President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday set up a committee to consider the propriety or otherwise of granting amnesty to members of the violent Islamic sect, Boko Haram.
It was gathered that the committee, whose names of members had yet to be released, was set up during a meeting the President held with security chiefs. It has two weeks to prepare its report and it will work with the office of the National Security Adviser.
The committee, apparently to assuage the agitators for amnesty for Boko Haram, according to sources in the Villa, has three terms of reference, viz: to consider the propriety or otherwise of granting amnesty to the violent sect; collate request arising from the different groups asking the Federal Government for amnesty for Boko Haram; and recommend the modalities for granting amnesty in case it becomes imperative.
Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, had last Wednesday said Jonathan was seriously considering granting the sect members a pardon, notwithstanding the President’s declaration in Yobe State recently that he would not grant amnesty to those he described as “ghosts.”
Jonathan’s declaration in Yobe State had been in apparent reaction to the demand by Sultan of Sokoto, Abubakar Sa’ad, for amnesty for Boko Haram as a means of promoting peace in the country.
The Sultan’s request had however opened a floodgate of demands for amnesty by many leaders and groups from the north even as the Christian Association of Nigeria, with hundreds of members already killed by the sect members, kicking against it.
CAN again yesterday restated its opposition to amnesty for Boko Haram.
Special Assistant, Media and Publicity Affairs to CAN President, Mr. Kenny Ashaka, in a statement said the call by Northern leaders for amnesty for the sect amounted to being insensitive to the plight of their victims.
A top member of the Jonathan administration on condition of anonymity confirmed the setting up of the committee, and that the President’s action “only shows that the administration respects public opinion.”
The source said, “I can tell you authoritatively that the meeting the President had with security chiefs was devoted to Boko Haram.
“You will recall that the President during his recent visit to Borno and Yobe states did not say that government would not grant amnesty to members of Boko Haram at all.
“What the President said was that the government cannot grant amnesty to those that have not come forward. The issue of Boko Haram and the amnesty proposition is a complex one.
“Since the President’s declaration, there has been growing calls for amnesty with the northern elders at a meeting with the President last night (Thursday) still insisting on amnesty.
“In response to this clamour, government has to show that it respects public opinion.
“A committee consisting of some members of the National Security Council and others has therefore been set up to consider the clamour for amnesty and its feasibility.
“The committee members who will sit for two weeks and report back to the Security Council are also expected to make recommendations for modalities on how government can go about the amnesty if it is found to be a possible option, if it is something government can do.
“The President asked the Committee to work with the Office of the NSA. The Security Council will meet again in two weeks.”
Our correspondent learnt that Jonathan convened the emergency meeting which had service chiefs and the Inspector-General of Police, Muhammed Abubakar, in attendance following growing calls, especially from the north, for amnesty for the violent sect.
The source said the President was concerned that his comment during his recent visit to Borno and Yobe states that he could not grant amnesty to “ghosts” had not gone down well with the elders in the north.
He was said to have observed that rather than agitation for amnesty which was started by the Sultan to subside after his declaration, the issue had remained on the front burner.
Vice President Namadi Sambo; Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Muhammed Adoke (SAN); Minister of Interior, Abba Moro; Minister of State, Defence, Olusola Obada; National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Pius Anyim, also attended the meeting which lasted over three hours.
The meeting which later dovetailed into the meeting of the Presidential Committee on Police Reforms came barely 12 hours after Jonathan met with members of the Northern Elders Forum, led by Alhaji Maitama Sule, on the same issue.
The northern elders had during the meeting insisted that amnesty remained one of the major solutions to the menace posed by the sect.
At the meeting the President held with security chiefs, attendees were said to have weighed the various options opened to the Federal Government as far as amnesty was concerned.
The security chiefs refused to speak with journalists at the end of the meeting, except for the Chief of Defence Staff, Ola Ibrahim, who, when pressed, simply said, “Nigerians should sleep with their two eyes completely closed.”
Obada confirmed that the meeting was on the spate of insecurity in the country but when asked whether amnesty was discussed, she simply said, “Some issues to ameliorate the situation were discussed.”
“The meeting was on the spate of insecurity, I mean what we can do to ensure that it is brought to absolute minimum,” she said.
At the end of the meeting the President had with northern elders which lasted till 11:20pm on Wednesday, a member of the delegation, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, had told State House correspondents that the elders restated the need for members of the sect to be granted amnesty.
Abdullahi said, “What we discussed is that general opinion in the country that amnesty should be factored into all efforts being made by government to overcome the security challenges all over the country, or 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 and I’m sure that tomorrow (Thursday) something substantial will come out of that meeting.”
Maku had also told journalists that the government had not foreclosed the possibility of amnesty for the sect.
He confirmed that Jonathan had told the elders that he was still consulting extensively on the matter.
He however said the President insisted that certain conditions must be met before amnesty could be granted.
At the meeting alongside Sule and Abdullahi were Mrs. Paulen Tallen; Sheikh Ahmad Lemu, Paul Unongo and Solomon Dalung, among others.