Boko Haram and ISWAP fighters
The surrendered Boko Haram terrorists holding placards asking for forgiveness

By Adebayo Obajemu

The war against Boko Haram insurgency seems to be jinxed for this government. With recent gains in the fight resulting in the series of surrenders in batches of some Boko Haram fighters to the military authorities what has become another headache has suddenly emerged to further complicate the situation.

The military had under the previous leadership championed a programme of reintegration for Boko Haram who surrendered as a soft landing policy fighters. But with the mass surrender of fighters opposition to the policy has become strident given the atrocities perpetrated by these people.

Many Nigerians, groups and organisations have queried the planned reintegration into society of those elements who have surrendered, including Babagana Zulum, Borno State governor, who believed the so-called repentant elements are ‘spies’ for their colleagues in the forests.

This position is in direct clash with the predilection of the military authorities and the Buhari administration who desire to reintegrate them into the society. The challenge has been heightened by the recent fall of the Afghan regime like a pack of cards prompting suspicion that many of its fleeing soldiers may have fifth columnists of the Talibans. The question is why are they quitting now and without their weapons?

Last week, Zulum reiterated his mantra when he said “Repentant’ Boko Haram members would end up as spies for the insurgents.” Zulum says the deradicalisation of repentant Boko Haram members is not working, and can never work.

Merely was echoing the voices of other leaders in the state such as Shehu of Bornu El Kanemi, and Senator Ali Ndume, chairman committee on army. Nigerians can still recall that the military in 2016 launched Operation Safe Corridor, an initiative for the deradicalisation and rehabilitation of ex-Boko Haram members.
The aim of the operation, according to the military authorities, is to reintegrate repentant Boko Haram members into society. More than 500 ex-Boko Haram members have already completed the programme.

But analysts, including Zulum’s insist many of them have since rejoined the insurgency, providing information to their colleagues on movement of troops, strategies and tactics of counter insurgency.

Speaking at the North-East Governors’ Forum meeting in Bauchi penultimate Thursday, Zulum said the initiative needs to be reviewed because some of the ex-Boko Haram members only came to spy on communities and then return to join the group.

“Another aspect of the war against the insurgency that needs to be urgently reviewed or modified, is the issue of deradicalisation of Boko Haram terrorists, who have been captured or have willingly surrendered themselves to the authorities,” he said.

“It has been confirmed that the concept of deradicalisation or Safe Corridor is not working as expected. Quite often, those who have passed through the Safe Corridor initiative, or have been deradicalised, usually go back and rejoin the terror group after carefully studying the various security arrangements in their host communities, during the reintegration process.

“In addition, the host communities where the reintegration process is going on usually resent the presence of Boko Haram terrorists, even if they have been deradicalised, because of the despicable and atrocious activities they have committed in the past.

“So the idea of deradicalisation, as currently being implemented, needs to be reviewed because the main goals and the underlying objectives behind the initiative are not being achieved.”

The governor advised that the best option is to immediately prosecute the insurgents in accordance with the terrorism Act. He said those people who were forcefully recruited but have been rescued or have escaped from the group, should be the ones to undergo the deradicalisation.

The governor lamented the delay on the prosecution of insurgents. He said prosecutorial powers should be devolved to the state attorneys-general to make the process faster.

“On the prosecution of terrorists, we must make efforts to avoid the current encumbrances and intricacies associated with the process, which usually takes considerable time, by urging the appropriate federal authorities to devolve the powers of the minister of justice and attorney-general of the federation to state attorneys-general in order to facilitate the prosecution process,” he said.
In a statement by his special adviser Isa Gusau on Sunday, August 15, 2021, Zulum said the situation of reintegrating fighters who have surrendered into society required diverse stakeholders including representatives of attacked communities, to come together and critically review the pros, cons and implications of the reintegration.

The governor said that victims of terrorism in the state needed to choose between endless wars or cautiously accept the surrendered terrorists, while maintaining that no one would find it easy to accept killers of his or her parents.

“We in Borno, are in a very difficult situation over the ongoing surrender by insurgents. We have to critically look between two extreme conditions and decide our future.

“We have to choose between endless wars or to cautiously accept the surrendered terrorists which is really painful and difficult for anyone that has lost loved ones, difficult for all of us and even for the military whose colleagues have died and for volunteers.

