Terrorists world over are known to be ideologists with very extreme views mostly towards religion, sectarian or ethnic. Terrorists generally are known to have sets of agendas and oftentimes use lethal force in pursuing same.
Sheikh Osama Bin Laden, the founder of Al-qaeda is believed by many to be the father of modern terrorism. His terroristic activities cut across the Middle East, Africa and even America leaving behind footprints of blood, tears and sorrow.
In Nigeria, terrorism became prevalent with the advent of Boko Haram, an Islamic terror group with headquarters in Borno state, North East region of the country. Even though the group began waging a violent campaign against the Nigerian state following the ‘extrajudicial murder’ of its leader, Sheikh Mohammed Yusuf in July 2009, it’s ideological activities dated back to 2002 when the group was founded by the late Yusuf.
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Islamist insurgencies had killed nearly 350,000 people as of the end of 2020 in Nigeria. The report by the UNDP also said that If the conflict continues to 2030, more than 1.1 million people may die. This places Boko Haram as one of the deadliest terror groups in the world.
Since the coming of the Muhammadu Buhari led administration in 2015, the handling of Boko Haram terrorists in detention Facilities across Nigeria took a new controversial dimension with the military launching an operation in 2016, codenamed; Operation Safe Corridor, an initiative for the deradicalisation and rehabilitation of former Boko Haram members. The operation allows Boko Haram terrorists to be reintergrated under the guise of “repentance” or “deradicalization”. The operation has come under severe attack from the public and even some government officials in Borno state including the state governor, Babagana Zulum.
In November 2020, Senator representing Borno South in the National Assembly, Ali Ndume publicly kicked against the rehabilitation of ‘repented’ Boko Haram terrorists. Ndume while speaking on the floor of the senate says;
“I personally disagree with that. The war is not over and some criminals that have been killing people, you say that you are doing Operation Safe Corridor for them.
“I am completely against that idea. They know my position on that, you can’t do that.
“It is when you win the war and some people surrender that you think about something like that,” Ndume said on the floor of the Senate where a Bill which is aimed at creating a national agency that would see to the rehabilitation, de-radicalization, and integration of repentant insurgents in the country was being deliberated
Ndume who is also the Chairman of the Nigerian Senate committee on Army added that the idea of the bill will only make Boko Haram have more recruits since they are sure of rehabilitation and reintegration into society in later time.
“You are just telling people to go and join Boko Haram and then repent and become something (sic) that’s a totally unacceptable idea and a way of solving the problem.” Ndume said.
Borno state Governor, Babagana Zulum has also expressed reservation over the ‘deradicalization’ of former Boko Haram terrorists.
“Another aspect of the war against the insurgency that needs to be urgently reviewed or modified, is the issue of deradicalisation of Boko Haram terrorists, who have been captured or have willingly surrendered themselves to the authorities,” he said.
Governor Zulum also confirmed the fears of many Nigerians that Boko Haram terrorists like other terrorists across the world do not genuinely repent but fake repentance to get away unpunished when arrested by the security when he said;
“It has been confirmed that the concept of deradicalisation or Safe Corridor is not working as expected. Quite often, those who have passed through the Safe Corridor initiative, or have been deradicalised, usually go back and rejoin the terror group after carefully studying the various security arrangements in their host communities, during the reintegration process.
“In addition, the host communities where the reintegration process is going on usually resent the presence of Boko Haram terrorists, even if they have been deradicalised, because of the despicable and atrocious activities they have committed in the past.” Zulum said.
Senator Ali Ndume in November 2020 claimed that the recent terrorist attack in Damboa was orchestrated by a repentant Boko Haram member.
According to the lawmaker, the repentant Boko Haram member was feeding the terror group information regarding the movement of the army.
Also, in July 2020, another repentant Boko Haram terrorist was alleged to have returned to his village, killed his father and absconded with his cattle.
Some repentant Boko Haram terrorists rejoin their comrades after faking repentance to the military. According to Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno state;
“Quite often, those who have passed through the Safe Corridor initiative, or have been deradicalised, usually go back and rejoin the terror group after carefully studying the various security arrangements in their host communities, during the reintegration process”
No going back on reintegration
Despite stiff opposition from Governor Babagana Zulum, Senator Ndume and other prominent Nigerians, the Federal government through the military has continued to reintegrate Boko Haram terrorists into the society. In January 2018 for instance, the BBC reported that “Nigeria’s military says it has released 244 “repentant” Boko Haram suspects who have undergone rehabilitation.” The report further said that “The authorities say they have been de-radicalised and can re-enter society, but critics are sceptical about whether they have repented.”
In July 2019, the Nigerian Military handed over 151 repentant Boko Haram terrorists to the Borno state government. The Military claimed that the repentant terrorists were handed over to the government after completion of a 52-weeks de-radicalisation and rehabilitation conducted for them under Operation Safe Corridor.
In 2021 alone, the Nigerian Military have made several announcements concerning the surrender of many Boko Haram terrorists and their families. Reports have it that some of these terrorists have found their ways back into the Nigerian society as free men and women.
