The Proprietary Of Rehabilitating Repentant Insurgents

The bill seeking for the rehabilitation of repentant insurgents appears ill-advised.  In the midst of the ongoing serial brutalities against Nigerians in the North-east,

a bewildering bill was tabled before the Senate aimed at mainstreaming “repentant” Boko Haram insurgents into the Nigerian society, leaves so much to question.

Sponsored by former Yobe State Governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Gaidam, representing Yobe South Senatorial district, the bill seeks the establishment of an agency for the rehabilitation and integration of insurgents and “help to counter the violent and poisonous ideology that the Boko Haram spreads”.

This legislation comes amidst incessant attacks in the North-east by bandits and suspected Boko Haram members with the most recent being the killing of over 50 people in Kaduna.

Despite the backlash, Gaidam has attempted to justify his why a commission is the best bet to address the unending insurgency. Among other reasons, he said, “the agency when established will help rehabilitate and reintegrate the defectors, repentant and forcefully conscripted members of the Boko Haram to make them useful members of the society and provide an avenue for reconciliation and promote national security.”

The bill has ignited criticisms from many quarters. While some describe it as needless waste of resources and a misplaced priority, others have likened it to a deliberate effort to prolong the decade-long insurgency. Indeed, the proposal raises many pertinent questions: Why the urgency to free Boko Haram suspects when the war

is still in full force? Why should anyone talk of rehabilitating terrorists while the innocent victims of their brutalities are reeling in pains, many of them unattended to? And why should resources be poured into an agency that will make criminals comfortable when our Armed forces in the frontline are still ill-equipped and ill-motivated? Why do we need to indulge some misguided individuals who have proven that they are not ready for negotiation? Only recently, the Chief of Army Staff, Gen Tukur Buratai said 10 years was insufficient to deradicalise an indoctrinated person. So, what exactly is driving this “repentant” idea and to serve what end?

Chief of Defense staff, Gen Abayomi Olonisakan, had in 2017 pledged to ensure the “total re-radicalization and rehabilitation of all ex-Boko Haram members before re-integrating them into the society in line with international best practices.”

President Muhammadu Buhari also said the Nigerian government is “ready to accept the unconditional laying down of arms by any member of the Boko Haram group who shows strong commitment in that regard.”

His words were followed by the handing over of 244 Boko Haram suspects, by the Nigerian Army whom it said had given up membership of the terrorist group, to the Borno state government. This is even as the army said another 154 ex-Boko Haram fighters had been rehabilitated under the De-radicalization, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DRR) programme and were set to be reintegrated into the society.

The timing of the bill could not be worse. For many Nigerians, particularly those in the North-east, life has never been so brutal. With the maimed, the orphans, the widows, widowers and the tide of refugees in IDP camps practically left to their own devices, the

preoccupation with making some killers happy can hardly make sense.

Former Senate Majority Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, whose senatorial district is adversely affected by the Boko Haram insurgents’ attacks, said recently that around 1.7 million people have been displaced in Borno State alone. He put the value of the damage at around $9.6 billion. “Around 60,000 children are orphaned. Only God knows how many children are out of school, have no access to water, food and means of livelihood. The humanitarian crisis that is coming after the war may be more dangerous than the war itself,” he said.

Indeed, two international humanitarian groups said over 14 million Nigerians have been directly affected by the humanitarian crisis in the North east region while some 1500 schools, around one million houses were destroyed as at 2017. According to the United Nations, some 27,000 people have been killed in the hostilities, aggravated by the vicious Boko Haram breakaway faction called Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).

If Gaidam’s bill is allowed to fly it will simply legitimize long-standing official willingness to overlook the blood in the hands of the killers and reintegrate into the society. But the real incentive for this proposition might be the idea of creating another bureaucracy similar to the Niger Delta amnesty programme with money from the public treasury.

Two years ago while receiving the 107 school girls abducted in Dapchi, Yobe State by Boko Haram, President Buhari hinted of an amnesty to repentant criminals. Shortly after, the military established a camp to “rehabilitate and reintegrate surrendered and repentant Boko Haram terrorist members” via an exercise known as Operation Safe Corridor (OPSC), an intergovernmental programme aimed at rehabilitating “low risk repentant” Boko Haram fighters. But so many Nigerians, including retired and serving military personnel, have

expressed concerns about this dangerous gambit.

Proponents of the bill refer to the rehabilitation of repentant Boko Haram terrorists to the Federal Government’s amnesty programme for militants in the Niger Delta. They believe the rehabilitation of repentant Boko Haram terrorists like the Niger Delta amnesty program would offer ex Boko Haram fighters a “refined” life and position them for skills acquisition including educational opportunities that prepare them for integration into the society.

As laudable as this appears, it is pertinent to note that there is a very remarkable between the amnesty programme and the proposed rehabilitation of repentant Boko Haram insurgents. The fight by Niger Delta militants was a struggle against perceived marginalization of the region and a move for even development. But in the case of Boko Haram, there is no clear reason for the incessant attacks witnessed over the years other than a perverse hatred for Western Education and non-Muslims as defined by the insurgents.

In the heat of militant activities in the Niger Delta, the federal government sent a delegation and struck an agreement with visible and aggrieved militant leaders which gave birth to the amnesty programme. But calls for negotiations with the Boko Haram terrorist have experienced fallouts on each occasion as no serious nation negotiates with terrorists.

De-radicalization of repentant Boko Haram terrorists should be considered when the fight against the insurgents is over with the insurgents loosening their grip on North-east Nigeria just as the militants action gave birth to the amnesty programme.

But in the heat of the war against the murderous insurgents bent on over-running the Nations security and armed forces, calls for de-radicalization, rehabilitation and reintegration of ‘repentant” Boko Haram terrorists will leave fear and uncertainties in the minds of Nigerians.

Because, there is no assurance that the “repentant” fighters will not return to the communities and perfect strategies to reenact their orgy of killings.

The Boko Haram insurgents are clearly a terrorist group that should not be cast in the pattern of the Niger Delta Amnesty deal.

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