Amnesty for violent Islamist sect?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

By Joseph DeCaro, Worthy News Correspondent

ABUJA, NIGERIA (Worthy News)-- African Christians are divided over a proposal to grant amnesty to the militant members of Boko Haram, the violent Islamist sect whose bombings have killed thousands of believers and destroyed hundreds of their churches in northern Nigeria.

As Nigeria's military struggles against Haram's Islamist insurgents, the ensuing violence has compelled some leaders to seek a political solution to a crisis that has continued unabated since 2009.

Historically, amnesty was granted to ecological activists operating in the nation's oil-rich Niger Delta in 2008; the deal restored peace to the region and raised its oil production, prompting Northern politicians to extend a similar offer to Boko Haram.

To that end, the government created a committee to develop a plan for amnesty in exchange for disarmament, but Haram leader Abubakar Shekau declined the offer, claiming it was Nigeria, not his sect, that needed amnesty.

As for Shekau's Christian victims, many fear that amnesty is just a tool to appease northern politicos before the 2015 presidential elections; in general, Protestant leaders consider any amnesty as unacceptable while Catholics desire more dialogue.

Earlier this year, the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria suspended relations with the Christian Association of Nigeria whose president, Ayo Oritsejafor, described any proposed amnesty as "wickedness"; in response, the Catholic archbishop of Abuja, John Onaiyekan, said amnesty could bring peace.

"Even if we fight them militarily for years, we would still have to have dialogue," he said. "Dialogue, not violence, is what ends wars everywhere in the world."

But Evangelical Bishop Jeremiah Gado said amnesty for Boko Haram only rewards violence by punishing Christians who have greatly suffered from the sect's sectarian attacks.

"Even God does not forgive a sinner until he confesses and repents," said Gado. "Boko Haram believes it has done nothing wrong. So why force amnesty down their throats?"