Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, yesterday, backed the call by the Sultan of Sokoto for the granting of amnesty to members of the Boko Haram sect, as a means of achieving peace in the north.
However, before the pardon, the clergy wants members of the sect to seek repentance for the large number of persons and property they have destroyed without any justification.
Cardinal Onaiyekan, who stated this in his Easter massage, noted that although government had power to give state pardon to criminals, it must be done with caution.
According to the Cardinal, the sect must seek forgiveness and repentance, so that it would not appear as if the members had done the right thing and were being persuaded to seek pardon from the government.
He said, “as regards the case of an offer of amnesty to the Boko Haram, I believe that we should not throw away outright the consideration of such amnesty. Faced with an intractable problem, we have to explore all possible avenues of solution. The security response in terms of arms, gadgets and trained personnel is useful and necessary, but obviously not enough on its own.
“Government does well to reach out to all political forces and currents, so that the nation can be on the same political page and jointly address this common menace, which terrorism is.
“Under such an atmosphere of common efforts, the call for amnesty would seem to me quite appropriate and even necessary. I therefore see the call of the Sultan as an invitation to further discussion and dialogue among Nigerians to sharpen the focus of government action in this matter.
“That discussion has started, for which we should thank the Sultan and his courageous proposal. In every conflict, a time comes when dialogue and talking must be brought into the equation, in view of final solution.
“But before the Boko Haram can be seriously considered for amnesty, they must meet the two conditions mentioned earlier for forgiveness, namely repentance and amendment. Before they are eligible for any amnesty, they must at least admit that they were wrong to be killing innocent people, whatever may have been their grievances. If this is not done, they could well continue to feel that they did the right thing and perhaps, it is the rest of us who ought to beg them for pardon.”
The Archbishop urged the government to address the growing problems of poverty and unemployment and promote good governance so as to give the people justifiable reasons for electing them into the office they are occupying.
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“We have to find ways of getting ourselves out of the tight grip of these two evils (insecurity and massive corruption). It will require not only legal approach but also wise political moves and quiet diplomatic efforts as well as the input from the spiritual leadership of the country.
“This means that the problem of Nigeria is the problem of all of us and we must find a way of putting our heads together to change our ways of doing things so that a great nation can emerge.
On the pardon granted the former Bayelsa State governor, the Onaiyekan said it was a setback to the fight against graft.
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“Obviously, the State must handle very carefully whatever powers it has to forgive criminals otherwise the whole structure of law and order in the society will be seriously compromised. There may be political considerations but these cannot be allowed to overthrow moral imperatives.
“It is alleged that a lot of the stolen money is not lost. It is said to be somewhere invested in one way or the other. That money belongs to the Nigerian people and it must be given back to them. How this will be done should be part of the conditions that would have to be worked out in the process for pardon.
“Whatever government decides to do in this matter, it must not forget that the issue of corruption in high places is of major concern to Nigerians. Much has been said about fighting corruption. But people are fast losing confidence in the sincerity of government to turn the tide.
“Pardon for high profile corruption cases will certainly reduce further whatever is left of the confidence of the people. This has serious political and social fall-out that government cannot afford to ignore”.