Nigeria: Terrorism - the Jagged Edges of Govt's Deradicalisation Programme

Nigerian soldiers.
3 August 2020

Kingsley Nwezeh looks at government's policy on repentant terrorists in the North-east tagged "Operation Safe Coridor" and the national outrage over the neglect of the actual victims of insurngency and other stakeholders

"I have not received any assistance. I am left with four children. The kind of life we live now is some days we eat, some other days we have nothing to eat and then you (government) say 'Boko Haram fighters have repented,' and you take care of them".

The lamentation above by a mother of four, whose husband was killed in her presence by Boko Haram insurgents, some of whom are participating in government's deradicalisation programme, captures the grief shared by not just victims of terrorism strewn across many Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in the North-east, but a greater percentage of the populace with government's deradicalisation, rehabilitation and reintegration programme for the reportedly repentant insurgents, formerly members of terrorist groups, Boko Haram and the Islamic State for West African Province (ISWAP).

It is even more disheartening that such a programme is initiated in the middle of hostilities in the North-east where available records showed that 100,000 people, mothers, fathers, children, officers and men of the armed forces were decimated by insurgent attacks in a span of 11 years by the same repentant terrorists.

Boko Haram insurgency alone is believed to have claimed at least 100,000 lives, displaced more than 2.6 million people, caused pain to over 52, 311 orphans and 54,911 widows, and led to about $9 billion worth of damage.

UNICEF blames the militant group for killing around 2,295 teachers and destroying more than 1,400 schools destroyed since the conflict started ten years ago, according to Al-Jazeera Study Center, citing statistics provided by UNICEF.

Deradicalisation of Insurgents

There have been issues surrounding government's deradicalisation programme, codenamed Operation Safe Coridor (OPSC). Critics believe that radicalisation of the religious hue centers around ideology which was built up overtime and would not just disappear with a six-month programme of deradicalisation.

Some have also argued that pre-deradicalidicalisation programmes should be in place before deradicalisation and may whittle down issues that eventually lead to radicalism, violent extremism and eventually deradicalisation efforts.

This is also in tandem with the four pillars of United Nations' global counter terrorism strategy expected to be adopted by member countries, notably addressing the conditions conducive for the spread of terrorism, measures to prevent and combat terrorism and measures to build state's capacity to prevent and combat terrorism.

Reintegration

After the six months deradicalisation programme, the federal government last week announced the reintegration of 601 ex-Boko Haram terrorists into the society.

Their reintegration followed the completion of a de-radicalisation programme. The 601 ex-Boko Haram terrorists include 14 foreign nationals from Cameroon, Chad and Niger. It said ‎the repentant terrorists were reintegrated through their respective national and state authorities.‎

Coordinator of Operation Safe Corridor, Major General Bamidele Shafa, who made the disclosure at the DRR Camp in Mallam Sidi, Gombe State, said the programme was aimed at giving hope to ex-combatants who willingly give up their arms to embrace peace.

"On arrival at the camp, the clients went through documentation processes to obtain vital background information after which they were subjected to comprehensive medical screening to determine their health status.

"Their DNA samples were also collected while their biometrics were captured on national data using the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) facilities for future references", he said.

Shafa said "the background information serves as a guide for the experts - Local Treatment Team - to properly place the clients for treatment therapies and vocational training.

"The LTT are specialised experts in various fields of deradicalisation and rehabilitation therapies drawn from the Nigeria Correctional Service."

Operation Safe Coridor

Operation Safe Coridor was set up by government through the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) to oversee the deralidicalisation, rehabilitation and reintegration of willing insurgents.

The military high command had applauded the project as a model that is already being replicated by other countries.

Speaking on the project recently, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonisakin, said the initiative was a non-kinetic multi-national and multi-agency humanitarian operation being conducted in accordance with extant international human rights and humanitarian laws.

He said OPSC was a rare window to encourage willing and repentant Boko Haram terrorists in the North-east to surrender and shun acts of violence.

General Abayomi said the project was designed to deradicalise, rehabilitate and reintegrate repentant insurgents into society.

"I must say that this model has been replicated by many countries of the world and series of organisations and groups have come here to study that particular model, to know how we achieved it.

"The Armed Forces of Nigeria is committed to performing its constitutional role of providing peaceful and enabling environment in the country", he said.

The defence chief said "It will continue to develop strategies to address challenges arising from its operations in the North-east in order to wipe out the insurgents from our country,".

The Arguments

While the military praised the OPSC as a global model worthy of emulation, there is a loud disagreement with the entire programme and its mode of implementation.

Critisims have trailed the skewed nature of implementation which borders on concentration of efforts only on male insurgents without regard to the actual victims, (women and children) and the actions of the so called repentant insurgents, whose activities have left a trail of destruction and blood.

There are also cases of the insurgents going back to an unfriendly community where they continue a life of violence. Some have allegedly rejoined the insurgents or allegedly found their way into the military. The military, however, denied any record of such movements.