“No one would find it easy to accept killers of his or her parents, children and other loved ones. In the last 12 years we have been in this war, and we have lost thousands of fellow citizens.

“We do not know the whereabouts of thousands of others; we do not know whether they are alive or dead. In these 12 years, millions have been made homeless and many wealthy farmers, transporters and others have been rendered poor.

“In these years, we were able to cultivate maybe around 3% of the arable land, and as a result our people became dependent on food aid amid donor fatigue and potential food insecurity, in fact the repercussions of the Boko Haram crisis are enormous and as someone who has been involved with assessment of the impacts and rebuilding efforts in the last seven years, I am in position to know the endless negative impact the Boko Haram has made in Borno.”

Faced with mounting opposition to the policy, President said last week that government was reviewing the programme. This came after the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, condemned the policy and called of President Buhari to do the needful by putting on trial and ensure appropriate punishment for those found guiulty.
Recall that in July 2020, some residents of Borno kicked against the reintegration of repentant Boko Haram members into their communities, asking the federal government to take them to Aso Rock. Soldiers at the war front in the north-east had also expressed disappointment over the release of repentant Boko Haram suspects.

The governor maintained that the security situation required the coming together of stakeholders, including representatives of the attacked communities in all of the state’s 27 local councils.

Professor Adeagbo Moritiwon, a political scientist faulted the planned reintegration.”It will have serious backlash. You mean the killer of your brother should cohabit with you in peace without justice. Many are suffering at the IDP camps, yet you’re giving fighters who claimed to have surrendered regal treatment.”
He said federal government should prosecute them for crimes against humanity.

Also in July 2020, some residents of Maiduguri kicked against the reintegration of repentant Boko Haram members into their communities, asking the federal government to take them to Aso Rock. Soldiers at the war front in the northeast had also expressed disappointment over the release of repentant Boko Haram suspects.

Recently about 1,009 ex-Boko Haram insurgents, who had been in military custody at Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri were said to have been released.

BusinessHallmark gathered that the former terrorists were handed over to the Borno State Government in a secret ceremony that was initially billed to take place at an earlier date but was suspended indefinitely by the military authorities in the wake of the appointment of the Chief of the Army Staff, Lt Gen Faruk Yahaya.

According to sources in the army, the ex-terrorists were handed over to the Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo, who represented the state government at the event in Maiduguri.

Speaking on the backdrop of these reports, Director Army Public Relations, Brig-Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu said the attention of the Army has been drawn to a publication by some online news medium in which the authors misrepresented the facts contained in that report.

General Nwachukwu said, “While the Nigerian Army (NA) does not want to be distracted from its main focus of dealing decisively with the threats against peace-loving Nigerians, it has become necessary to put issues in their right perspectives.

It is a fact that in the recent past, over 1,000 members of Boko Haram and their families surrendered to the troops due to the intense pressure from troops’ sustained offensive. Among those were key leaders of the terrorist group who have renounced their membership and have turned themselves in,” he said.

He stressed that the army, being a professional military organization, will continue to act in accordance with the dictates of the Nigerian Constitution, as well as international best practices.

“It is absolutely wrong to say that the NA will free repentant terrorists. It, therefore, appealed to the public to disregard the deliberate distortion of facts by these online media and continue to support the NA to rid the country of terrorism and other forms of insecurity,” General Nwachukwu said.

Director, Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration Committee (DDRC) in the Francophone nation, Francis Fai Yengo, said 967 terrorists had been profiled for reintegration and repatriation to their respective countries

He clarified that they were among hundreds that repented after their leader, Abubakar Shekau, was killed in Sambisa Forest.
While announcing the repatriation over the weekend in Meri, Yengo stated: “We plan to deport the former fighters as the influx has overwhelmed our reintegration centres along the border areas with Nigeria.”

He pointed out that the DDRC centre housed 967 former jihadist militants, adding that of the 260 that arrived last week, 82 are ex-Boko Haram male fighters. The others, he stated were their wives and children.

“Over 200 ex-militants are Nigerians that converged at our reintegration centres,” Yengo added.

The director continued: “I’ve been directed by President Paul Biya to meet the former militants and evaluate their needs before handing them over to Nigerian authorities.”
He noted that the surrendering was on the increase daily, particularly on the border areas with Nigeria, Chad and Niger republics.

The Camerounian official explained that after the profiling, the ex-insurgents would be returned to Nigeria, restating: “We’ve good relationship with the neighboring country.”

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