Nigeria sets up Islamist extremist amnesty group
LAGOS, Nigeria — Nigeria formed a panel that will create an amnesty program for Islamist extremists to try to quell a bloody guerrilla campaign of bombings and shootings that’s killed hundreds of people across its north, the government said Wednesday.
The 26-person panel, created by President Goodluck Jonathan, has a 60-day deadline to come up with an offer for militants belonging to the Islamist extremist network Boko Haram and other groups now fighting against government forces and killing civilians with apparent impunity.
A similar program in 2009 worked to halt the majority of attacks by militants in Nigeria’s oil-rich southern delta, though those fighting in the north have in the past rejected the idea of overtures from the government.
But problems with the committee immediately became apparent after it was announced. At least one member said he had not been consulted before his name was released, and the list of panelists included no member of any armed insurgent group.
The presidential committee, including police and military officials, as well as politicians and human rights activists, would ‘‘constructively engage key members of Boko Haram and define a comprehensive and workable framework for resolving the crisis of insecurity in the country,’’ according to a statement issued by presidential spokesman Reuben Abati.
The committee also would offer a ‘‘comprehensive victims’ support program,’’ though the statement offered no further details about it.
The presidency said it hoped disarming Islamist extremists would happen within two months’ time, an ambitious goal that probably will be extremely difficult.
The command-and-control structure of the main extremist network Boko Haram remains unclear.
It also has sparked several splinter groups, including those wanting to increasingly target Western interests and who have connections to other Al Qaeda-linked groups.
Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, also has repeatedly said he would refuse any amnesty offer. Shekau’s past demands included the release of all the sect’s imprisoned members and instituting Sharia law across all of Nigeria, a multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people.
The idea of an amnesty, discussed in some corners by analysts, came to a head in March when the Sultan of Sokoto, one of the country’s top Muslim leaders, called for it.
While the sultan did not speak in specifics, others have suggested offering an amnesty deal in line with one previously given to militants in Nigeria’s oil-rich southern delta in 2009.
That deal offered cash payments and job training to fighters in return for them giving up their weapons and halting attacks on foreign oil companies.
The 2009 amnesty deal, however, did not stop all attacks in the delta, nor did it halt the rapidly growing theft of crude oil from pipelines there that has caused serious environmental damage.
The militants in the nation’s largely Christian south also attacked the commodity that fills the nation’s coffers while typically not killing civilians.
Those extremists fighting in the nation’s Muslim north have shown no hesitation to kill civilians and security forces alike, nor does their fighting affect oil production.