Even before the offer of amnesty was made, it was rejected out of hand. In words dripping with scorn and disdain for constitutions and the rule of law, two leaders of the terrorist group Jamā'a Ahl al-sunnah li-da'wa wa al-jihād (Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad), better known as Boko Haram (Western education is forbidden), spat in Jonathan’s eye. The leader of the group, Abubakar Shekau, is “surprised” that Jonathan would consider granting amnesty to him and his followers. Such presumptuousness! Expressing his bemusement in an audio recording, Shekau proclaimed his terrorist organisation as more sinned-against than sinning. They have “not committed any wrong to deserve amnesty,” he said. And then he seized the moral ground together with its prerogative of mercy. “Surprisingly, the Nigerian government is talking about granting us amnesty. What wrong have we done? On the contrary, it is we that should grant you pardon,” he said, then listed the government’s “atrocities” against Muslims. A few days earlier, one Abu Dardam, spokesman of a faction of the sect, told the BBC’s Hausa service just why amnesty was out of the question: they do not recognize democracy as a form of government, nor constitutions. There can be justice only in the Holy Quran and under Sharia law.
Yet, in spite of these declarations of absolute opposition to the basic principles of our existence as a nation, of peaceful co-existence in any polity, I still hear people imploring Jonathan to find a way of imposing amnesty on Boko Haram, whether its members want it or not. He should, they say, ignore not only their unmistakable scorning of the mere prospect of amnesty but also the outrageous claim that they, not the president, are the ones to render that office when Allah instructs them accordingly. In the name of peace, apologists for what at best would be a resultant “peace of the graveyard” still find it possible to urge dialogue with individuals whose very mission is the abolition of reason and civil discourse. I have looked for a credible argument in support of this call and found nothing but worn-out platitudes: dialogue, peace. Even from our anti-corruption “hero,” Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, whose improvement on the mantra — other than begging Boko Haram to reconsider and accept amnesty — is something about “the feelers and body language” of sworn jihadists. “The feelers and body language of the sect,” he says, are “not encouraging, but that does not mean that we should abandon (amnesty) or give up. We should pursue the direction of peace.”
It is as if the more than 3000 dead, the countless maimed physically and psychologically, many of whom shall never recover from their trauma, and the homes and livelihoods destroyed, have all resulted from “feelers and body language.” Governor Aliyu Babangida of Niger State comes closer to a coherent strategy for ending Boko Haram’s terrorism, but he merely advocates a more comprehensive approach that includes amnesty as a major prong and greater responsibility on the part of his fellow Northern governors. No one is asking, But dialogue over what? I ask: what is unclear about the cold contempt for democracy expressed by Shekau and Dardam? Where is the possible meeting place between an Islamic theocracy (any theocracy) and a democracy? What is the proviso to Section 10 of the Constitution — which states curtly, “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion” — that would permit a middle ground in any purported dialogue with men who recognise only the law and government of God and are prepared to kill or die for that obnoxious belief? Isn’t it clear by now that Boko Haram’s goal is an Islamic Republic of the old Northern Region? Has the amnesty-and-peace crowd endorsed Boko Haram’s implicit two-state solution to Nigeria? Admittedly, Ribadu wants Boko Haram to “understand” that their goal of a fundamentalist Islamic republic “has not worked anywhere in the world and ...will not work in Nigeria,” so why does he not call for a real solution?
By all means, let there be dialogue, but of a different kind: the sort that progressives have been calling for since 1989. In other words, a sovereign national conference. The unbearable itch for a Sharia republic in the old Northern Region will not be salved by dim-witted, knee-jerk, measures that only treat the symptoms of Nigeria’s “genetic” disease. Before Boko Haram there was Othman dan Fodio’s jihad, the Sharia debacle at the 1978 Constituent Assembly that almost aborted the Second Republic, and Maitatsine riots that made the north as bloody and ungovernable in the 1980s and 1990s as now. And although their grievances are well within the ambit of constitutional resolution, it is nevertheless true that every other part of the country feels marginalised and oppressed in one palpable form or another. If you add to each geo-political group’s recitations of atrocities — not to mention class, gender and youth-specific injustices — the massive, systemic and life-draining corruption engendered by a warped federalism, there can be no greater urgency than of a sovereign national conference NOW. Instead, the air is rife with calls for dialogue with the political variety of deluded men-of-God out to establish his government through murder and mayhem. In the name of peace, we are being goaded into Boko Haram’s two-state solution.