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Insecurity: Nigeria’s gambit with ‘repentant’ Boko Haram

In what seems to be a curious case of two laws operating in Nigeria at the same time, the decision of the Federal Government to reintegrate what they termed “repentant” Boko Haram insurgents into the society while clamping down on those calling for self determination as a result of perceived marginalisation and injustice, has been flayed by men and women of good conscience.

Some Nigerians have also described the move as playing with an Inland Taipan.

The Inland Taipan or famously known as ‘fierce snake’, has the most toxic venom in the world. It can yield as much as 110mg in one bite, which is enough to kill around 100 people or over 2.5 lakh mice. The venom consists of taipoxin, a complex mix of neurotoxins, procoagulants, and myotoxins.

The Nigerian Army had last Tuesday, through a statement by its Spokesperson, Onyema Nwachukwu announced that about 1000 Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province (a Boko Haram splinter group), members had laid down their arms and surrendered to the troops.

Read Also: FG not reabsorbing repentant Boko Haram members into the Army- Presidency

It said: “All surrendered terrorists will be received, processed and passed on to the relevant agencies of government for further assessment in line with extant provisions.”

Another narrative was pushed out last week by Borno State Commissioner for Information, Culture and Home Affairs, Babakura Jatau, when he advised the host communities to accept the ex-fighters as one of them.

The Commissioner said the surrendering of the Boko Haram/ISWAP fighters might be the beginning of the end to the insurgency which the country and particularly the state had battled for over a decade.

“At the end of every war, there is reconciliation. Every single war is not ended by the power of the bullet and bomb. They (insurgents) are part and parcel of us. They have surrendered; they are radicalised and they now realise their mistakes.

“Remember, we have been dealing with this problem for the past 13 years. For the past 13 years, the federation government has been battling with this insurgency without any peaceful resolution through firepower.

“They voluntarily surrendered their arms. There is nothing to do but to accept them and appeal to members of the public to accept them so that they (ex-terrorists) can reintegrate into society because there are many of them in the bush,” Jatau said.

Read Also: Nigeria loses 3 soldiers, as army onslaught kills 75 Boko Haram insurgents

For 13 years running, the insurgents have been waging a low-grade war against the government and people of Nigeria, which has cost the country huge resources in monetary terms and uncountable number of casualties.

Since its campaign to create an Islamic caliphate started around 2009, the Boko Haram sect has reportedly killed over 70,000 people and displaced about 2.5 million people, according to estimates by the International Crisis Group.

Of the displaced, at least 250,000 have reportedly left Nigeria and fled into the neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger, though Borno State has started receiving some repatriated refugees from the countries.

Military onslaught on the terrorists has reportedly led to the deaths of many of the insurgents, while some of them have also surrendered to the army.

During this period of bloody campaign, families have been permanently dislocated and destroyed, some institutions have been wrecked and many innocent girls have remained unaccounted for.

The likes of Leah Sharibu and many others appeared to have been forgotten by government. A number of people were given slow deaths, while some others were brutally beheaded.

The atrocities of members of the sect cannot be captured in any single book.

These are the elements that the Federal Government termed “repentant”.

In the first place, most of them did not surrender themselves willingly to renounce their atrocious deeds; they were smoked out and arrested while in action and have been in the custody of the Federal Government.

Now, fearing that they may be given a form of punishment for their crime against the state and humanity, they began to play the “repentance card” to hoodwink Abuja.

John Henry, a concerned Nigerian, warned the Federal Government to be careful with its handling of the “repentant” members of the sect.

“As a government, you can’t be celebrating some Boko Haram members turning away from their act of terrorism. What happens to the people they killed; or those they rendered homeless and hopeless; what does it speak to the future act of other groups or people who will think that when they do such, their sins will be forgiven easily? Government needs to be very careful so that much more disaster is not coming ahead of us. Let’s learn from Afghanistan,” Henry said.

Government must first ask Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State his experience with the terrorists he hurriedly baptised as “repentant.” The governor who was selling the idea of amnesty for bandits and terrorists was to later turn around to acknowledge that those who claimed to have turned a new leaf have gone back to the forest to continue with their dastardly acts.

A report in April had it that the peace pact the Zamfara State government adopted to curb banditry suffered a heavy blow after a leader of the bandits reportedly returned to his old ways despite being forgiven.

Auwal Daudawa, who was accused of spearheading the abduction of over 300 schoolboys in Kankara, Katsina State, has taken up arms again, just weeks after he claimed to have repented.

In February, the bandits’ leader surrendered his arms, which included 20 AK 47 rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launcher, claiming he had repented.

He was received at the Zamfara State Government House where he announced that “we have voluntarily repented.”

“I learnt from those who repented before me that there was no single plan by the governments through the use of security agencies to harm me and my boys, therefore, we are now back for normal lives like other peace-loving Nigerians,” he had said.

