President Goodluck Jonathan has directed the armed forces to launch a full-scale military operation against Boko Haram and other violent organisations to put an end to their impunity in the country.
“I am determined to protect our democracy, our national unity and our political stability by waging a total war against terrorism,” he said in his nationwide Democracy Day broadcast in Abuja on Thursday.
It was not immediately known what such an offensive could entail given that the North-East where most of the activities of terrorists take place has been under emergency rule and a full-scale military operation for a year now.
But a top Defence Headquarters official told The PUNCH shortly after the broadcast that the Special Forces and other security operatives involved in the prosecution of the anti-terrorism campaign would have a near unlimited space to operate.
The phrase “total war”, however, was used by Chad’s President Idriss Deby following a meeting of Nigeria’s neighbours in Paris in mid-May, in which they sought a common strategy to fight the militants.
“I assure you … that these thugs will be driven away. It will not happen overnight, but we will spare no effort to achieve this goal,” Jonathan said.
The President explained that the full-scale operation against the terrorists had become imperative because they had unleashed war on Nigeria.
But he still did not rule out “dialogue, reconciliation” with the insurgents if they renounced terrorism and embraced peace.
Jonathan said that Nigeria’s unity, stability and the protection of lives and property were non-negotiable.
He restated the determination of his administration to protect the nation’s democracy, national unity and political stability.
The President said the activities of terror groups in the country had caused debilitating pains and horror for the nation particularly the abduction of schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno, on April 14.
“It is now 45 days since the horrifying abduction of the college girls of Chibok. I share the deep pain and anxiety of their parents and guardians.
“I assure them once again that government will continue to do everything possible to bring our daughters home.
“I am determined to protect our democracy, our national unity and our political stability, by waging a total war against terrorism. The unity and stability of our country, and the protection of lives and property are non-negotiable. I have instructed our security forces to launch a full-scale operation to put an end to the impunity of terrorists on our soil.
“I have also authorised the security forces to use any means necessary under the law to ensure that this is done.
“I assure you that Nigeria will be safe again, and that these thugs will be driven away.
“It will not happen overnight, but we will spare no effort to achieve this goal.”
Jonathan lamented that terrorists were threatening to rubbish all the gains of the past 15 years of democratic governance in the country.
He also maintained that foreign elements were collaborating with some misguided Nigerians to bring down the country as well as its democracy and freedom.
Jonathan said the abduction of the schoolgirls showed the heartless nature of terrorists who he said wanted to instigate a descent into anarchy and balkanise the nation.
He said, “It is a sad fact that as I address you today(Thursday), all the gains of the past 15 years of democratic governance in our country are threatened by the presence of international terrorism on our shores.
“Our dear country, Nigeria is facing a new challenge. A war has been unleashed on us. Extremist foreign elements, collaborating with some of our misguided citizens, are focused on an attempt to bring down our country and the democracy and freedom we cherish and celebrate today.
“The despicable abduction of schoolgirls from Chibok in Borno State has brought to the awareness of the entire world, the heartless nature of these terrorists who want to instigate a descent into anarchy and balkanise our nation.
“In recent years, terrorist attacks have claimed the lives of several of our compatriots, many have been injured or maimed, whole villages and communities have been destroyed and the economy of some of our states is in jeopardy.
“There can be no doubt that what we are witnessing in Nigeria today is a manifestation of the same warped and ferocious world view that brought down the Twin Towers in New York, killed innocent persons in Boston and led to the murder of defenceless people in the Southern Russian city of Volgograd.
“Terrorist activities have brought war and pains to Mali, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. These agents of evil continue to brainwash and incite ignorant young men and women to attack the innocent. We cannot allow this to continue.”
Jonathan said he welcomed the statements of solidarity from patriotic citizens and the global community in support of his government’s efforts to stamp out terrorism.
He also applauded the understanding that in a democracy, people could have differences while sharing worthy values and standing together in opposition to terrorism.
The President said since Nigeria was the only country Nigerians had, they must all work to preserve it for present and future generations.
He commended the nation’s security agencies and urged Nigerians not to forget their gallantry and successes in liberating nations like Liberia, Sierra Leone, Congo, Sudan, Mali and Guinea-Bissau.
Jonathan added, “We must show confidence in their ability. I have no doubt that, with the support of Nigerians, our neighbours and the international community, we will reinforce our defence, free our girls and rid Nigeria of terrorists.
“For our citizens who have joined hands with al-Qaeda and international terrorists in the misguided belief that violence can possibly solve their problems, our doors remain open to them for dialogue and reconciliation, if they renounce terrorism and embrace peace.
“My government, while pursuing security measures, will explore all options, including readiness to accept unconditional renunciation of violence by insurgents, and to ensure their de-radicalisation, rehabilitation and re-integration into the broader society.”
The President said Nigerians must work with the security agencies to overcome the terrorists.
While admitting that the war against terror may be difficult, he assured Nigerians that the days of peace would come again.
He said terror was evil and nowhere in history had evil endured forever.
