Nigeria: African Futures Post on Amnesty and Boko Haram

I’m outsourcing today’s post: I’m up at African Futures, a blog run by the Social Science Research Council, with a post on proposals to give amnesty to Nigeria’s Boko Haram sect. If you read the piece, please stop back by here and let me know your reactions in the comments section.

8 thoughts on “Nigeria: African Futures Post on Amnesty and Boko Haram

  1. “Creating special zones where Boko Haram members may live may prove possible.”

    If Boko Haram had the capacity to overwhelm the state (like FARC in particular geographical areas), it might be ignored until the state is ready to deal with it comprehensively. We haven’t gotten to that stage and aren’t likely to.

    Please that suggestion is (a) dangerous and (b) is fraught with political risk. If President Jonathan drives it, it becomes evidence of his “weakness”. If the Northern elite drive it, it is seen as “evidence of their culpability”.

    Overall, the write-up is good. Let me add a few points.

    1. Nigeria has a history ethno/religious rivalry and suspicion and Boko Haram should be viewed within that context.

    2. I doubt whether Jonathan’s heart has ever been with “amnesty” and I think he’s bringing it up to “fulfill all righteousness”. No one can accuse him of “not listening to Northern elders”. (On his last trip to Maiduguri his body language showed that his heart wasn’t in it).

    3. It is very difficult to defend “amnesty for Boko Haram”. Firstly, the Niger Delta amnesty created a whole new set of problems and it is not financially sustainable in the long run. Secondly, it sends the wrong message to people who have suffered the most from Boko Haram (Muslims, Christians & people from different ethnic groups).

    The Christian community in Northern Nigeria is not insignificant (they constitute 30 – 40% of Borno’s population) and Northern Christians will be a solid voting block for Jonathan in 2015 (given that the opposition will nominate a Muslim from the North West).

    Jonathan would be foolish to ignore them

    4. There’s the oft quoted: “Many analysts cite widespread anger in northern Nigeria at corruption, poverty and unemployment as a partial explanation for Boko Haram’s emergence”.

    This explanation might sound good to Western think tanks, but in the Nigerian context it is meaningless. Poverty rates are higher than 60% nationwide and Christian communities in the North suffer from the same pervasive poverty, corruption and unemployment – and in addition, they also have to deal with state sanctioned discrimination. Yet they don’t resort to terrorism as a result.

    You cannot sell this to a nation of largely poor people – that violence & terrorism should somehow be rewarded because “some people are poor” and other poor people should be ignored because they are law abiding?

    The fact is that the Sahel region is likely to be poorer than the coast – and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. It is also politically impossible to take more resources from the Niger Delta and invest them in North East (especially when the Niger Delta isn’t fully convinced it’s getting a fair deal from its own resources).

    There’s also the history of post-Civil War reconstruction. Nigeria was ruled by largely Northern Army officers during the post-Civil War reconstruction. It was vindictive and shabbily done (the maximum compensation was a mere £20). So I don’t expect people from the South East or Niger Delta (or anywhere else to be enthusiastic about elaborate schemes for the North East).

    5. At the end of the day, the responsibility for any economic rejuvenation of the North East will lie in the local governors. I don’t expect Abuja to do much more than restore security, any massive spending there would be politically problematic.

  2. “Creating special zones where Boko Haram members may live may prove possible.”

    If Boko Haram had the capacity to overwhelm the state (like FARC in particular geographical areas), it might be ignored until the state is ready to deal with it comprehensively. We haven’t gotten to that stage and aren’t likely to.

    Please that suggestion is (a) dangerous and (b) is fraught with political risk. If President Jonathan drives it, it becomes evidence of his “weakness”. If the Northern elite drive it, it is seen as “evidence of their culpability”.

    Overall, the write-up is good. Let me add a few points.

    1. Nigeria has a history ethno/religious rivalry and suspicion and Boko Haram should be viewed within that context.

    2. I doubt whether Jonathan’s heart has ever been with “amnesty” and I think he’s bringing it up to “fulfill all righteousness”. No one can accuse him of “not listening to Northern elders”. (On his last trip to Maiduguri his body language showed that his heart wasn’t in it).

    3. It is very difficult to defend “amnesty for Boko Haram”. Firstly, the Niger Delta amnesty created a whole new set of problems and it is not financially sustainable in the long run. Secondly, it sends the wrong message to people who have suffered the most from Boko Haram (Muslims, Christians & people from different ethnic groups).

    The Christian community in Northern Nigeria is not insignificant (they constitute 30 – 40% of Borno’s population) and Northern Christians will be a solid voting block for Jonathan in 2015 (given that the opposition will nominate a Muslim from the North West).

    Jonathan would be foolish to ignore them

    4. There’s the oft quoted: “Many analysts cite widespread anger in northern Nigeria at corruption, poverty and unemployment as a partial explanation for Boko Haram’s emergence”.

