Residents of Borno State have expressed fears over the surrender of over 1,000 Boko Haram terrorists to Nigerian troops and the kid-glove treatments they were receiving from government.
Many, including traditional rulers and religious leaders, who spoke to The Guardian, stated that their fears were based on the earlier de-radicalisation of 603 repentant terrorists by the Nigerian Army under its Safe Corridor programme in Gombe State, adding that it would be difficult for them to reintegrate the repentant terrorists into their communities.
As at August 12, 2021, about 1,000 Boko Haram terrorists had surrendered to the Nigerian troops at Konduga, Gwoza and Bama in Borno State.
Last Monday, Army spokesperson, Brig.-Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu, had shared photos of the repentant Boko Haram terrorists, saying one Musa Adamu, a chief bomb expert of the insurgents, was one of those who surrendered.
The Army had distributed new clothes, assorted food items and toiletries to the surrendered insurgents and their families, totalling 335 fighters, 746 adult women and children, including one of the abducted Chibok girls.
The repentant insurgents were also seen carrying placards, some of which read, “Nigerians, please forgive us.” Following the development, many Nigerians had accused the Army of pampering the terrorists. But in a swift reaction, Nwachukwu released a statement, saying: “The NA being a professional military organisation will continue to act in accordance with the dictates of the Nigerian Constitution, as well as international best practices. It must be known that the NA will never encourage any act of lawlessness or extra judicial killings. Accordingly, all surrendered terrorists will be received, processed and passed on to the relevant agencies of Government for further assessment in line with extant provisions.”
Speaking with The Guardian, yesterday, on the rate at which the terrorists have been surrendering to troops lately and their possible reintegration into the society, the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Umar Garbai El-Kanemi, said, “their surrender to the military was a welcome development to both the state government and victims of terrorism.”
According to him, “the Safe Corridor programme of the Army led to the de-radicalisation of repentant terrorists in Gombe State. But it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for us to reintegrate the repentant insurgents into our destroyed communities.”
El-Kanemi, who recalled that Boko Haram flattened Bama town and its College of Education in September 2014, said the fears of the people over the 12-year insurgency still remain and would continue, especially in communities where the surrendered terrorists would be reintegrated.
He lamented that 13 district heads and many ward heads were also killed in the insurgency in his emirate, comprising 16 local council areas of the state.
On whether innocent Borno residents would forgive the repentant terrorists, he said: “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.”
He said the same applies to the seven other emirates in the state, adding that: “Many people were killed and their properties destroyed for 12 years. And you people and the media expect us to forget and forgive the repentant terrorists?”
Citing a resident who lost a family of eight, the monarch declared: “If the repentant terrorists killed the entire family, the survivor will definitely pursue the reintegrated insurgent for revenge no matter where he goes or lives in the country.”
The monarch warned that it would be difficult and dicey to allow the repentant terrorists to live in their respective communities.
A Maiduguri resident, Mallam Aminu Isa, also told The Guardian that the people had raised a lot of fears over allowing the repentant terrorists into their communities.
He noted that residents and the Army still doubted the genuineness of the terrorists’ surrender from the Sambisa Forest and Lake Chad region.
He disclosed that the over 1,000 surrendered terrorists could be to “spy or recruit” for Boko Haram and Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) to continue with their terrorist activities.
On his part, a top police officer in Maiduguri disclosed that the ongoing counter-terrorism of the Army has blocked the supplies of food and other logistics to the insurgents in forest.
“Most of the dirty roads into the forest and lake have been flooded,” he said, adding, “it has become very difficult to ferry most of the food supplies the terrorists depended on to fight troops and the police.”
Meanwhile, the Acting Director, Defense Media Operations, Brig-Gen. Bernard Onyeuko, said the troops were sustaining the onslaught on the insurgents, adding, “Our troops recently killed 27 insurgents and arrested 51 others.”
He also added that a cache of arms and ammunition were recovered on the fringes of forest and shores of the lake. Chairman of the Senate Committee on Army, Senator Ali Ndume, has also reaffirmed his stand against blanket amnesty for repentant Boko Haram fighters.
Speaking as a guest on Channels Television’s Politics Today, last Thursday, which was monitored by The Guardian, Ndume noted that the surrendering of the insurgents did not come to him as a surprise. He, however, stated that more must be done to the insurgents other than the pat on the back they were receiving at the moment.
His words: “It didn’t come to me as a surprise actually, because I’ve been saying for a long time that the Armed Forces and other security agencies of the country are handicapped, otherwise, they have the capacity and the ability to prosecute this war. Now that what they need is given to them, you can see the results within this short time. And I’m expecting more. It is only that, as I have said before, there shouldn’t be blanket amnesty and pampering treatment to those who have surrendered.”
He urged relevant authorities to ensure that the contrite insurgents were carefully profiled without any rush to have them return back to the society.
Residents of Kaduna State, which has suffered serious attacks by bandits in recent months, also expressed reservations over the spate of surrender by the terrorists, saying it could be a ploy to penetrate the society and wreak further havoc.