Ali Ndume, a vocal senator, who has held strong positions on government policies with regard to the insurgency in the North-east, also pooh-poohed the amnesty programme for terrorists.

Ndume, who represents Borno South Senatorial District and Chairman, Senate Committee on Army said one of the repentant insurngents fled after killing the father.

"This government's programme is unacceptable to our people. The right thing is to stop it, forthwith. Not that he even apologised to you, he apologised to the government. His thinking was that government has failed and that is why they are being pampered", he said in a BBC interview.

Ndume maintained that "they are like Kharajites. Many among those released have since run away. They will never repent. The government should know what to do about them. But not re-introducing someone to you, who has killed your parent, or your relations.

"If there is sincerity of purpose in this, those in the IDP camps should be trained in various trades and vocation so that they could start life again."

Protests, Complaints from Victims

In spite of government's position, there are mounting protests, complaints, and criticisms of the programme from major stakeholders especially victims of insurgency.

A widowed mother of four reportedly lamented the lack of assistance from government after her husband was killed in her presence by insurgents.

"I have not received any assistance. I am left with four children. The kind of life we live now is some days we eat, some other days we have nothing to eat and then you (government) say 'Boko Haram fighters have repented,' and you take care of them".

One of the female victims, spoke in the same vein.

"What about us who have spent six years in the (IDP) camp. We are not taken care of. Only those who came from the bush, looking for amnesty are the ones being taken care of", she said.

A BBC report also cited other unammed victims, who lamented the situation.

"Honestly, the government has not been just on this issue because I don't get money to feed my children until I go and wash clothes and dishes for people."

Another victim, who lost four brothers to Boko Haram attacks said, "They drove us out of our homes. Are these the people we are going to live with as if nothing happened?"

A widow, Tata Hussaini, who has been living in an IDP camp in Maiduguri since 2014, when her husband was killed at Tumbum-Mata, Baga, said she had not seen her daughter who was kidnapped by the insurgents.

"I do not know if she is still alive. She should be 13 years by now", she lamented.

Professor Mohammed Dikwa of the University of Maiduguri considers the case of the repentant insurngents a case of government's insensitivity to the plight of victims.

"This is utterly insane and insensitive to our feelings. Such a myopic decision can never be contemplated in sane climes. What is about to happen in the name of safe corridor is a blatant show of preference for Boko Haram whose comrades are still out there maiming, killing and kidnapping people including humanitarian workers", he said.

He further queries: "Where do we situate the memory of our slain dear ones or the yet to be resettled traumatised victims of the 11 painful years of Boko Haram terrorism in terms of thousands of lives lost, widows, orphans and shattered extended proud families?"

Tony Blair Institute Weighs In

The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change has also weighed in by raising the issues broached by other stakeholders. On its executive summary on deradicalisation in the Lake Chad region as it relates to Nigeria, the center observed that less attention was paid to the women involved in insurgency and victims of insurgency. It also argues that surrendering of terrorists to authorities is not enough.

"In the case of Operation Safe Coridor (OPSC), is surrendering, giving up on Boko Haram, repenting and willingly enrolling in a state deradicalisation programme enough to suggest a change of tune?

"If so, the question arises of whether there is any need for a formal process. Our analysis is that surrender is not enough, especially in the case of Boko Haram", it said.

The centre said combatants may be forced to surrender by a number of factors, such as military pressure or a lack of supplies.

"In such situations, there is still an evident need for deradicalisation.

Even if the surrender is entirely voluntary, defeating violent Islamist groups also requires tackling the ideology and socio-economic grievances that drove fighters to Boko Haram--something that can happen on the programme.

"All of the clients on the OPSC programme are men. In several interviews, people running the scheme stated that three or four women had begun the programme at OPSC but had been swiftly moved to another location. Interviewees noted that the women had been vastly outnumbered by the men and the staff did not have the capacity to engage with the women in a meaningful way", the center said.

The executive summary noted that "in our field research we came across no official documentation that backed these statements up. On further questioning, there was little clarity on where exactly those women had been and what programme they had been on, if any.

"Nigeria is unique in that large numbers of men, women and children are all involved in fighting for an extremist group. While there remain major questions about the level of willingness of each participant in Boko Haram's activities, there is no doubt that every person requires attention on leaving the group. But the male-dominated programme at OPSC neglects the female former members of Boko Haram who have willingly surrendered".

Intersociety Accuses Govt of Insincerity

A human rights group, the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) accused government of indiscriminate granting of state pardon to terrorists.

"The central Government of Nigeria and its Armed Forces has also vicariously and officially maintained a policy of soft spot for Boko Haram and its terror jihadism in the North-east. This, the same government does to through window dressing and, some say, 'conflict profiteering", the group said, in a recent statement, while

"indiscriminate and unilateral granting of state pardon to terror jihadists (i.e. "repentant Boko Haram combatants") and their alleged enlistment into security forces as well as abandonment and persecution of victim groups or communities".

In view of the issues raised by stakeholders and victims of insurgency, it may be necessary for the government and military to review the programme and address all the concerns raised.

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