    This explanation might sound good to Western think tanks, but in the Nigerian context it is meaningless. Poverty rates are higher than 60% nationwide and Christian communities in the North suffer from the same pervasive poverty, corruption and unemployment – and in addition, they also have to deal with state sanctioned discrimination. Yet they don’t resort to terrorism as a result.

    You cannot sell this to a nation of largely poor people – that violence & terrorism should somehow be rewarded because “some people are poor” and other poor people should be ignored because they are law abiding?

    The fact is that the Sahel region is likely to be poorer than the coast – and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. It is also politically impossible to take more resources from the Niger Delta and invest them in North East (especially when the Niger Delta isn’t fully convinced it’s getting a fair deal from its own resources).

    There’s also the history of post-Civil War reconstruction. Nigeria was ruled by largely Northern Army officers during the post-Civil War reconstruction. It was vindictive and shabbily done (the maximum compensation was a mere £20). So I don’t expect people from the South East or Niger Delta (or anywhere else to be enthusiastic about elaborate schemes for the North East).

    5. At the end of the day, the responsibility for any economic rejuvenation of the North East will lie in the local governors. I don’t expect Abuja to do much more than restore security, any massive spending there would be politically problematic.

  3. Alex,

    I’ve become a regular follower and subscribe to daily updates. I think your overall assessment if pretty accurate. That being said, allow me to add a few points:

    Reconciliation, Reintegration, Amnesty, etc… are essential components of any counterinsurgency/counterrevolution, especially from a domestic government (not a foreign invader).

    You state that “the equation “money for peace” may not adequately address the factor of religion. Boko Haram members who fight not for a larger slice of Nigeria’s oil revenues but for the vision of a more Islamic Nigeria may be unmoved by offers of jobs and payments.”

    This may be absolutely true, but the pretense of Reconciliation/Reintegration is not to convert Islamic hardliners into moderates. While the goals of Boko Haram may be Sharia Law and an Islamic state, I’m hard pressed to believe 100% of Boko Haram fighters are Islamic hardliners. Especially with the increased abuse demonstrated by Nigerian Soldiers, Boko Haram recruiting efforts do not need to rely on Islam as a foundation but can simply draw individuals to their cause (see Accidental Guerilla; it’s applicable here).

    The overarching concept of Amnesty is to provide alternative lifestyles than what a Sharia Islamic state could offer. The endstate of such a political program should be to provide the incentives for moderates to lay down their arms and pursue these alternatives therefore isolating Islamic fundamentalist and enabling the eventual destruction of their cause.

    • Thanks for weighing in. This makes sense, except that my impression has been that proponents of amnesty envision a scenario where government leaders negotiate directly with Boko Haram leaders. Opening up a general amnesty offer may be part of the plan, and that might well succeed in the way you envision, i.e. by drawing off fighters who are not necessarily motivated by Islam. But that gets back to the question of how much coherence “Boko Haram” has, and who can speak for it, and on what criteria to include people in an amnesty program. Follow-through is also critical. The Delta amnesty, according to what I’ve read, has failed to include/satisfy many of the foot soldiers; if there is amnesty in the Northeast then in my view it should spring from a new model, rather than an effort to adapt the Delta model.

      • Alex,

        Fair points. I have limited Africa experience, but I was significantly involved with the Afghan Peace and Reintegration Program. The success we had/have in its application could be a model for exporting to other countries. This is even more convincing because APRP was successful in Amnesty for Islamic fighters who began to eschew their connections with the Taliban/HIK/HIG/etc…to participate in the reintegration process at the local level (tribal) with national support. The benefit that APRP has is that it has no selective criteria. All fighters are welcome to participate (with exception to certain individuals that would be strategic victories such as UBL, Hekmatyar).

        This may be a model worth exploring, however, it is a dangerous political gamble. And like all things, it will require overwhelming domestic support.

      • rtiberius,

        Nigeria is not Afghanistan. The political economy is different.

        While Afghanistan is religiously homogeneous, Nigeria is not. So what is politically feasible in Afghanistan might not be feasible in Nigeria.

        “Amnesty” in Northern Nigeria will only be meaningful if there is massive expenditure in that region. The Nigerian State is expending a lot of resources in the Niger Delta, so there will be relatively little to spend elsewhere.

        Secondly, the Nigerian government also has to deal with sectarian (ethno/religious) crises in Nigeria’s “Middle Belt” – any massive expenditure in the North could encourage the kind of behaviour we see in the North East (Already, an ethnic uprising in the “Middle Belt” has led to the deaths of several policemen).

        Nigeria does not have the deep pockets of the United States and some of the fellows on the “Amnesty committee” are people who Boko Haram holds in deep contempt.

        There are no easy answers, the theory of implementation might be sound, but knowing what I know about Nigeria, I cannot see “amnesty” in Northern Nigeria being of much value.

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