jonathan has been coming under increasing pressure from politicians and religious leaders to pardon the insurgents and set Nigeria on a course of reconciliation.

DW has been speaking to Nigerian legal expert Garba Gajam about the prospects of success. 

DW: Under what conditions do you see the Nigerian government granting this amnesty?

Garba Gajam: Well I think that would be preempting the government because the committee is still working and I am sure the committee will make a reference to the recommendations governing the circumstances for the amnesty. Anyone who talks about conditions now will be guessing what is coming up.

What is to stop those who would be pardoned or released from committing fresh bomb attacks after any amnesty?

I think the people committing the crimes and killings hold a grudge against the social set-up. I think it's not an amnesty per se, there should be conditions, there should be a memorandum of understanding, there should be other factors that will satisfy both sides because this has to do with the security of the nation. Let's not hope there will be any fresh killings. We don't pray for that – our prayer is that this amnesty will once and for all solve this issue and Nigeria will be what it used to be, a peaceful country in West Africa.

Nigeria offered an amnesty to militants in the oil-producing Niger Delta in 2009. Can you see that success being repeated in the case of Boko Haram? Is that realistic?

To me there is a fundamental difference because the Boko Haram people seem to want to impose sharia, Islamic law. But I tell you all these issues are consequences of other factors. I believe this lack of gainful employment for our youth contributes a lot.  You need to engage the Boko Haram people and build trust between the government and them so they understand the real necessity of living together and of freedom of worship. There's a constitutional provision that everyone should worship his god the way he wants. I'm sure then the tension can be diffused.

But is there an easily identifiable leadership of Boko Haram with whom the government could negotiate or to whom it could offer an amnesty?

I think that the government is already holding some of them in various prisons. I think that by the time you engage them, the leadership will definitely surface. Boko Haram has set the condition that their people must be released for peace to prevail  and I think that when you release them, their leaders will receive them. I think they are hiding because of the fear of government attack and maybe arrest and possible execution. I tell you, for me, the root cause of this problem happened in Borno State, at the time the state government arrested some leaders of the sect and killed them. It was even televised. The culprits who did the killing were never arrested and no one has been prosecuted. I have a feeling, no matter how criminal a person is, he is entitled to due process of the law. Those people should have been arrested and tried in courts of law. That would have saved this situation. And I am sure that would appease the Boko Haram people who have lost their teachers, their parents, their wives and children. I think the government should be sincere this time round to go to the root of the matter. Because no matter how you regard the Boko Haram people, they are still Nigerians, they have the constitutional guarantee given to every other Nigerian.

Garba Gajam is the Attorney General in Zamfara State in northwestern Nigeria

Interview: Mark Caldwell

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