It’s a policy that for many, defies logic. Arrested or surrendered Boko Haram fighters rehabilitated, declared ‘repented’ and freed into the society. That’s perhaps the punishment for wasting lives of Nigerian civilians and the gallant men in uniform in the country’s Northeast region.
The Nigerian Army has again disclosed plans to release over 608 repentant Boko Haram terrorists currently undergoing its de-radicalisation, rehabilitation and reintegration (DRR) programme handled by Operation Safe Corridor (OSC) at Malam-Sidi, Gombe State.
Brig:- Gen. Musa Ibrahim, Commandant DRR Camp OSC was quoted to have disclosed the plan when the Managing Director, North East Development Commission (NEDC), Mohammed Alkali visited the camp on Saturday.
According to him, 14 of the repentant insurgents were foreigners from Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic. Over 590 others are, apparently, Nigerians.
“Fom inception we received 893 out of which 286 graduated and were returned to their respective states and countries for reintegration,” Ibrahim was quoted to have said.
He had said further that the personnel in the camp were working diligently with the mandate of OSC in conformity with international best practices.
But many Nigerians cannot adequately comprehend the rationale behind the idea of rehabilitating and freeing members of the dreaded terror group, ranked second only to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the hierarchy of most deadly terrorist groups globally in recent years.
Following the announcement, many took to social media to condemn the decision.
“Let’s forget about their repentance, those who kill by gun should also die by the gun. Enough of this useless repentance,” wrote Ishaq Salahudeen.
Indeed, Boko Haram which has killed tens of thousands and displaced about 3 million from their homes, was in 2015 ranked ahead of ISIL as the world’s deadliest terror group by the Global Terrorism Index (GTI). The same year, the GTI ranked militant Fulani herdsmen as the fourth deadliest terror group in the world. In Nigeria, however, the latter are not recognized as terrorists by a government that was quick to declare non armed agitators like the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) who have been victims of several extrajudicial killings as terrorists.
Several members of IPOB has, of course been killed, some charged to court and only released after lengthy court processes and after meeting tough bail conditions. Many others remain in detention.
However, there is no record yet of militant herdsmen killing and sacking communities being arrested and charged to court. The IPOB agitators are mostly of Southeast origin, the herdsmen are of the same Fulani ethnic group with Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari. It’s one example, some say, of the glaring injustices and double standards of the Buhari government.
“I have spoken about double standards in this country. Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna at one interview, said Nigeria is two countries.The mindset of some people in this country is vexated on the assumption that they have one country and others who are probably enslaved have another country,” said Chief Tola Adeniyi, veteran columnist, author and convener of G9.
“As far back as 2008 or 2009, I wrote about eight articles. You can Google my name and find them there. I spoke about the Fulani herdsmen and condoned barbarism.
“The United Nations says that the Fulani herdsmen are the 4th most deadly terrorist group in the world. Why has the home government not been able to say so? And they are calling IPOB that doesn’t carry arms terrorists. And they are calling MASSOB terrorists. The Shiites people who are just a religious movement, you proscribe them.”
The case of Boko Haram is perhaps even more confounding. Those arrested, after they must have wreaked havoc on several communities and killed several soldiers are ‘rehabilitated’ and released back into the society.
There has been reports of those released going back to rejoin the terror group to carry out more deadly attacks.
In 2018, Shuaibu Moni, a Boko Haram commander said to have been released by the State Security Service in alleged exchange deal for Chibok girls, coordinated multiple attacks that killed tens on the Easter eve of that year in Maiduguri, the Borno State.
The affected communities were Bale Kura, Bale Shuwarin, Jamine and Alikaramti in Jere local government near Maiduguri. In the attack, officials said 29 people were killed and 83 wounded. Actual figures are often more.
The government had reportedly in May 2017, paid the terror group €3 million ransom in addition to the release of five of its commanders in exchange for 82 Chibok girls. But it would later deny paying any ransom.
Following the Easter eve attack, Moni released a video where he threatened the Nigerian state with continued attacks and suicide bombings.
Nigeria has been battling Boko Haram since 2009 when the group took up arms following the killing of its leader, by Mohammed Yusuf by the authorities. Led by the elusive Abubakar Shekau, it has not relented on its campaign of bloodshed ever since.
The highlight of its atrocities was in 2014 when it abducted over 200 school girls from Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State. Many of the girls are still missing, probably married off to the groups commanders or sold into slavery. Few managed to escape, a number of others have been released in deals with the authorities.
Around 2016, a splinter group emerged under the name of the Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP) with affiliates to ISIL.
With a slightly different ideology of attacking mainly military camps and Christian communities, ISWAP has since emerged the dominant terror group in the region, killing uniformed men and sacking communities.
On the Christmas eve of 2019, it executed 10 Christian aid workers in retaliation for the killing of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by the US.
Abduction and sometimes execution of aid workers have become its pastime. With the return of the dry season, the group has upped its game. At the moment of writing, they are reportedly blocking Damaturu/Yobe highway.
There is yet no end in sight, despite claims by the government to have degraded the group. Reports say they are still in control of a number of local governments.