The pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, has thrown its weight behind President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision not to grant amnesty to the Islamic sect, Boko Haram.
A chieftain of the group, Ayo Adebanjo, told Saturday PUNCH in a telephone interview on Friday that the President’s stance was a step in the right direction.
The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar lll, had on Tuesday appealed to the Federal Government to grant “total amnesty” to all the armed groups operating in Nigeria, including Boko Haram.
The Sultan, who is also the President of Jama’atul Nasril Islam, made the call in Kaduna at the annual meeting of the Central Council of the organisation.
But the President, in a veiled reaction to the Sultan’s call during his official visit to Yobe State on Thursday, said he could not grant amnesty to ghosts.
Adebanjo said, “What the President said made sense; how can you grant amnesty to people who you don’t know, people who don’t have a face? What the President said was common sense. They have not come forward to state what they are fighting for.”
He said it was wrong for anyone to compare the Boko Haram elements with Niger Delta militants, who enjoyed amnesty.
Another Afenifere, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, said there was no way the Federal Government would grant amnesty to faceless criminals.
He urged the Sultan not to feel slighted because the President rejected his amnesty suggestion, but to rather work with the government to curtail the activities of the sect.
He said, “President Jonathan’s position is most acceptable and commendable. There is no way government could negotiate with faceless criminals.
“It had happened in other countries and it fizzled out. These criminals cannot sustain their lawlessness for too long. They will soon be tired and fizzle out of existence.”
The North has, however, risen in defence of the Sultan’s suggestion to the President.
The Arewa Consultative Forum noted that the Sultan’s request should not be seen as out of tune as the suggestion may be a way of encouraging the sect leaders to come out for a dialogue.
The forum insisted that the use of force against a “faceless” group had not been successful anywhere in the world.
Its National Publicity Secretary, in a text message to one of our correspondents in Kaduna on Friday said, “When you ask ACF to react to the Sultan’s suggestion for general amnesty and the President’s saying that there cannot be a dialogue and amnesty for a faceless group, I wonder what you want me to say.
“I do not think the Sultan meant amnesty without conditions. And because the leaders of Boko Haram may be afraid to show themselves for a dialogue, the Sultan may be suggesting an offer of amnesty in the hope of encouraging them to come out for the dialogue without fear for their lives.
“That is to say, the Sultan may be saying in his own way that the government needs to go beyond rhetoric and do something practical in order to make the leaders of the sect show their faces.
“Mr. President may be right when he said the government could not have a dialogue with a faceless group. Yet, he cannot say it is not the responsibility of the government to find a way of bringing leaders of the sect into the negotiation table, however difficult.”
Meanwhile, Governor Shettima Kashim of Borno State on Friday appealed to the President not to treat the issue of dialogue and negotiation with levity.
“It is our duty to unearth the ghosts that we seek to negotiate with. Getting just one person can lead to getting hundreds more,” he said.
The governor said that the ultimate resolution of the Boko Haram crisis was in a resort to a political solution.
He advised that the spirit of dialogue and negotiation should be embraced “to end this dark phase of our life as a nation in general and Borno State in particular.”