In the last few weeks some terrorists who claim to have repented are hopping out like twin rabbits from a conjuror’s hat.
Some of them are carrying placards that say that they should be forgiven for their sins, that they have turned a new leaf and will never commit again the havoc that they committed against innocent, harmless, unarmed human beings. At the last count about 3,116 of them and their families had trooped out of the forests of northern Borno, Sambisa, the fringes of Lake Chad and Cameroon and put down their implements of destruction.
Of this figure about 1,300 surrendered in Cameroon while 1,816 were said to have surrendered to the Nigerian Army Theatre Command. We are told that those who have surrendered are undergoing Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration prior to their being given amnesty. For some people this amnesty gambit is the beginning of a horrid end, while to some it is the end of a blissful beginning. To some it is the equivalent of a Catch 22 situation, a choiceless choice, the beginning of an error or the end of an error. It is a difficult, very difficult, choice to make.
But it may not be such a difficult choice to make when we look at the history of their unconscionable atrocity and the mindlessness and savagery that attended it. They have killed an estimated 50,000 people since 2009, sent about three million people into refugee camps, captured, raped and impregnated thousands of girls and women, burnt down many communities, rendered many women husbandless, fatherless and motherless, and reduced young people to orphans. They killed and tortured our soldiers and made their wives widows and their children fatherless. They erased, in some cases, entire families and entire communities; they cut people’s throats; they decapitated them for no just cause.
And now they think “sorry” is the cure-all, the forgiveness potion. The former Minister of Agriculture and Chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) Chief Audu Ogbeh put it this way; “We are currently witnessing large scale surrender of large numbers of Boko Haram insurgents among who are bomb makers, commanders, arsonists, rapists and child snatchers. Do we have good reasons to cheer and hope for an end to this decade – old insecurity? Is “I am sorry” enough to bring relief to Nigerians and the thousands of the dead and maimed?” No, sorry is not enough. The terrorists are surrendering now because they think they can win a reprieve from death. With the newly acquired weapon by Nigeria and recently changed war commanders, the war situation is fast changing in favour of Nigeria. Also, the recent killing of their leader Abubakar Shekau who was reputed to be invincible has now opened the eyes of his followers to the possibility that they too can be struck down like chicken.
Besides, we are told that there is some confusion within their ranks arising from Shekarau’s death and the ensuring rivalry which has led to disorganization within their fold. Their supply of food and medicine is said to be running short and famine and some strange diseases are attacking their fighting spirit. The law of diminishing returns is now at work. That is why they are now yelping like puppies and asking to be set free from the looming possibility of the finality of death.
They have now switched from killer mode to kitten mode. Their surrender has put the Federal Government and the Borno State Government on the horns of a dilemma. Professor Babagana Zulum, Governor of Borno State states that there are two choices (a) an endless war or (b) to cautiously accept the surrendering terrorists which, he says, is really painful and difficult for anyone who has lost loved ones and for the military who have lost some of their colleagues. He explained further that for the period that this war has lasted only about 3% of farmland was cultivated while people depended on food aid amidst donor fatigue.
He admits that reintegrating the so-called repentant terrorists into communities may offend victims and usher in a possible rebellion. No matter what arguments he coughs up on the issue of integrating them into the communities he cannot be right because there is no right argument about pardoning such extremely cruel criminals whereas everyday people with far less grievous offences are being sent to jail. Even people who wore Tshirts recently with the harmless inscription “Buhari must Go” were arrested, detained, tortured and charged to court. So what would be the justification for setting free murderers, arsonists, rapists? In any case; for whom was the Terrorism Act enacted if not for terrorist suspects?
The Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Umar Garbai El Kanemi said something to the effect that integrating them into communities will not be the equivalent of a cakewalk. He said that 13 District Heads and many Ward Heads were killed in his Emirate alone. He said further: “Many people were killed and their properties destroyed for 12 years.
Many of you people and the media expect us to forget and forgive the repentant terrorists?” On the Borno resident who lost eight family members the Shehu said; “Since the repentant terrorists killed the entire family, the survivor will definitely pursue the reintegrated insurgent for revenge no matter where he goes or lives in the country.” That is the voice of realism. The truth is that treating the ex-terrorists like royalty is the equivalent of rewarding them for criminality.
So why for instance, will the law enforcement personnel bring to justice petty thieves of goats, chicken and yams and cell phones? If these petty criminals are made to pay for their sins daily in our courts what would be the justification for treating the savage criminals like a bunch of eggs that must not be allowed to fall and break? For the efficient and fair functioning of society every crime must be met with appropriate punishment meted out to the criminal through due process.
Those who are pushing for a blanket amnesty for these terrorists will receive no applause from Nigerians whose lives have been turned upside down in the last 12 years and those who continue to bear the visible scars of terrorism on their bodies and in their hearts. These are the people who feel the ache of their deprivation and dispossession and will be in no position to roll out a welcome mat for the savages that brought darkness into their lives. The dings and dents left by these wanton acts of criminality will last forever. Some people have referred to the law of Armed Conflict and the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war.
The Geneva Convention says that when an adversary surrenders or is so badly injured that he is no longer able to fight he should not be shot or killed. The prisoner is expected to be taken out of the war zone, documented and profiled by investigating his level of involvement and crimes committed. This does not mean that he has immunity from prosecution. The International Court of Justice (ICC) has been trying many war criminals including Mr. Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia who is now serving a jail term.
In any case, forgiveness of repentant terrorists is the equivalent of contempt for the dead and their grieving families many of whom are idling away un-rehabilitated by the government. How are they expected to feel when they see their former tormentors and killers of their loved ones being pampered and coddled like new wives? Or is it that their feelings do not matter? It is even doubtful whether any terrorist can truly repent and move away from his terrorist ideology. Some of those who reportedly gave information to the Taliban commanders which made their entry into and capture of Kabul a stroll in the park were said to be repentant Taliban fighters. Some of them were employed by the Allied Forces as interpreters. At the appropriate time they turned coat and wore their real skin again. There is also the case of Kairullah Khairvkhwa who was rehabilitated and set free from Guantanamo prison by President Barack Obama. He went back and wore his old skin as a Taliban leader. Back home, the Zamfara Government arrived at an agreement with some repentant/bandits.
They surrendered their arms and were paid large sums of money. They later reneged on the agreement, used the money to buy fresh arms and returned to their former trade as bandits. Today, banditry is on the upswing again in Zamfara. For them the expression “appetite comes from eating” rings very true. This issue of blanket pardon for criminals will remain perpetually controversial because they are not the sort of human beings who can be trusted. If they cannot be trusted to spare the lives of people who have done nothing to them why should they be trusted not to do it again? No one can vouch for the sincerity of these fellows. As Shakespeare said there is no art to find the mind’s construction on the face”.
Forgiveness is not a substitute for punishment. Crime and punishment always go together for the orderly conduct of the behaviour of human beings in all communities, large and small. But forgiveness is an act of discretion, not a compulsory covenant that regulates public conduct. If a crime suspect is convicted and in the course of serving the terms of his conviction he exhibits qualities of true repentance he can be forgiven purely on merit. It is not meritorious to forgive a criminal suspect when there is no concrete proof of his criminal behaviour in the first place and no evidence of his true repentance in the final analysis. To the idea of blanket forgiveness, the response is NO.