President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday rejected calls for an amnesty deal for members of the violent Islamic sect, Boko Haram.
The Sultan of Sokoto and President-General of the Jama’atu Nasril Islam(JNI), Alhaji Mohammad Saad Abubakar on Tuesday called on the Federal Government to grant amnesty to members of the Boko Haram sect as a way of ending the insurgency in Northern Nigeria.
However, speaking at a town hall meeting in Damaturu during his official visit to Yobe State, president Jonathan reacted to the call by the top Islamic figure for an amnesty deal for insurgents.
He said: “You cannot declare amnesty for ghosts. Boko Haram is still operating as ghosts. You don’t see the person. I am from the Niger Delta and I know the amnesty issue of the Niger Delta. Some of these names you hear- Asari Dokubo, Tom Ateke – I never knew them before, until when I was a deputy governor and went to Abuja for a meeting with President Olusegun Obasanjo at the villa. I never knew them, even though I’m from Bayelsa State, the hotbed of the militancy at the time.
“What I am saying is that in the Niger Delta, if you call them, they will come and tell you their grievances, whether rightly or wrongly, but they will be there to tell you that this is what we want and this is why we are doing this.
“But the Boko Haram, you don’t see anybody who says he is a Boko Haram (member). As such, you cannot declare amnesty. For you to declare amnesty, you have to be communicating with people. You cannot declare amnesty for people that are operating under a veil, so we cannot even discuss the issue of amnesty.
“Let them come, let us discuss how we solve the problem. If amnesty will solve the problem, no problem about it. We can define what the amnesty is. I say so because even the Niger Delta amnesty was poorly managed with a lot of challenges. If I were not from the Niger Delta, the whole thing would have been disastrous by now because of the way it was poorly managed,” the President said.
Explaining why he had not visit until yesterday, he said: “I would have visited Yobe State long ago and even Borno State much much earlier. You can ask Col. Sambo Dasuki, the National Security Adviser (NSA) even before he took over, I said ‘look, we must go to these states’. When he (the NSA) took over, I had no time and he had to rush on a visit not quite one week after he assumed office.
“My visit is to re-assure the people of Yobe that there is no difference between the Federal Government and any other part of the country. There are some kinds of insinuations that President doesn’t want to go to the northeast.
“Following the crisis of Boko Haram, I visited two states outside those incidents that happened in Abuja. When the police headquarters was bombed, I had to go there. When the United Nations (UN) building was bombed, I visited and, of course, the first major attack on a religious centre was when the Catholic Church was bombed in Niger State and the kind of signals I had could have provoked actions. I had to rush down and declare that emergency. And, of course, when there was one major attack in Kano, I also visited.
“But somehow I have not visited Yobe, Borno, Adamawa, Bauchi and Gombe states I have not and sometimes people are insinuating that the president doesn’t like these states, no.
“My coming is to reassure the people of Yobe State that I don’t discriminate between the sections of the country. I took an oath of office to treat Nigeria as one and what affects Yobe State affects the rest of the country.
“The issues of terror, if you listen to my public statement, even outside Nigeria, I normally emphasise that when there is a terrorist situation in any part of the world, it affects the whole world because the victims may not necessary come from that part of the world. If one state or one community is under a terrorist attack, it affects the rest. Look at what happened in Bauchi State where some expatriate workers of Setraco were kidnapped. I get calls from the presidents of the countries where these people come from.
“There is no way a president, whether he is Jonathan or anybody, will say he will not care about what happens in any part of the federation. We must care; it has nothing to do with politics. I really want to use this opportunity to reassure my brothers and sister in Yobe State that because I had not visited Yobe does not mean that I am less concerned. I am happy today that we are interacting,” he said.
Jonathan landed in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state and considered the home base of Islamist extremists Boko Haram, and travelled by helicopter to neighbouring Yobe state.
Security was tight, with soldiers stationed along roads and movement restricted. He returned to Maiduguri later Thursday for a visit that will extend into Friday.
The visit came with Jonathan facing political pressure to visit the northeast.
There have been growing calls for Jonathan to visit the area. A group of opposition state governors visited Maiduguri last week, drawing further attention to Jonathan’s absence there.
Jonathan earlier in the day held talks with Yobe governor Ibrahim Geidam and was due to help commission a number of projects.