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Nigeria's Islamist rebel group rejects amnesty deal

The incoming governor of a northern Nigerian state offered an amnesty deal to Boko Haram, a local Islamist rebel group responsible for many attacks and assassinations.

By Alex ThurstonGuest blogger / May 16, 2011

Women look for useful goods at the burned Zonkwa Market in Kaduna, Nigeria, on April 21, 2011. Nigerian officials delayed gubernatorial elections in April in two predominantly Muslim northern states that were wracked by deadly riots and retaliatory violence after the presidential election was won by a Christian from the country's south.

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Last week, the governor-elect of Borno State, Northern Nigeria offered an amnesty deal to Boko Haram, the Islamist rebel group headquartered in his state. Since 2009, Boko Haram has staged numerous attacks and assassinations, including the murder of prominent politicians in Borno during Nigeria’s most recent campaign season. Governor-elect Kashim Shettima explained that the amnesty program, explicitly modeled on “aspects of the amnesty programme offered to militants in the country’s oil-producing Niger Delta region,” would involve “invit[ing] [Boko Haram] to a negotiating table as soon as we are in office to find out from them what their problems are and find solutions to them.” The idea of an amnesty has generated controversy, but Shettima seems to believe that a temporary peace would create the conditions for a lasting redress of grievances and the prevention of further violence.

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Boko Haram has rejected the amnesty offer in word and now deed. The verbal reaction came in ideological form:

"The spokesman of the sect who gave his name as Abu Dardam in a BBC Hausa programme monitored in Maiduguri [the capital of Borno State], stressed that their reason of not accepting the amnesty is that they don’t recognise democracy as a form of government.

The group also faulted the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, saying that justice can only be found in the Holy Quran, that is Shariya system of government."

More on Boko Haram’s statement here.

The physical reaction came in the form of shootings:

"Suspected members of an Islamist sect blamed for a series of attacks in northern Nigeria have shot and killed a driver for a state governor as well as a local chief, police said Friday.

The driver, Mai Kadai, had just left home Friday morning and was on his way to the Borno state governor’s office when two gunmen on motorcycles shot him dead, said police commissioner Mohammed Jinjiri Abubakar.

'From all indications, they knew who he was and were on his trail,' Abubakar told AFP of the attack in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.

Referring to the Islamist sect, he said: 'Apparently, this attack was carried out by members of Boko Haram. The mode of operation resembles Boko Haram’s.'

The attack followed another late Thursday that saw two motorcycle-riding gunmen open fire on local chief Abba Mukhtar outside his home in Maiduguri, killing him and seriously wounding a friend, police spokesman Lawal Abdullahi said."

…and, it seems, a bombing:

Borno State Police Command has confirmed the killing of two persons in a bomb blast on Friday night in Ruwan Zafi, Maiduguri, the state capital.

The state police public relations officer, PPRO, Malam Lawal Abdullah, who confirmed the deaths, Saturday, said that the bomb was planted on the roadside by unknown persons.

The amnesty offer was, whether you approve of it or not, a creative move. But Boko Haram has firmly rejected it. Shettima still has options he can pursue in addition to – or instead of – a continued crackdown, but a blanket peace deal will likely not work. In a way an amnesty is a blunt political tool. Perhaps now, if Shettima is still looking for ways to address political grievances and remove the emotional forces that motivate the movement, he must consider what scalpels he has available.

Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahel Blog.

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