“The menace of Boko Haram will surely come to an end. I believe that because of your prayers, your courage, hard work, faith and sacrifice, we will ultimately prevail over the terrorists and all other evil forces.
“We are a strong, resilient and courageous people. We will continue to partner the civilised world to confront international terrorism and every other challenge that comes our way with patriotic zeal and determination.
“Yes, we have challenges but we will surely overcome. Nigeria is our country. Nigeria is blessed. We will all collectively protect, defend and develop this country for ourselves, and our children,”Jonathan said.
Despite the security challenges Jonathan said Nigeria had come a long way and made notable progress since its first Democracy Day on May 29, 1999.
He said although he had ordered a low-key commemoration of this year’s Democracy Day in deference to the current mood of the nation, there was no doubt that the past 15 years had been a blessing to Nigerians.
The PUNCH learnt from a top official of the DHQ in Abuja that the military was expected to be more frontal in the fight against the insurgents.
The official, who pleaded not to be named, said that troops and their commanders would no longer bother about diplomacy and other factors which inhibited the operations in some ways.
It was further stated that the statement was expected to be followed with troops and equipment deployment.
Our source said, “The President has created a division in that area; he has created more brigades and we now have more battalions on the ground.
“With his statement, the war is expected to gather momentum; there would be no more diplomacy; it is expected to be more frontal. I think ‘frontal’ is the word to watch out for now.
“Also, there would be deployment of troops and equipment.”
When contacted, the Director of Defence Information, Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, said,
“Watch out for subsequent development, thank you.”
Jonathan declares amnesty for B’Haram members
At another event organised to mark the Democracy Day for youths, the Minister of Youth Development, Mr. Boni Haruna, announced that Jonathan had offered amnesty for Boko Haram members ready to lay down their arms and embrace peace.
Haruna, who gave an overview of youths’ position in the present administration’s transformation agenda at an event attended by Jonathan and Vice-President Namadi Sambo, said the offer was part of youths-friendly programmes and policies of the government.
The event was almost marred by power failure that happened when the President mounted the podium to present a compendium of his administration’s achievements in the last one year and answer questions from youths.
Haruna said, “President Jonathan has also declared amnesty for members of the Boko Haram sect. A series of integration programmes have been lined up for members of the sect who would surrender their arms and embrace peace.”
He therefore called on the sect members to embrace the government’s gesture by keying into the amnesty programme.
The minister recalled that in the wake of youth restiveness in the Niger Delta, the government came up with a development programme which provided an opportunity for the youth to express themselves and have a meaningful life.
Haruna said although the amnesty programme was a fallout of a bitter national security challenge , its effect on the youth had been profound.
He disclosed that 30,000 youths that benefitted from the programme transformed from militants to wealth creators, employers of labour and skilled citizens.
Jonathan while answering questions from youths who attended the programme tagged “A day with young leaders of Nigeria,” said the military alone was incapable of stopping terrorism or any kind of radicalism alone .
Pointing out that terrorism could not succeed in any community without local support, Jonathan stressed the need for people respected by insurgents to join hands with the government to persuade them to desist from violence.
He said, “Terror succeeds with local support. It will be difficult for terror to thrive where people reject it. It is a major challenge to all of us.
“Military alone cannot stop terror or any radicalism. Terrorists have people they respect, they have community, traditional and opinion leaders they respect. All of us can deradicalise them.
“We will through persuasive activities encourage people to shun violence.”
He said the Federal Government was already working out the modalities for reintroducing moral education into the school curriculum.
This, he said, would assist in re-orientating young people.
Jonathan promised that his administration would continue to encourage young people because they are no longer leaders of tomorrow but of today.
He said youths were already leading because they decide who rules at all levels of government by virtue of their population which he put at 60 per cent of the electorate.
The President also reiterated his position that the nation’s income distribution was skewed.
While saying that government was working hard to redistribute wealth, he added that one of the priorities of his government was to encourage self-employment.
Responding to a question on the need to have a youth as the Minister of Youth Development, Jonathan said, “the best person to take care of a child may not necessarily be a child.”
He added that the young ones needed to tap from the experiences of older ones. He also stressed the need for political parties to give women more opportunities.
The event which was held at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, was nearly marred by interruption in power supply.
The incident occurred at the time Jonathan mounted the podium. He remained standing in front of the participants with his security aides for about 15 minutes while the power failure lasted.
He was on the verge of returning to his seat to give the organisers time to rectify the fault when power was finally restored.
The President of the Senate, David Mark, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, were among the dignitaries who did not attend the event.
The tone for the event was set by the Minister of State, Foreign Affairs, Dr. Nurudeen Mohammed, who narrated the circumstances leading to his appointment as a minister at a young age of 33.
The event featured the presentation of the third anniversary of the present administration’s transformation agenda in book form by the President, a video documentary of the third anniversary of the transformation agenda and the launching of Youth Entrepreneurial Mentorship and Empowerment Scheme, among others.
Highlights of the event included a motivational talk by the Chief Executive Officer, Mara Foundation, Mr. Ashish Takker.
Takker is said to be the youngest African billionaire.