Repentant or Spies, Nigerians Wary of Surrendered Terrorists – THISDAY Newspapers
Vanessa Obioha writes that many unanswered questions and doubts surround the federal government’s rehabilitation and reintegration plans for ex-insurgents
How can a victim of a terrorist attack live with perpetrators as neighbours simply because they surrendered? Even the most religious of all Nigerians would certainly wish for the insurgents to face the law. Yet, the federal government wants Nigerians to forgive and forget the horrible images of unspeakable violence and crime committed by ex-terrorists through its various amnesty initiatives, particularly, Operation Safe Corridor.
The programme launched in 2016, seeks to rehabilitate, de-radicalise and reintegrate the surrendered low-risk ex-Boko Haram fighters into the society.
For more than a decade, Nigeria has been caught in a war with Boko Haram, a group formed by the late Mohammed Yusuf in 2002 who challenged western education in the North. The terrorist’s notoriety escalated in 2009 following the death of Yusuf.
They killed, maimed, abducted, kidnapped and raped their victims. The 2014 abduction of Chibok girls by the insurgents marked the beginning of mass abductions of students in the country.
Today, abduction of students is fast becoming a worrying trend. Bandits, and unknown gunmen adopt the strategy to hold both the government and individuals to ransom.
The fight against Boko Haram has not been as progressive as Nigerians wished. If anything, critics believe it’s stalemated.
The present administration had promised during its 2015 campaign to put an end to the insurgency but six years later, security challenges in Nigeria are at a staggering record and continue to dwarf the efforts of security agents.
To combat the insurgents, the Nigerian Army came up with OSC to lure members of the terrorist group to give up their arms. From the onset, the decision was greeted with criticisms. But with the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan where the Taliban conquered the country following the United States’ withdrawal of troops after 20 years, Nigerians are worried that the country may fall into a similar path.
Already, security experts across the world raised concerns that the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan may lead to a resurgence of al-Qaeda and other jihadists groups across the globe.
The Senior Director for Counterterrorism in former US President Donald Trump’s administration, Mr. Chris Costa, called it a galvanising event for jihadists everywhere.
“I think al-Qaeda (sic) has an opportunity, and they’re going to take advantage of that opportunity,” the Associated Press had reported.
Al-Qaeda was responsible for the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001 and still maintains close ties with the Taliban.
In Nigeria, Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) are the known terrorist groups. It was in 2015 that the late leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau announced the group’s allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed ‘caliph’ and leader of the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL). ISWAP on the other hand is an offshoot of Boko Haram and the administrative arm of ISIS but the rivalry between the two led to the killing of Shekau in May this year. ISIS also pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda and participated in the 2003 Iraqi insurgency.
Therefore, resentment and fears have greeted the recent reintegration of over 1,000 insurgents into society. According to the Army spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu, a chief bomb expert of the insurgents, Musa Adamu was one of those who surrendered. In total, 335 fighters, 746 adult women and children, including two of the abducted Chibok girls reportedly surrendered to the Nigerian troops at Konduga, Gwoza and Bama in Borno. Images of the terrorists carrying placards with the inscription: “Nigerians, please forgive us,” went viral.
It was as if the army expected Nigerians to embrace the terrorists through those words but mere placards do not in any way convey repentance. Nigerians are even more infuriated by the term ‘repentant terrorists’ used by the federal government to identify former members of the terrorist group Boko Haram who surrendered to the Nigerian Army.
To be sure, Merriam Webster dictionary defined the adjective ‘repentant’ as expressing repentance, an act of repenting. Repentance requires one to turn from sin and dedicate to the amendment of one’s life. It is to feel regret or contrition, to change one’s mind.
The questions now become how genuine is this repentance? Better still, are Nigerians, particularly victims of insurgency ready to forgive and forget as queried by the Shehu of Borno, Abubakar El-Kanemi who still has memories of the insurgents’ attack on the Bama community in 2014. The insurgents were reported to have killed 13 district heads and several ward heads in 16 LGAs in Borno.
