The plan to reintegrate some ‘repentant’ members of the Boko Haram sect has been opposed by some Nigerians. The Senate did not mince words in rejecting the move which many critics consider as premature and insensitive at this point in time when the war against the insurgents is still raging. The fears of some Nigerians against the reintegration programme of the repentant insurgents must not be dismissed in view of the recent conviction of six Nigerians in Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal, United Arab Emirates (UAE), for sponsoring the Boko Haram sect.
The development must have informed the opposition of the federal lawmakers to the Operation Safe Corridor programme of the Nigerian Army, which, among other things, will de-radicalise, rehabilitate and reintegrate ‘repentant’ Boko Haram terrorists.
Former Yobe State governor and member representing Yobe East Senatorial District, Ibrahim Gaidam, has sponsored a bill seeking for a national agency for education, rehabilitation, de-radicalisation and integration of repentant insurgents in Nigeria. The aim of the bill is to ensure that repentant Boko Haram insurgents are allowed to enjoy the same benefits given to Niger Delta ex-militants under the Presidential Amnesty Programme for Niger Delta so that they will, in turn, assist the government to get insider information on the workings of the dreaded sect. The Nigerian Army had explained that the programme, which took off in 2016, was only targeted at low-risk Boko Haram members, not captured during combat and not yet ideologically indoctrinated but abducted or conscripted into the group.
The Army further claimed that these repentant Boko Haram members had been assisting the military by providing intelligence on Boko Haram’s activities. Against this backdrop, about 1,400 ‘repentant’ Boko Haram suspects, who were in detention, were recently released and resettled into the society by the military.
Many Nigerians have opposed the move because of its grave implication as well as the tendency to incentivise terrorism and put the nation in perpetual danger. The Senate has amplified the opposition, especially the aspect that seeks to resettle the ex-insurgents in communities where they had previously wreaked havoc through kidnapping, killing and maiming of people.
According to the lawmakers, it would be insensitive to return them to such war-ravaged communities and expect the inhabitants to accept them fully. Chairman, Senate Committee on Army, Senator Ali Ndume (APC/Borno South), who articulated the position of his committee, stressed that rather than pursuing a hurried programme of reintegration, the Army should conduct thorough investigation of captured Boko Haram terrorists and ensure that they and their sponsors are prosecuted for their crimes.
We align with the Senate Committee in opposing the move by the Army. It is hasty and may prove injurious to the security of the country, especially as the real agenda of the so-called repentant members of the Boko Haram group may not yet be conclusively ascertained. Regardless of the anticipated benefits of the exercise, it is unsafe for these insurgents to be unleashed on the already traumatised Nigerians when the war is still on.
We urge the government not to be distracted by the initiative but sustain the war against terror to a logical end before thinking of how to reintegrate the repentant Boko Haram members. The fact that terrorism is not a conventional warfare, but ideological, makes it extremely difficult to determine when an insurgent has actually renounced it.
Unfortunately, the Boko Haram sect has continued to wage a relentless war against the country despite the government overtures to it since its campaigns took murderous dimensions in 2009. The intensification of the war by the sect does not, in any way, justify the envisaged rehabilitation programme.
In Borno State, about 1.7 million people have been displaced by the sect, with the value of the damage wrought on the state estimated at about $9.6 billion. More than 60,000 children have been orphaned by the activities of the group. The situation is almost the same in other states in the North East region.
Therefore, any hasty initiative to rehabilitate the insurgents will be an injustice to those that have lost their lives or loved ones in course of the war. The government should not be in a hurry to embrace the ex-terrorists when the alleged sponsors of the group are being convicted by other countries. Equating Boko Haram terrorists with the Niger Delta agitators is ludicrous and unacceptable. The two are poles apart.