Nigeria: The Hobson’s Choice by Olusegun Adeniyi

By IndepthAfrica
In Article
Apr 12th, 2013

By Olusegun Adeniyi

“Whichever option I choose, men are going to die.’ That statement was made by a fictional President of the United States in Frederick Forsyth’s novel, “The Devil’s Alternative” which explores the dilemma that leaders most often confront whenever they have to take decisions based on choices that are not necessarily palatable. I have

in recent days read commentaries which tend to suggest that such is the sort of situation President Goodluck Jonathan has to confront with the contentious issue of whether or not to grant amnesty to Boko Haram.

I slightly disagree with that summation because the more one looks at the current challenge, the more one comes to the conclusion that some form of accommodation with Boko Haram seems more like the only plausible option readily available for the president to either accept or reject.

Last week, the president inaugurated a committee to collate clamours from different interest groups seeking amnesty for Boko Haram members and recommend modalities for implementing such a course of action, should that be the received wisdom at the end of the day. Unfortunately, some people have already launched a preemptive attack against considering such possible option which I also concede may be fraught with its own contradictions and challenges. Yet, dispassionate observers must realize that this recourse to pragmatism could not have been an easy one for the president given his earlier stand on not negotiating with “ghosts” and for that reason, he deserves our understanding and support.

However, I am also aware that there are some pertinent questions being raised about the implication of granting amnesty to Boko Haram. Some of these questions, which definitely task all of us but more especially those in authorities, are: where do we draw the line between criminals and insurgents? Or better still, where is the line between sectarian rascality and respect for the lives and freedom of others in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state? When persons in unauthorized possession of lethal weapons levy war on the state, is there a new definition for treason?

While I concede that these questions are indeed valid, the point that should not be missed is that with a problem like Boko Haram, any window of opportunity that offers itself as a possible way out should never be discarded. Yet those who canvass a military solution don’t seem to understand the nature of the crisis we are dealing with. While the JTF operations may have worked to a point, the unabated spate of deadly attacks by Boko Haram have shown that tackling local terrorism demands more than just the force of arms, especially when the military operations have left in their trails the death of hundreds of innocent people in Borno, Kano and Yobe states. Such tragic situation which now breeds greater animosity against the State requires serious political engagements if we are to find a lasting solution to the problem. That is what the idea of amnesty represents.

But we should not delude ourselves that we have a foolproof formula for addressing the challenge as the amnesty option is not necessarily an easy path to chart. That point was underscored during the week by no less a respected personality than Alhaji Adamu Ciroma who counseled some Northern governors within the Boko Haram area of operations on the need to kick-start the process of inviting critical stakeholders in their states for consultations on how to tackle the insurgency.

According to Ciroma, the governors of Borno, Yobe, Kano, Gombe, Adamawa, Taraba and Bauchi should individually invite all the religious leaders and other influential people in their states for interactive sessions with identified Boko Haram members. Such engagements, he argued, would provide the platforms for laying the cards on the table: “this is the problem that we have got, it is killing our economy; people are dying as a result of that. The military are intervening in a way that we do not like…and if all of you want peace, what is your advice?”

Ciroma believes that the outcome of such intervention would help the governors to come to certain conclusions which they can then take to the president. “When all the recommendations come from Kano, from Yobe, from Maiduguri and the other directly affected states, there must be the seed of solution to the problem. This is not the solution you are thinking about, but it is that solution that came from down. You can now choose the things you do, prioritize them accordingly,” he said.

I support this proposition because the amnesty option which still falls within the ambit of Ciroma’s suggestion is not something you impose; it is a process that requires the buy-in of important stakeholders for it to work. For instance, there has to be willingness on the part of Boko Haram adherents that they would lay down their arms before the president can make the amnesty proclamation. That would require some tricky negotiations and that explains the imperative of such interventions from the governors, assuming they are truly on ground in their states as most of them usually claim.