“It is easy to forgive for the destruction of many lives and property, but difficult to forget the wanton loss of lives in the various communities of my chiefdom. Many people were killed along with their property for 12 years. And you people and the media expect us to forget and forgive the repentant terrorists?” the revered monarch queried.
President of the Senate, Dr. President Ahmad Lawan shared similar sentiments, warning that measures must be put in place to ensure that the repentant insurgents are ‘genuine’.
However, the Governor of Borno State, Prof. Babagana Zulum, who once said that the insurgents could act as spies, sang a different tune after he visited the President at the State House last Tuesday.
While acknowledging that over 100,000 people have been killed in the 12-year insurgency in the North-east, he disclosed that 2,600 Boko Haram members have so far surrendered, including their wives and children.
“The report of the surrendering of the insurgents and to me in particular and to the greater people of Borno State is a very welcome development unless we want to continue with an endless war. I see no reason why we should reject those who are willing to surrender.
“I was attacked for more than 40, 50 times. I know the magnitude of this problem. More than 100,000 people were killed and therefore, I am in total support of this ongoing surrender by the insurgents,” Zulum reportedly said.
Zulum’s pain pales in comparison to victims of Boko Haram who are not only dealing with loss and displacement but also poverty. Most families in the northern state depend on farm produce but with little financial assistance, they barely produce enough to subsist on.
More aggravating was the grand welcome given to the insurgents like the Biblical Prodigal Son by the army. It begets the question of whether similar benevolent gestures have been extended to victims apart from the ineffective consolatory messages.
While Nigerians were still mulling over OSC, a UN report titled ‘The New Humanitarian’ that disclosed the government was carrying out a clandestine operation for senior jihadists fighters was published, triggering a flurry of emotions. Called Sulhu, a term used for peacekeeping in Islam, the programme targets “turbaned Rijal seen in the low-res YouTube videos, exultant in victory, killing without remorse,” as described in the report. It also disclosed that the federal government reached out to these fighters in the bush to encourage them to abandon their goal of building a caliphate by force of arms and to defect.
Run by the Department of State Services (DSS), it offers a new beginning to these senior jihadists fighters, including one of the commanders of the Bama massacre. The report detailed how one of the repentant terrorists, Aliyu, a commander in the insurgent group, is enjoying a new life and used also to lure others to surrender to the government. Under Sulhu, defectors are enrolled in a six-month “deradicalisation” course in the military’s demobilisation and reintegration centre in Mallam Sidi, in Gombe State. They are issued with a graduation certificate, signed by a high court judge, after renouncing their membership of the insurgent group. Some now run their own businesses, from cap-making to chicken-rearing.
Expectedly, the programme has met differing opinions. On one side are security officials who said that the initiative opens door to a peace deal, while others view it as a reward for mass killers.
Again, the secrecy of Sulhu stirred suspicions. Why is the government keeping such operations hidden? Is there a secret agenda?
One of the reasons given by an Abuja-based lawyer is that “There’s a lack of buy-in and a lot of pushback from sections of the military and political office holders, who don’t see the need for this process.”
The insurgents are known to have used anti-air craft weapons and other high-calibre war equipment, raising strong indications that they have powerful backers and sponsors.
It is therefore, strange that the federal government or security agents have never named a country or individuals sponsoring terrorists, despite having some of the top commanders in custody or as ‘repentant’ fighters.
Under the Nigerian constitution, terrorism is an act punishable by law; so, having the government decorate the repentant insurgents is unfathomable, especially considering the level of pain and sorrow these terrorists have caused many.
Are these repentant fighters spies? If the federal government needed proof, the recent attack on the Nigerian Defence Academy in Kaduna provided one.
News of the attack that happened in the early hours of Tuesday, August 24, had sent panic across the land. Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Lucky Irabor, suspected insider collaboration. This is part of the dangers in reintegrating terrorists into the society.
Although the Army has consistently denied claims that some of the repentant fighters were integrated into the military, there is no doubt that these ex-fighters will not play a patriotic role if reintegrated into the society, given their orientation.
As Nigerians seek answers to burning questions, it is obvious that they do not want to live with terrorists; repentant or not.