But less than three months after he surrendered, Daudawa reportedly went back to Jaja forest.

Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State captured the mindset of these elements when he said that there is no amount of carrot that can wean them off the evil trade having tasted that type of lifestyle.

It was on this basis that he has vehemently stood against ransom payment to kidnappers.

Opposition mounts over reintegration plan

Aside being a manifestation of injustice on the part of the government, which usually uses the sledge hammer to crush other radical groups in other parts of the country, observers think that the regrettable action portends weakness, compromise and untrustworthy on the part of the government.

They think that if there are groups to pardon, it must never be Boko Haram because their nefarious actions, especially killings, have placed the country among the worst places to be on earth, scaring away foreign investors, as well as, local ones.

For Sam Onikoyi, a Nigerian historian and Commonwealth researcher based in Brussels, who has been following political and social unrests in Africa in the last two decades, the continued pardon of the notorious group is part of the reasons foreign countries are not willing to help Nigeria in the fight against insurgence.

He noted that the likes of UAE, China and even United States of America are killing terrorists openly and secretly, hence giving them no opportunity to thrive.

“If you notice, European countries are safer these days from terrorists because they have started adopting the killing approach, especially secretly,” Onikoyi said.

For killing innocent Nigerians, Bulus Yohanna, director, African Justice Roundtable, an Abuja-based human right organisation, insisted that the terrorists should die and not pardoned.

“If you pardon them; what about those they killed and their families that are suffering because of their loss? There should be justice for them,” he said.

Angry at the pardon idea, the Plateau State-born lawyer questioned the need for the six fighter jets the country acquired recently, when government is releasing and pardoning jailed terrorists.

“It is counterproductive because others are encouraged to kill more people and when they are caught and jailed, they know they will be released soon by the government, which should rather exterminate them,” he said.

Terfa Hemba, a Kaduna-based lawyer, who lost a sister during the Abuja bombing by Boko Haram few years ago, said that the citizens should challenge such decisions in the court because the law offers opportunity for such, especially when it will endanger people’s lives, peace and economic activities.

“If the pardoning has resulted in less killings by Boko Haram, then one can argue on behalf of the Nigerian government, but it has rather encouraged more killings. In the international modalities for treating terrorists, it is death in their hideout or death by installment in jail. They are all linked and have never changed in any country they operate,” Hemba pointed out.

He blamed the conquest of more towns by Boko Haram on the soft approach to the fight by government and the regrettable pardon.

“You cannot leave a university fraternity or secular cult without being hunted by former members. These terrorists have more than blood oath binding them, they cannot repent from killing, they know the group’s hideout, where to get arms and contacts. It is a shame that the government is playing soft now that it is time to fight to finish,” he said.

He also argued that if northern groups are opposing it, then the pardon is better suspended.

“Have you heard Arewa Consultative Forum’s fierce stand on the pardon? It is not in the interest of the north, their people are being killed and government seems unconcerned. But I think, it should go beyond mere condemnation to actions like mass protests against it,” the lawyer said.

Comparing pardon with amnesty, Ifewodor Ogala, a retired Navy officer, said those who argue that if Niger Delta militants can be offered amnesty, then bandits and terrorists should also be pardoned, do not have the interest of the country at heart.

According to the retired officer: “If you go after a group for asking for more from the natural resources in their area, then what about those who go about killing people in the name of religion; what if a group from a different religion rises up tomorrow, how can you stop them when another thrives?”

He thinks that the government should declare a war against these terror groups and “in war you kill and not pardon.”

“If you pardon repentant Boko Haram, you should also pardon repentant bandits, kidnappers and every convict in the prison who claims to have repented. Yes, because it will be injustice when those who commit no or lesser crime are held behind the bars when bloodsucking vampires are set free,” he said.

Most observers fear that the so-called repentant Boko Haram members may regroup after the pardon and that it may also be a strategy by the terrorist group.

“Whoever kills another, should be killed or given life imprisonment; that is what the Nigerian law says. So, why pardon a killer for showing remorse, when those he killed cannot come back to life? Justice is justice,” they unanimously concluded.

The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), pan-northern socio-political organisation, urged government to rather prosecute the “repentant” Boko Haram members for the crimes committed against fellow Nigerians.

Reacting on behalf of ACF, Audu Ogbeh, national chairman and a former minister of Agriculture, in a statement he personally signed and released by the National Publicity Secretary of the forum, Emmanuel Yawe in Kaduna, said such a move would be disastrous.

In the statement titled, ‘On repentant Boko Haram terrorists and the principle of equity and justice,’

ACF said: “We are currently witnessing large scale surrender of large numbers of Boko Haram insurgents, among whom are bomb makers, commanders, arsonists, rapists, and child snatchers.

“Do we have good reason to cheer and hope for an end to this decade-old insanity? Is ‘I am sorry’ enough to bring relief to Nigerians and the thousands of dead and maimed? What of those victims bombed in the churches, mosques, schools, and markets? What of all the men and women in uniform murdered by them?