What the foregoing therefore signposts is that contrary to what some people think, the amnesty option is not an easy way out of the Boko Haram threat to our national peace and security. Even at that, it has its in-built complications given that there is also an international dimension to the issue. Apart from the fact that three of the key leaders of the sect had been labelled global terrorists by the United States, some of the victims of the sect are foreign nationals whose governments have called on Nigeria to bring the killers of their citizens to book. In all the fatal cases mentioned, including that of the bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja, the federal government had vowed to bring perpetrators to justice. It is now incumbent on the committee to devise a way by which government would walk this thin line between justice and political inevitability.

The bottom-line in all these is that granting amnesty to Boko Haram, if that is the option eventually recommended, should not be construed as a sign of weakness on the part of President Jonathan. I fully understand most of the arguments being canvassed as to why amnesty should not be offered to Boko Haram and they are very difficult to fault. However, I am also aware that the human cost of military solution is getting higher and higher with the number of innocent bystanders who get caught in the crossfire on a daily basis. There has to be a solution to bring an end to such tragic incidences.

I have read commentaries which tend to disparage Christians who lend support to the call for amnesty to Boko Haram and I consider them rather unfortunate. While I am not certain the option of granting amnesty to Boko Haram adherents will work, I believe that whatever needs to be done to resolve this crisis should get the support of all Nigerians, regardless of their religious or ethnic persuasion. But for providence, I would have been caught by the Boko Haram bombing of THISDAY office in Abuja and as one of the first persons to arrive the scene after the tragic incident, I saw first-hand the horror of mindless violence. So ordinarily I should be very angry at the proposition of amnesty for such sect. But Member Feese, (the remarkable young lady who survived the Abuja UN House bombing) has taught some of us the lesson that if we are seeking solution to a difficult national problem, we should learn forgiveness and be able to look beyond personal injuries, however difficult such may be.

Uhomoibhi’s Rhapsody on Love

There is this story of a legend, a pastor, who preached exactly the same message every week: “Little children… love one another.” However, on one particular day, a young member of his congregation who was apparently tired of hearing the same statement again and again confronted him to ask: “Master, why is it that every week you say exactly the same thing, ‘little children love one another’, can‘t you say something more?”

Smiling, the legend was said to have replied, “Son, it is enough!”

That seems to be the message from Catherine Uhomoibhi, whose anthology of poems titled, “The River Flows in You”, was launched last week in Abuja. For a 17 years old, it is remarkable that Catherine could churn out the verses contained in her book but it’s even more significant when you realize that all of them centre on just one theme: Love!

I guess what the teenager is telling us is that while there indeed may be many themes to ponder upon in our journey through life, love really is enough. And it says a lot about her prodigious talent that a literary guru like Odia Ofeimum was not only there to lend support to the occasion but also to attest to the quality of her poetry.

I have gone through the collection of 24 poems and it is instructive that she provides endnotes to each one, to explain what informed the poem and what she was thinking at the time. That also helps to put in perspective so many questions that the typical Nigerian reader would be pondering as to what a teenager knows about love, a much-abused word in our world today.

Love, we all know comes in different forms and in Uhumoibhi’s poems we can see some of these manifestations but the ones that actually speak to a moment like this for many Nigerians are: My Last Song; Day in the Sun; Before You Go and Love Eternal. Because this happens to be a season when many are mourning the loss of their loved ones, some in most difficult circumstances, I will strongly recommend some lines from “Love Eternal” which speak to the pain many bear:

And I know that nothing can bring you back

No matter how much I try

No matter the pain and sweat

Nor the thousand prayers whispered to an angel

–for you are my angel.

But these heavenly beings do not wish to depart from Yee

And I, the inferior, must now part with thee.

For sure, Uhomoibhi’s background as daughter of a diplomat who has had to experience several countries and different cultures (by virtue of her father’s professional career) must have helped in shaping her worldview. But there is also no question about her incredible intellect which is quite reflected in her writings on contemporary issues. Even when he is a successful man in his own right, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Martin Uhomoibhi, may soon have to contend with an identity that is forged not by his own accomplishment but rather as the father of Catherine, the young literary giant. That day is almost here.


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