Cardinal John Onaiyekan, the Archbishop Emeritus of Abuja Diocese, Nigeria, says criminals must show true repentance before amnesty can be granted.
Onaiyekan, who spoke on Channels Television’s Sunrise daily programme Wednesday on the heels of a call by Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, a popular Kaduna based Islamic cleric, for the Nigerian government to grant amnesty to armed groups terrorising the country’s northern region.
“I appeal to the government and recommend that the government should do to them exactly what they did to the Niger Delta militants and give them a blanket amnesty. Then if anybody will continue, we will deal with him,” Gumi had said.
But while supporting the call during the television programme, Onaiyekan said the government must ensure that the criminals have truly repented before granting them amnesty.
“I believe firmly in what the Bible says that it is not the will of God that a sinner should die but that he should repent and live. So obviously, if a criminal sincerely repents, he should be forgiven,” the foremost clergy said.
“But the question is when it comes to the real facts of whether he has repented or not, the state must have a way of making sure that this is not a joke.”
“The whole idea of amnesty is not only to be applied to armed bandits. In that case, it is true for everybody in jail in Nigeria. For the sake of law and order, to protect the rest of us, the few who are making life difficult have to be restrained. The armed dogs should be tied down. The armed bandits should be disarmed.”
“Before we talk of amnesty, there should be clear evidence that there’s sincere repentance and that the people concerned have decided not to pick up arms anymore, that they’re ready to go back to their normal way of life and if they’re foreigners, they’re ready to go back home. All this must be part and parcel of the process of amnesty,” Onaiyekan added.
He said the terrorists should not be put in a position “to brag around to appear that they have actually won and defeated the nation.”
The Cardinal added that they must reconcile with society and show that they have genuinely repented.
Speaking on the possibility of an influx of foreigners contributing to the terrorists’ influence in Nigeria, he said the country must step up its defence.
“We had been told that the people from the Boko-Haram terrorist group come from different parts of the country. And especially in different parts of West Africa. We even heard there are some white people; Arabs and some Europeans have joined them,” he said.
“It is not surprising how Boko-Haram members that have spilt over the country have done so with some foreign elements.”
“More seriously, we heard there is indeed an inflow of bandits walking into our country from neighbouring countries. They walk freely without any restraint while carrying arms, setting up camps in our forests and harassing our people.”
“If you are talking of negotiations, with whom are you talking? Generally, every war ends on the table of negotiations. In the area of negotiations, we must distinguish between organised groups and bandits formed up in scattered bands and bearing arms.”
He said while foreigners are welcome in Nigeria, “when they begin to become a danger to our own survival, we need to shout for self-defence.”