Thursday, 4 April 2013
Northern Elders Insist on Amnesty for Boko Haram
The Northern Elders’ Forum has called on President Goodluck Jonathan to consider amnesty for insurgent groups in the Northern region, in his programmes to overcome security challenges in the country.
According to the News agency of Nigeria, the forum made its position known on Wednesday at a closed-door late night meeting held with the President at the State House.
The 25-member Northern Elders’ Forum was led by the former Nigeria representative to the UN, Alhaji Yusuf Maitama-Sule.
Addressing State House correspondents after the meeting, the spokesperson for the Forum and former Vice-Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, said that the meeting centred mainly on national security.
"The contention here is that the country is facing challenges and am sure you will agree that there are challenges in the country, particularly in the area of security.
"That is the greatest challenge the country is facing today and we spent a lot of times discussing the various issues on security matters.
"On amnesty, what we discussed is that the general opinion in the country is that amnesty should be factored in to whatever the government is trying to do to overcome the violence that is taking place all over the country and, particularly, in most parts of the North.
"Fortunately, the president is already thinking hard on it and he assured us that there is a special meeting on the matter tomorrow and am sure that something substantial will come out of that meeting," he said.
Abdullahi said that they were at the Presidential Villa as a follow-up to an earlier visit last year where a memorandum was submitted to the president on matters of the nation by the Forum.
He said that the president, after studying the memorandum, invited members of the group for further deliberations on issues raised in the submission.
Also, the Minister of Information, Mr Labaran Maku, confirmed that the group called for amnesty for insurgent groups.
"The issue of security also came up and the Northern Elders’ Forum brought the position that they believe government should consider amnesty for the insurgents in the Northern part of the country.
"They believe that it is the position the most northern elders presently hold to enable them to exercise some influence in the process of achieving peace in the northern part of the country.
"The president said that government has never said that there will be no amnesty but that there must be a process and structure if amnesty is to succeed.
"Again, we discussed extensively on the amnesty that took place in the Niger Delta which attracted extensive discussions and the platforms that were set up to discuss with the militants.
"In the case of the North, amnesty cannot be granted in a vacuum.
"There must be a process, there must be a structure and there must be a way of holding everyone to account in terms of the amnesty process if amnesty is eventually considered.
"The president said that no one has ever said that there will not be amnesty but there must be certain conditions for amnesty to be useful in the process of using it as a mechanism for achieving peace as it relates to the Boko Haram insurgence.
"The president further said that he is indeed engaged in extensive consultations with quite a number of key leaders in relation to the issue of amnesty and that further consultations are going on within the week to take a look at it and see how feasible could it be," Maku said.
He said the president also briefed the forum on what government had been doing to stabilise the situation in the North and to promote infrastructure development and agriculture.
The minister said the forum was informed of efforts of government toward promoting education in the North, particularly through the construction of more than 100 Almajiri schools to increase access to education by more than 9.5 million children on the streets.
He said the president also spoke about the nine out of 12 Federal Government-owned universities established in the North.
"There was also extensive discussion about what is going on particularly in terms of girl-child education which the Federal Government is promoting again to support access to quality education in Northern Nigeria.
"We also took time to explain the various infrastructural projects in the North.
"We explained to the forum that most of the road dualisation projects that the government is presently implementing are located in the North.
"We also explained to them the various dam projects going on in the North, agriculture and irrigation for farming," he said.
Maku said that the elders complained that they wanted lake Chad to be restored to its former status and the president explained the efforts of government to achieve that.
Specifically, he said that the Federal Government together with the Lake Chad Basin Commission had agreed to bring water from Central Africa Republic down to Lake Chad.
The minister said that the meeting also discussed the allegation about marginalisation of the North in the civil service, particularly in the directors’ cadre.
He said that the new Head of Civil Service of the Federation presented a report which allayed the fear of the elders and assured virtual parity between the North and South in the Civil Service.
Other members of the forum at the meeting were, Dr Hakeem Baba Ahmed, Mrs Pauline Tallen, Alhaji kali Gazali, Dr Safiya Mohammed, Mr Solomon Dalong and Sheikh Ahmed Lemu.
Also in the meeting were Alhaji Shehu Malami, Sen John Wash Pam, Alhaji Bello Kirfi, retired Maj.-Gen. Paul Tarfa, Alhaji Lawal Kaita, Dr Paul Unongo and retired AVM Allamin Daggash.
Alhaji Sanni Daura, Alhaji Yahaya Kwande, Alhaji Sale Hassan, Alhaji Bashir Yusuf, Justice Mustapha Akanbi, Prof Idris Mohammed, retired Capt. Paul Tahal and retired Capt Bashir Sodangi were also part of the delegation.