When mercy becomes a vice

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Few acts in life are as noble as forgiveness. Known widely as pardon in state administration, it is the act of overlooking the wrong done by someone. In Christianity, Islam and other major religions, it is regarded as one of the virtues an ideal practitioner must embrace. But as noble as forgiveness is, there are situations in which it may not be desirable, apologies to the 19th Century Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto. Pareto, in a theory that became known as the Pareto optimality, had posited that a change is desirable only to the extent that it makes one party better off without making another party worse off. Adapting Pareto’s theory, therefore, it is safe to say that an action, including forgiveness, is desirable only if it makes a party better off without necessarily making another party worse off.

An instance of undesirable forgiveness occurred in Lokoja, Kogi State capital many years ago when a chief judge of the state granted pardon to a notorious armed robber after the members of a gang led by him were convicted and executed. The said gang had invaded the residence of the pastor of a branch of Living Faith Church a.k.a Winners Chapel in the Confluence City the in the night after the church’s annual harvest service, thinking that the money realized from the event was in the pastor’s custody. Disappointed that they could not get the proceeds of the harvest service, they attacked the pastor with an axe and killed him in the most gruesome manner.

Nemesis, however, caught up with the gang as they were arrested, tried and sentenced to death by hanging. But while the three members of the deadly gang were promptly executed, the execution of its leader was delayed purportedly because he had other cases to answer. To the shock of watchers of events in the state, however, the gang leader was later granted a dubious pardon and he promptly relocated from the state. It goes without saying that the clandestine pardon was undesirable. It saved the life of a hardened armed robber and murderer while the larger society was left at his mercy.

Sadly, a similar scenario is playing out in the war against the deadly Boko Haram sect in the North East. Not a few Nigerians were alarmed at the news during the week that the military had set more than a thousand of the suspected members of the sect free in the belief that they had repented. Making the announcement in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, the state’s Commissioner for Information, Babakura Jato said that most of the released persons were relatives of Boko Haram terrorists or persons found to be innocent after investigations while the others were actual Boko Haram members who had been rehabilitated.

Justifying the decision to grant pardon to known Boko Haram members during earlier ceremony in which the military handed over about 151 ‘repentant’ members of the sect to the Borno State Government, the Coordinator of Operation Safe Corridor, Maj-Gen Bamidele Shafa was quoted as saying that the repentant, rehabilitated and deradicalised sect members had confessed their misdeeds, denounced their membership of the terrorist group.

Apparently lost on the military is William Shakepeare’s timeless saying that there is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face. True repentance is a matter of the mind and not of the mouth. Unless they are laying claim to the clairvoyance of a witch, the military has no way of ascertaining the genuineness of the purported penitence of the pardoned Boko Haram members. The Buhari government had in 2016 initiated the deradicalisation, rehabilitation and Reintegration (DRR) Programme through which it hoped to disengage Boko Haram fighters without using weapons, but the deadly sect only requited the gesture with more aggression in the sustained attacks that have claimed no fewer than 30,000 lives since 2009.

The foregoing is the basis for the outrage that has greeted the decision to set a whopping 1,400 suspected members of the sect free during the week. Even Ahmad Salkida, the freelance journalist reputed for his closeness to the sect’s leadership and his deep knowledge of how the minds of the terrorists work, reportedly took to his Twitter account sometime last month to warn that the rehabilitation and release of repentant Boko Haram members should be suspended. “The so-called rehabilitation and release of Boko Haram members presumed to be repentant is a most ill-informed strategy. It should be suspended indefinitely,” he said. He could not stop wondering why the authorities would accord members of the deadly sect such a huge measure of regard while their thousands of victims are held in near total disregard. “The idea of pandering to murderers and disregarding their victims must stop,” he warned.

Pardon for known members of the terrorist group is certainly not the way to go if they must be discouraged from their nefarious activities. The move calls to question the seriousness of the government about winning the war against terror. It is as if the government is now more interested in releasing ‘repentant’ Boko Haram members than securing the release of thousands of innocent Nigerians and foreigners held captive by the deadly sect.

In more civilized societies, arrested members of the terrorist group would be used as tools for information gathering about the sect’s mode of operation, particularly the whereabouts of the sect’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, and its other commanders, such that the nation would by now be getting near the end of the nightmare that has dogged it for more than a decade. But we have a situation where petty thieves are hauled into prison for stealing chickens and eggs while those responsible for the loss of more than 30,000 lives are set free after living in far better conditions than obtain in the IDP (internally displaced persons) camps where innocent captives rescued from them are kept.

God dey.