Amnesty and Boko Haram……GUARDIAN EDITORIAL

WHEN Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, called for amnesty for members of the Boko Haram sect, the response, appropriately, from President Goodluck Jonathan, on a visit to Maiduguri, was that the group remains faceless with no discernible agenda other than a hatred for western education as understood by only them. Therefore, amnesty could not be granted to “ghosts”.

Since then, some members of the sect or those who claim to know them have come out to say they are no “ghosts”.

With the continued violence unleashed on the nation, the latest being the attack four days ago on a motor park in Kano claiming scores of lives, one thing is certain: the ghost of Boko Haram is real and haunts Nigeria to devastating effect.

Against the background of these mindless killings, all windows of opportunity for engagement should be explored in the search for peace. Amnesty, however, is not such window yet.

It was at the Central Council meeting of the Jama’atu Nasril Islam recently that the Sultan asked President Goodluck Jonathan to grant amnesty to repentant Boko Haram militants. In his view, should the government embrace any member of the group who denounces terrorism, other members would end the siege in the North. “That will make any other person who picks up arms a criminal”. Expectedly, the suggestion drew the ire of some groups, which believe that the atrocities perpetrated by Boko Haram cannot simply be wished away, and that the pain the group has inflicted on Nigeria is too deep to countenance any amnesty.

That the sect, for no cognizable reason, has visited untold agony on the body and soul of Nigeria and currently threatens the nation’s life is an under-statement. A greater tragedy, however, is that its battle cry, rejection of the so-called western education, betrays an ignorance of the great pioneering role Islam played in the emergence of the same western education nay civilization that Boko Haram claims to be at logger-heads with today.

Looking at its genealogy, it would be an insult to Islam for anybody to purport to reject western education in the name of the revered faith. The greatest scholars in the history of the world whose contributions laid the foundation of what is today known as western education were Islamic scholars. One of the leading West African scholars of all times in the 19th century was Nana Asma’u, not only a Moslem, but also a woman. She was the daughter of Sheikh Uthman Dan Fodio, who founded Sokoto caliphate.

The science of preserving dead bodies known as embalment is a product of Islamic research and has its roots in Egypt. Science and technology, which, today is the source of pride of the western world has mathematics as its major pillar. Interestingly, mathematics has its root in Arabic numeral. The singular contribution of mathematics; a product of Islamic deep thinking, to what the world is enjoying today and equated with western education or civilization is gargantuan. Suffice it to say that hieroglyphics, the precursor of modern writing is also a creation of Islamic education and culture. This in a nutshell is an illustration of the far-reaching impact of Islam on current civilisation.

Today’s education or civilization, therefore, is a combination of various knowledge and education, which existed in the past. In other words, education did not start with the West and it cannot exclusively lay claim to the body of knowledge in existence today. This is the mistake members of Boko Haram are making. And this is the message that should be taken to them with a view to making them see the paradox of fighting a civilisation that has part of its roots in and has been well nurtured by the great religion of Islam.

This is why those who say that Boko Haram is an expression of widespread discontentment by a people who desire better standard of living, and who believe that their situation cannot improve due to lack of education may be right after all. The inability to get on with the dynamics of a changing society, which education would have afforded and the ravaging poverty that has now become the order of the day, particularly in the North perhaps make the patrons of Boko Haram to hold education responsible for their problems.

There is an extent to which it can be argued that the Sultan’s address agreed with the view that Boko Haram’s problem is beyond religion. According to him, “We will continue to call on the government to be just in whatever they do because the bottom line of the problem facing us has been injustice meted out to people who are not supposed to. By the grace of God, we will continue talking to the government”.

However justified the agitation of a people may be, it is ignorant to hold education responsible for their problems. That ignorance has to be addressed to ensure a paradigm shift. This is the task that requires the urgent attention of all and sundry, particularly the leadership of the North. In other words, amnesty, as canvassed by the Sultan is secondary and consideration of anything of the sort may have to wait until all the fundamentals have been addressed.

The northern elite must as a matter of urgency convince members of the sect or other Muslims who may share the same view with them of the wrongfulness of their campaign. The leaders should take it upon themselves to re-orientate the mass of discontented people in the region, who are aggrieved by years of impoverishment foisted on them by the same leaders, who over time appropriated so much to themselves and their children at the expense of the people, that the problem of the region has nothing to do with western education. It must be a consistent and pragmatic communication, the kind which the Sultan himself attempted in his address to the Moslem faithful when he said, “My dear brothers and sisters, we are facing a lot of challenges in this country and as Muslims, we owe it as a duty to everybody to ensure that we contribute positively to peace and stability of this country. We have been talking and will continue to be talking until Allah takes us away. Because we believe that it is only when we dialogue that issues will become clearer. I believe we are all patriotic; we all love ourselves and we all love our neighbours as Almighty Allah says.” Indeed, the clincher is in those final words: “We must never propagate falsehood about something if we don’t know as Muslim leaders”.

This kind of communication soothes frayed nerves and it is required to build understanding and cooperation among the different sections of the multi religious and multi ethnic society, particularly those who have been at the receiving end of the violence and who may have to forbear a little bit more and live with the occasional inconveniences that may be experienced during the process of constructive engagement with the sect. The sincerity of the engagement across board will heal the wounds created by the acrimony and will make a handshake across religious and ethnic barriers possible. This will inevitably bring about practical collaboration between those on whose behalf the sect purports to be fighting and those who are the victims of the atrocities in an atmosphere devoid of mutual suspicion and distrust. It is at that point that amnesty may become part of the bargain. Otherwise, it is premature to conceive of it