• Thursday, May 30, 2024
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BusinessDay

Releasing terrorists, de-redicalisation programme and the gamble with Nigeria’s security

The state and the train hostages

For years now, the issue about the so-called de-radicalisation of members of the insurgent Boko Haram and other assorted bandits in the North has continued to rage.

Although some state governments in the region have since implemented it in their domain, it has not enjoyed wide acceptance. The reasons are obvious.

Reintegration of former militants and terrorist combatants is an issue of global concern for criminal justice systems, according to the United States home office report (2019).

The argument has been that the so-called de-radicalised persons are not totally free from their dangerous trade. It is said in some quarters that months after such “de-radicalised” persons were released and let into society, they returned to their old ways and became a pain to their various communities.

While a few truly turned a new leaf and started engaging in legitimate means of livelihood, some others sharpened their criminal skills by becoming informants to those yet in the criminal trenches.

This explains why Senator Ali Ndume has been shouting himself hoarse about not believing wholesale, the claim of repentance of the Boko Haram insurgents. There are salient issues to be considered. One is the universal concept of crime and punishment. While the ultimate goal of the modern justice system is to reform deviants, this does not obviate the need for deterrence and punishment for heinous crimes.

More importantly, any de-radicalisation programme must consider the need to provide justice and closure for the victims, the traumatised families, communities, and society.

The scale of the atrocities committed by Islamic terrorists since 2009 is horrendous. During the graduation of the 594 supposedly reformed terrorists, the coordinator of the programme, Joseph Maina, an Army major-general, recalled that over two million people had been internally displaced, and hundreds of thousands others driven into neighbouring countries as refugees.

In the recent past, the Health and Human Rights Journal, said that 43,000 persons had been murdered, entire communities destroyed, and other horrific human rights abuses such as abductions, sexual violence, forced labour, forced conscription of children, looting, and arson had been perpetrated by insurgents.

The Borno State government put the number murdered at over 100,000 by 2019.

Heinous crimes committed by Boko Haram and its spin-offs include the 2014 abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, and another 110 girls in Dapchi in 2018, massacres, mass destruction of schools, and jail breaks.

UNICEF said 1.3 million children had been deprived of access to quality education, and that 56 per cent of children displaced in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states are unable to attend school.

While trials have been pitifully few, and convictions even fewer, the Federal Government has since 2015 adopted Operation Safe Corridor “as a non-kinetic multi-agency approach in the support of military actions since 2015.”

Though the government claims it is succeeding, this counter-terrorism approach is provocatively unbalanced. While the de-radicalisation of minor players is pursued as a strategy around the world, there should be dogged prosecution of hardened terrorists and their financiers. Blanket amnesty without trial is unjust, and rewards the killers.

The government and military have been releasing hundreds of the fiends and their families. In March 2022, over 500 were let go. As of 2020, the Nigerian Identity Management Commission disclosed that it had registered about 900 “repentant” Boko Haram members. The Nigerian Army said it rehabilitated 893 ex-Boko Haram members since 2019.

Alarmingly, no due consideration has been given to the fears reiterated by their victims on the acceptance of the so-called rehabilitated terrorists back into their communities; nor have thousands of citizens who have been consigned to the Internally Displaced Persons camps been provided with the adequate support to fully recover from the trauma unleashed on them by jihadists. The government continues to misdiagnose the problem.

Meanwhile, under the extant laws of Nigeria, terrorism is a heinous crime, and attracts severe punishment.

Therefore, it is unjust for criminals to be let off the hook under the guise of a “rehabilitation” or “de-radicalisation” scheme.

BusinessDay reports of so-called Boko Haram defectors returning to their former ways and spying for terrorist groups are pointers to the dangerous narrative. In March, troops arrested Ba’anaBdiya, a supposedly “repentant” Boko Haram fighter, over a bomb attack that led to the deaths of some soldiers according to Zagazola Makama, a counterinsurgency publication. The suspect, aka ‘Manci,’ facilitated the ambush of the troops to terrorists. A week earlier, it was also reported that two “repentant” Boko Haram commanders, Goni Farouq, and Amir Zabu, were nabbed via phone intercepts planning attacks against troops.

Similarly, in July 2022, some terrorists who were among the 800 persons “reintegrated” into the Bama community, Borno State, planted an improvised explosive device that killed eight persons in the community. The suspects reportedly maintained contact with their former colleagues and were sneaking out of the town to transact business with other terrorists.

Releasing terrorists without trial demoralises their victims, including soldiers, police, other security personnel, and mocks the thousands of people that have been killed in the unnecessary conflict.

Security experts and human rights organisations have repeatedly faulted the programme. A retired brigadier-general, told BusinessDay “… the Federal Government must intervene and set up a committee and critically evaluate them on the basis of their participation in the insurgency. The judiciary must be fully involved.”

The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria is unsparing. It insists that “the policy of releasing terrorists back into society after they may have, and indeed inevitably shed blood of the innocent citizens amounts to the highest grade of illegality.”

