There is no doubt, the section of Boko Haram and other extremists that ignite this debate are a mob of ignorant, depraved, erroneous, wicked and misguided zealots who have committed the most vile, heinous, evil and immoral crimes against innocent people; women and children whom have done absolutely nothing to them. And for that, under any structure or belief system, there has to be retribution. In any country of the world, criminal prosecution of those accused of committing crimes is a fundamental aspect of a victim’s right to justice. However, sometimes the concept of remedial justice for victims often has to be balanced against the need to deal effectively and progressively with the atrocities and not provoke or maintain further violence. In such a circumstance, a restorative justice approach incorporating amnesty, focusing on the normative rather than the punitive objectives of criminal law, may be the more appropriate model. And that is how the issue of amnesty for Boko Haram comes into the fray, since the current situation we are in could be said to lend itself to such a circumstance.
From time immemorial, amnesty has been employed as a means of promoting settlement and advancing reconciliation in societies that have emerged from repression. But even though, it is a tool that was historically often utilized in conflict resolution, it was never entirely viewed as the best option; only a necessary one. When atrocities are committed with such impunity, as is the case with Boko Haram, and are merely dealt with by forgiveness and restorative justice, for the concept of human rights to have real legitimacy, they must connect up with retributive conceptions of justice. And a carte-blanche amnesty for Boko Haram, despite the atrocious mass murders and butchering they have subjected innocent Nigerians to, does not meet up with that standard.
Putting the issue of human rights aside for now, whether amnesty is the wisest course for the government to pursue with Boko Haram essentially remains a matter of debate and perception. Instead of examining the pros and cons of amnesty for Boko Haram on a large scale; instead of making arguments about setting bad precedents, previous amnesty agreements with criminal, renegade Niger Delta militants and not negotiating with ghosts, I opt to examine what the adoption or rejection of amnesty really means; what it would represent. Perhaps, if we remove all our emotional and sentimental blinkers, and break down the implications of any amnesty deal to their very basic indices, we might have a different way of assessing what the adoption or rejection of amnesty for Boko Haram really represents.
Fundamentally, in its simplest form, the adoption of amnesty for Boko Haram entails a choice between peace and justice. Peace and justice; two resolutions that inspire and give way to each other, would normally go together and complement each other. Ideally, any strategy adopted in this matter should incorporate both concepts. But when we are dealing with the kind of amnesty we are discussing at this immediate time within the backdrop of the atrocities that have been committed, the amnesty may only offer the best prospect for peace, not justice. Within this our particular impasse, unless Boko Haram surrender and offer them-selves up for trial and prosecution today, the two concepts certainly cannot be applied in a manner where they co-exist together. There is just no getting away from it, Peace verses Justice must be brought to a direct point when we talk about amnesty for Boko Haram. And if there is a dichotomy between the two, as suggested in this case, and a single choice has to be made, what ought we to prefer?
I have my own personal views on the issue and find that, for me, it is a battle of conscience for the past against the present. The past, because for the victims and for the crimes that have already been committed, justice should be served. The present, because the innocent people existing within the eye of the storm deserve some reprieve, deserve peace. But a third facet of this reasoning, the most important one, is the future. Given a singular choice between the concept of peace and justice, which option has the ability to actually change the status quo and provide the most stable and secure future for Nigerians?
History shows that in countries which have come out of oppressive regimes and trials where crimes against humanity were committed, the peace deals that sacrifice justice often fail to give way to the expected peace in the long run. Whereas justice initiates a fundamental change in society that adjusts the situations that allowed for the conflict, peace deals arguably only restore societies back to a state of non-war; principally one that allowed for the crisis in the first place. One would be hard pressed to find a case where a system that selects justice ever leads to a return to that conflict. Therefore based on this argument, peace should never be favored over justice, only to allow it to inspire justice.
On the other hand, while international and national criminal trials promote justice, the quest for justice can be a long winding road and can exacerbate divisions and may even hinder the achievement of peace. Usually, those who face the potential for prosecution may be reluctant to lay down arms, giving way for the violence to continue. Instead, amnesties for perpetrators are often thought to promote peace and reconciliation, though it is sought at the expense of retributive justice. Amnesties can also provide the calm environment necessary for reflection and dialogue to end the conflict.
It is essential for the government upon pondering their decision on whether to give amnesty to Boko Haram to gauge the views of the population most affected by the violence rather than instigating plans based on the views of politicians and dogmatists. The communities, the families, the businesses, the various ethnicities residing in the red zones, those that have been targeted, hounded and slaughtered should have the first-refusal to make an input into the decision government makes about amnesty. It is their views that should count first and foremost. Unless the government and security agencies have concrete plans to ensure the security of every family living in the target communities, it is their cries, their anguish and not those of the naysayers not directly affected by the violence or those politicizing and tribalizing the issue, which the government should take into account, in addition to providing full reparation to all the victims and their relatives.
Any initiative that the government eventually applies in regards to amnesty for terrorists should ideally balance the demand for justice against the need for peace and reconciliation. And while the lack of amnesty for Boko Haram can provide accountability and amnesty can provide stability, the attainment of both at this very point in time is almost impossible. A choice has to be made on the resolution the government will adopt. And the choice needs to be made pretty soon… People are dying.
So as we continue to unravel this morbid, dark drama that Boko Haram has visited upon us, we can be certain that the choice is not about which group of criminals deserve amnesty and which don’t, it’s not about a perverse allegiance to ethnicity or religion, it’s not even about an incompetent government lead by a president that does not seem to have a clue; it’s about what we are willing to sacrifice; Justice for the cause of Peace or Peace for the cause of Justice?
Over to you President Johnny, Sir! So what will it be…; Peace or Justice?