By John Pontifex
A leading Nigerian prelate said that offering amnesty to Boko Haram fighters would prompt most of the militants to lay down their arms. Such a policy could bring about a peaceful resolution of the ongoing Islamists insurgency, according to Cardinal John Onaiyekan, the Archbishop of Abuja, the Nigerian capital.
On a visit to New York, the cardinal told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that up to 80 percent of Boko Haram fighters do not subscribe to the terror group’s Islamist ideology and are therefore likely to respond to the chance to leave the terror group without facing serious consequences.
The prelate said that “most fighters in the ranks of Boko Haram are there because they were drafted and had no choice” and that “those who espouse the theology of Boko Haram are few.”
He added that “up to 70 percent or 80 percent will want to come out.”
The cardinal’s call for the consideration of granting amnesty to Boko Haram fighters comes amid reports of breakthroughs in the struggle against the terror group.
Nigeria’s military just announced significant gains in its counter-offensive against Boko Haram in its traditional heartland in Nigeria’s northeast.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekaku, however, dismissed the claims as “lies.”
Cardinal Onaiyekan confirmed that “in the past month we have seen evidence of major inroads into parts of the country held by Boko Haram.”
“They no longer control large sections of our national territory. They no longer hold areas that are out of bounds to everybody but them—but they are still around and can create havoc.”
The archbishop praised the policies of new Nigerian President Mohammadu Buhari in tackling Boko Haram since he took office May 29, 2015, including the formation of an international coalition to take on Boko Haram through an alliance with neighboring Chad, Cameroon and Niger.
The prelate also stressed the importance of the involvement of major world powers like the US and France, whose ability to provide intelligence to the Nigerian army is crucial.
With Boko Haram apparently in retreat, the Cardinal said that a policy of offering amnesty to Boko Haram fighters would have to include a provision that would ensure that these militants give up their weapons and renounce violence along with any allegiance to Boko Haram.
The cardinal said that the government would have to promise those leaving Boko Haram decent treatment. Such a promise, he said, “will encourage many to come out.”
By contrast, he added, if the military, upon their surrender, “treats them badly or slaughters them, that will stop others from coming out.”
Proclaiming that Nigeria is “big enough and strong enough to take the risk of amnesty,” the cardinal acknowledged that the proposed policy is not popular among Christians.
He explained: “Boko Haram succeeded in destroying all goodwill between Muslims and Christians in those areas where [the terror group] was active.”
“We have seen a lot of anger between Muslims and Christians. Much will need to be done” to bring the two sides back together.
According to the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri, which lies in the heart of Boko Haram’s prime target area in Nigeria’s northeast, at least 5,000 people have been killed, while 350 churches and rectories were destroyed.
Up to 100,000 Catholics have been displaced and are only slowly beginning to return to their homes.
With picture of destruction in the Diocese of Maiduguri (© ACN)
Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.