Nigeria moves closer to amnesty offer for Islamists

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Nigeria took a further step towards granting amnesty to Boko Haram Islamists on Wednesday, with the president setting up a panel to study how the offer should be made.

Earlier this month, President Goodluck Jonathan instructed his security advisers to look at whether an amnesty could help curb the Boko Haram insurgency which has left thousands dead since 2009

Jonathan received the report from his security advisers late Tuesday, a statement said.

His office then announced the creation of a fresh panel tasked with “developing a framework for the granting of amnesty.”

The new 26-person body, composed mostly of people from Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north where Boko Haram is based, has also been instructed to set up a “framework through which disarmament could take place within a 60-day time frame”.

Shehu Sani, a prominent rights activist based in the north, said he was rejecting his own nomination onto the committee because authorities did not consult him before his name was included in the list.

“Nobody consulted me on if I am interested in serving on the committee and nobody told be anything about the nature of the assignment”, Sani, who presides the Civil Rights Congress, told AFP.

“I suggested the need to consult the leadership of the (Boko Haram) group discreetly through some names I mentioned in order to get their input,” he continued. “That advice was ignored. This new government approach will not get us anywhere and I don’t want to soil my reputation.”

It is unclear whether an amnesty offer would help reduce the violence, or whether members of the radical Islamist group are open to the proposal.

In an audio recording sent to AFP last week, Boko Haram’s purported leader Abubakar Shekau, designated a global terrorist by the United States, rejected the idea.

But the group is believed to be made up of many different factions. It has said it is fighting to create an Islamic state in the north, but its demands have repeatedly shifted.

Analysts say some members are likely hardcore Islamists who would resist any concession to Nigeria’s secular government.

Other members are thought to be dejected northern youths who have been radicalized out of frustration with massive government corruption and extreme poverty.

Jonathan has come under intense pressure over the issue, with politicians from the violence-torn north as well as Nigeria’s highest Muslim spiritual figure, the sultan of Sokoto, calling for amnesty.

The Boko Haram insurgency is estimated to have left more than 3,000 people dead since 2009, including killing by the security services.