“Who can count the thousands of widows and orphans they have created? And what is the difference between them and the Igbohos or ESN of Nigeria? None.”

The group doubted the genuineness of the “repentance”, saying: “So, what do we do with them? Should we just embrace them and trust them wholesale? Are their moves informed by altruistic repentance? We seriously doubt.”

“We join the Governor of Borno, the Shehu of Borno, Senator Ndume and millions of Nigerians in pondering over this development and our simple advice is, bring them to trial, or free all others presently in custody anywhere, while we Nigerians plead guilty of naivety and gullibility in the extreme, punishable by more insurrection and anarchy,” it further said.

By the same token, the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) were said to have expressed anger over the plan by the Borno State government to reintegrate 1,000 of the insurgents.

They were said to have complained that they are still languishing in pain, sorrow and forced poverty foisted on them by the murderous activities of the sect.

Many of them said they lost their husbands, wives, parents, children, relations, homes and means of livelihood, which was the reason they are still at the IDPs’ camp and wondered the justification for rewarding those who had inflicted serious and permanent pain on them.

Mark Adebayo, spokesman for the Coalition of Registered political Parties (CUPP), expressed doubts over the sincerity of the terrorists, while condemning government’s decision to reintegrate them into the society.

Adebayo warned President Buhari that the move may just be an attempt by the terrorists to infiltrate the society, gather intelligence and relaunch.

According to him, “It is an initiative to reward violent criminal elements who have caused so much pains and disasters in the country. It is a development that the country will later regret but it may be too late by then.

“My suspicion is that these terrorists who pretend to have repented are spies sent to infiltrate the society, gather intelligence and relaunch a more disastrous attack on the society. I very much doubt their sincerity and willingness to stop their terroristic inclinations.

“There is nowhere in the history of terrorism where such large numbers of terrorists as we have witnessed recently would be allowed to escape from the terrorists’ camps and some even with their victims forcefully raped and married and the children they had together. And all escaped with their illegitimate families without being detected by the Boko Haram high command? It can’t happen! They are deliberately being released into the society to execute a hidden agenda that would later devastate the country.”

He further said: “Unfortunately, the government is too näive to see that and take serious precautions on the situation. The government is too accommodating and patronising with these hardened terrorists. The USA made the same mistakes of releasing some detained terrorists years back who later became the main nucleus of ISIS that became the strongest ever terrorist organisation in the world that brazenly seized territories bigger than France in Syria and Iraq and it took considerable international military onslaughts to quell their unprecedented assaults on humanity.

“A Nigerian Army General once said a repentant Boko Haram member stands a chance to become Nigeria’s president. With a dangerous mindset like that at the top levels of government and the military, little wonder Nigeria is not winning the war against terrorism. How can the government be this tolerant of terrorists? It is ultimately counterproductive, unreasonable and absolutely thoughtless.”

Taoffik Gani, spokesman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Lagos State, faulted the decision, advising government to be watchful of the identities of the terrorists who are surrendering.

“It is a wrong move by the government or whoever is doing this thing. How can you bring back guys that have been killings, maiming and raping Nigerians for a decade now back to the same society they had committed these atrocities? I don’t know but how do you think the people would accept them back?

“For me, I even think this people are not the real Boko Haram, because for the real Boko Haram it would be very difficult for them to surrender. I think they are their foot soldiers who are lured to surrender by their collaborators in government so don’t be surprise,” Gani said.

Nigeria must beware the Afghanistan episode

Also, a current Affairs Analyst, Kunle Okunade said the development portends a dangerous development because Boko Haram terrorists could not be compared to ordinary criminals because they had been very destructive.

According to him, “The reintegration might be dangerous considering the fact that they might not well being deradicalised for the purported reintegration. The first thing the government needs to strategically do is ‘total deradicalisation’ of the terrorists because if this is to be done appropriately and outright, Nigeria may end up experiencing what occurred in Afghanistan recently.

“Another fact is that the Boko Haram insurgents can’t be equated with common criminals because the insurgents have been ideologically indoctrinated and stereotyped by the top echelon of their movement who are the intellectual engine room of their battle.

“So, if government believes the insurgents had been taken through the same rehabilitation process experienced by common criminals in the correction centres and believe that the insurgents have been reborn and be allowed to be reintegrated and co-habit with Nigerians, it might be making a serious mistake in the long run. Insurgency is more of terrorism than economic crime which many common criminals are rehabilitated against.”

According to him, “How does the government know that the rehabilitated Boko Haram members would not go back to their terror acts? At what point do they believe the insurgents have a genuine change of mind, and now have the mindset to co-habit with the people?

“For me, the government should be very careful in the reintegration of the jailed insurgents into the society because it might boomerang if it turns out that the insurgents have not been properly and total deradicalised”.

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