No other stable country in the world conveys to terrorists the idea that they can kill as many citizens as possible and still gain a reprieve once they surrender; without trial, or censure.

For example, the United States’ Patriot Act increased the penalties for those who commit and support terrorist operations, both at home and abroad. In the United Kingdom, a law has been passed to not only prosecute terrorists, but also to revoke the citizenship of those involved. The Netherlands has also declared that the sentence for an offence carried out with terrorist intent will be harsher than for the basic offence.

This applies not only to people who carry out attacks, but also to those planning to carry out an attack. Italy has stiffened its penalty for terrorist offenders. The Nigerian government and the military should stamp out terrorist insurgency. Hardened terrorist leaders should be hunted down in kill-or-capture assaults; those caught alive must be prosecuted publicly. Only fringe players should qualify for de-radicalisation, and this only after trial.

Northern state governors, traditional rulers and religious leaders should revoke the penal aspects of Sharia law and engage in mass education of their people instead.

Furthermore, the Child Rights Act should be fully domesticated and enforced, and the provision of social services and rural development programmes should be made a top priority by all the states to boost production and employment. The government should pause the release of terrorists until a thorough evaluation is undertaken.

Those who believe that there is a new dawn among the terrorist group, must have been jolted when just recently the so-called “unknown gunmen ” struck at the almighty Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna; killing two officers and kidnapping another. The attack on NDA had jolted the security architecture in Nigeria, as it portrays the impression that indeed, nowhere is safe in Nigeria.

So, here are the two scenarios:

Dilemma one is that for twelve years, the Boko Haram “war” has been raging in northern Nigeria. First, it had begun in Maiduguri, spread to Bauchi, then Adamawa, Yobe and other parts of the North east. For the same period, Nigeria had recorded huge losses in human and material sense.

Babagana Zulum of Borno State, stated recently that Borno State alone had lost over 100, 000 persons to the fire of Boko Haram attacks, just as many have been dislocated from their homes. This is not to count the number of soldiers, policemen and civilian JTF members who have been killed by Boko Haram terrorists. To their (dis)credit, several schools have been attacked, with some children killed and many others abducted. The infamous Chibok Girls abduction took place seven years ago. There have been many others since then, all carried out by the Boko Haram terror gang. Many of the Chibok girls are yet to return. A few returned recently (with their ‘husbands’), each of them with two children. The story is long, sad and heavy.

There has been no respite in the war. It has spread far beyond the north east to almost every part of the country, with the intensity essentially still in the northern part of the country. Boko Haram had regenerated and produced satanic offspring like Banditry and kidnappings, plus cattle rustling. None of which is a lesser evil.

The Federal Government, on its part, had spent huge sums of money every year in fighting the Boko Haram menace.

Not much of a victory can be claimed in the true sense of it, not minding the claim of having “technically defeated” Boko Haram.

What is worse, it had further metamorphosed to different factions like ISWAP et al.

So, after a serious and sustained 12-year fight, the Boko Haram insurgents, perhaps wearied or perhaps yielding to the preachments for peace, have now embarked on a wholesome surrender.

Just recently, a total of 2,600 insurgents from the Boko Haram camp had surrendered. More are prepared to surrender, but yet watching the reactions of the rest of society. So, the debate has been running on what to do with those who have surrendered. Should they really be pardoned and re-integrated into the society, just like that? What about the crimes they committed? What about the people they killed? What about the crimes of kidnap and forceful abductions, robbery and the like? Should their many sins be simply blotted out and admitted into the society as if nothing ever happened?

How will those children who have been orphaned by Boko Haram, or women made widows react to re-absorbing those who killed their fathers and husbands in the same communities? Would the swift and sweeping pardon not sell the impression that crime pays and those who commit the most heinous crimes sooner or later get pampered by the government?

What about the issue of stigmatisation? Would the Boko Haram returnees be wholly accepted as normal members of the society? Would a responsible family, for instance, marry out their daughter to a repentant Boko Haram member?

Should they be accepted just like that? Not many think that even the Pope will not grumble.

But what is the option? Put them through a full-scale trial? That leads to the second option.

Dilemma Two: the other option is to re-arrest all those who are surrendering, willfully or not willfully. Get them quarantined and prepared to be arraigned before the laws of the land. They get prosecuted for all the crimes they committed, convicted and then get jailed. At that, prospective repentant terrorists zip the thought and continue the fight, killing and maiming more innocent people. And the fire of insecurity rages on and on, with all the attendant tension and feelings of unrest.

Should the government pardon the returnee terrorists and encourage the remnants to come forth and surrender, regardless of the huge irrecoverable harm and damage they had done to various families and the nation in general, so the nation will ultimately return to the path of peace and quiet?

Or should the government insist on dealing decisively with those who repented and returned, according to the laws of the land and thus scare those who may yet be thinking of denouncing terrorism, and thus inadvertently stoke on the fire of the offensives?