Speaking on the plans to reintegrate the repentant terrorists, President of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (ACYF), Yerima Shettima, said the society could not forgive any Boko Haram terrorist.
He said the government should rather ‘build another planet’ for the terrorists to reside in after granting them amnesty, because those whose families and beloved ones were killed in cold blood by the terrorists would not forgive them.
Shettima said: “I just get confused and I don’t hope it’s what I’m thinking. How can someone commit crime and you say you are giving him/her amnesty. Are you begging him?
“Are we saying that the security agency have been overwhelmed? If that is the case, it means we are giving room for more trouble in the future because more people will be compelled to go into committing all crimes and believing that at the end of the day, they will be granted amnesty. This won’t go well and I believe we will regret it some day. Do you mean those that lost their beloved ones to their cruel hands will forgive them? And government did not bother to compensate those who lost lives and properties living in the IDP camps?”
Another resident of Kaduna, Mr. Bolake Alabelewe, however, said there was nothing wrong in government pardoning the terrorists, adding that his concern was whether the government has the capability to rehabilitate them before reintegration in the society.
Alabelewe blamed the government for letting the insecurity degenerate to the level at which it were today. He said: “If the government had risen up to its responsibility of protecting lives and property, we wouldn’t have been talking about granting amnesty to people, who have maimed and killed and destroyed properties of good citizens. If the insurgents on their own are thinking that they are surrendering to the government and laying down their arms and ready to accept peace and repent, it is not a bad idea to accept them, debrief them and reintegrate them back into the society. But reintegrating criminals back into the society have processes in advanced countries, which includes medical and training aspects. The question is whether Nigeria has the facility, the human resource to carry out all that.
“Reintegration doesn’t just happen; processes have to be followed; but how sure are we that Nigeria is equal to the task. That somebody has surrendered today does not necessarily mean the person is wholeheartedly ready to accept going back into normal life without carrying out all manner of crimes that he was used to.”
On his part, a former military officer and Managing Director of Strict Guard Security, Dr. Bone Efoziem Chinye said: “I will not claim to know why repentant Boko Haram are treated that way. This treatment only encourages the terrorist and emboldens the upcoming ones. If they are saying it is to encourage them to surrender, what can be used is the Obasanjo carrot and stick concept and that does not make them to escape the law.
“If you interact with the world or international security community, you will find out that Boko Haram is rated as one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist group, while the Nigerian government is yet to officially declare them a full terrorist group that should be dealt with and their members attested and tested as terrorists.
“I am sure when that is being done, this issue of pampering them will not come up at all. Therefore, let them declare them terrorists and their group recognised as a major world terror group, thereafter we would begin to consider what approach they have been using.
“Don’t also forget that if they are arresting and releasing them, 99 per cent of those who surrender currently in the name of Boko haram are not the main insurgent fighters, they are just foot soldiers recruited from the street.
“Check the hierarchy of Boko Haram; you will find out that those who are surrendering today are not the masterminds and until the masterminds are being arrested this crisis will linger on.”
The National Coordinator of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), Mr. Emmanuel Onwubiko, also condemned the plan to rehabilitate the terrorists.
“The so-called surrender, reintegration and rehabilitation of Boko Haram terrorists by the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration amounts to a big illegality and is a treacherous violation of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Anti-terrorism Act and the relevant criminal statutes applicable in that part of the country.
“The whole drama of surrender is feeding to the long suspected allegations of conspiracy between the political elite in the North and the armed Islamic terrorists who were rumoured to have been supported logistically earlier than 2014 with the political motivation of forcing the then President Goodluck Jonathan’s government to quit.
“The then Army Chief, Lieut. Gen. Ihejirika was pointedly accused of massively killing the terrorists who the Northern politicians branded as their brothers. Boko Haram terrorists even listed the then APC Presidential hopeful Muhammadu Buhari as their chief negotiator. The current minister of telecommunications and digital economy Sheikh Ibrahim Pantami was known to have also criticised the Jonathan’s administration over the massive scale of counter terror bombardments of boko haram terrorists.
“The question to ask is whether actually the Boko Haram terrorists were recruited to get the APC into national government and if yes we then ask if this is why there are these choreographed mass surrender and reintegration of terrorists whose hands are drenched in blood of the innocent and who are responsible for the killings of over 30,000 Nigerians and the destruction of the North East of Nigeria.
“We need to find out from the Federal Government why they are in communion with terrorists instead of bringing justice to them. So, what happens to the victims of the nearly 11-year old terror attacks? What about the soldiers killed by Boko Haram terrorists? The Nigerian government is in violation of the laws of the land to fraternize with terrorists who killed, maimed and destroyed many lives.”
He added: “The immediate implication is the institutionalisation of anarchy and impunity. What has happened to the list of sponsors of Boko Haram terrorists that the Justice Minister Abubakar Malami bragged that the government would publish? Why is the government foot-dragging and why did it take the United Arab Emirates to bring some sponsors of Boko Haram terrorists to trial in Dubai but the Nigerian government is busy releasing detained Boko Haram terrorists and arranging for others to surrender comically?”