A recent report by the United Nations revealed how the Nigerian government has been ‘secretly’ reaching out to Boko Haram commanders in the forest to abandon terrorism in exchange for a comfortable life with monthly stipends from the government. The report mentioned specifically how a Boko Haram commander involved in the Bama massacre of 2014 is now living free on the government’s payroll.
This gesture of the Buhari led government to so called repentant Boko Haram terrorists is going on at a time when thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are living in very poor conditions in various camps across the North East.
Terrorist herdsmen and fake repentance
Away from Boko Haram and the North East, Fulani herdsmen militias, a Nigerian terror group Internationally adjudged the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world by the Global Terrorism Index 2014 has been wrecking havoc in the North West and North Central parts of Nigeria. The group began a campaign of violence in 2010 a year after Boko Haram launched it’s own.
State Governors in the North West and Central states have experimented different approaches towards ending the herdsmen violence in their states, all to no avail.
In 2016, the Kaduna state governor, Nasiru El-rufai said his government traced and identified killer herdsmen in some African countries, responsible for the killings in Southern Kaduna and offered them monetary compensation to stop the killings. The killings only intensified after the confession, a signal that the terrorists only used the funds received from the governor to acquire more weapons.
In neighbouring Niger state, the Governor, Sani Bello while speaking to some groups of vigilante members in Mariga local government area of the state, said that some bandits after calming repentance, used funds received from the government to buy more arms.
“Any bandit that surrenders his weapons and repents from his heinous way of living would be forgiven, and provided with a means of livelihood which would not necessarily include any cash backing.
“From experience, it has been discovered that the repentant bandits, after collecting cash from the dialogue option, they will purchase more weapons and return to their old ways of banditry.” Governor Bello said
In Katsina, President Bush’s own state, the state governor, Aminu Masari recently said he was wrong to have believed that bandits (terrorists) operating in the state had repented when he granted them amnesty years back.
“The only thing I say is with the benefits of hindsight, I wouldn’t have done it,” said Mr Masari on Channels TV. “Because at that time when we started in 2016, there were leaders. But gradually, all the leaders were eliminated. That was the failure of the first round.
“The second round after the 2019 election didn’t see the light of the day. We tried, but then we realised that, ‘who are you talking to?.
“They are not under the same umbrella. They are not pushing for any religious belief. They are just bandits, criminals, and thieves.” Governor Masari said.
Masari accused the terrorists of betraying him and vowed never to grant amnesty to any of them again.
Katsina state remains one of the epicenters of terrorists activities in the North West with several communities under terrorists siege.
The story is the same in Zamfara state where so called repentant terrorists have returned to the forest after accepting amnesty and sometimes cash gifts from the state government. A typical example is Chalaga Turji, a terrorist commander operating in Zamfara and neighboring Sokoto state. Turji and his fighters in February laid down their weapons as they embraced the state government amnesty which was brokered by controversial Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi who is renowned for acting as a middleman in arranging for state pardon on behalf of bandits. Turji later reneged and went back to the forest alongside his fighters to continue with their trade.
How Terrorists are treated abroad
In June 2021, African country, Somalia executed 21 Al-Shabab terrorists after they were sentenced by a military court in Galkayo and shot by a firing squad.
State radio said 18 of the men had carried out assassinations and bombings over more than a decade in the country.
The execution may not have ended terrorrism in Somalia but must have sent a very strong message to Al-Shabab and other terrorist groups in the country that the government means business and isn’t joking.
Post 9/11, the George W Bush’s administration established the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, a maximum security detention facility for high profile terrorists. Even though the facility has come under criticisms for it’s alleged human rights violations, one cannot dismiss the fact that the facility has been used to hold terrorists for decades instead of reintegrating them into American society. To the best of my knowledge, America and other Western and even some African countries that have suffered or are suffering terrorism by Islamists do not reintegrate them in any guise instead subject them to trial and possible conviction.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, popularly known as the ‘underwear bomber’, a son of a prominent Nigerian former bank executive was sentenced to 4 life terms plus 50 years by a U.S court over attempt to bomb plane while on board Northwest Airlines Flight 253, en route from Amsterdam to Detroit, Michigan, on Christmas Day, 2009. Abdulmutallab has spent over a decade in jail and most probably will die there considering his sentence.
In Nigeria, terrorists who committed worse crimes than Abdulmutallab have been freed under the guise of repentance and are currently on government’s payrolls. Some have returned back to their old ways, inflicting maximum damages on Nigeria and Nigerians.
If the U.S with all her sophistication do not consider rehabilitation of terrorists an option, one wonders how the Nigerian government intends to rehabilitate terrorists who believe their acts of terrorisms are divine and a service to God almighty.
So far, the policy or initiative of reintegrating Boko Haram and other terrorist groups in the country has proven to be counterproductive and should be discontinued henceforth.
Maximum punishment should be applied on terrorists and their sponsors when identified and arrested while our full military might should also be deployed against active terrorists across the country.