As the debate continues to rage over whether it was constitutionally, morally and socially right for the Federal Government to give amnesty to repentant Boko Haram members, some soldiers, who resigned from Nigerian Army, have expressed their worries over the issue.
A soldier, who resigned after being disenchanted with what was happening in the army, said he was tired of seeing friends, mates and colleagues being slaughtered. He couldn’t take the nightmarish incidents anymore. So, he left.
Just like most military and paramilitary personnel, he agreed to speak with our reporter anonymously. According to him, amnesty should not be granted to repentant Boko Haram members, not after they had caused many women and children to become Internally Displaced Persons.
He said: “Giving amnesty and rehabilitating insurgents is like romancing terrorism and urging people to dash off to join the Boko Haram Sect. This government is paying too much attention and love to Boko Haram insurgents. Rather, it should pay attention to children, whose parents were killed by these insurgents. Many people, especially women and children, have been rendered homeless and displaced by these insurgents.
“Soldiers are being killed every day in the North East, but nobody is taking care of them. Families of late and serving soldiers, who are at the North East, are not being cared for. Meanwhile, our government is busy caring for these so-called repentant Boko Haram members. I doubt if they had truly repented.
“If you want to have a feel of what happened during the civil war in Nigeria or Somalia, just visit the IDP camps in the northeast. You’ll weep! Children and people there are malnourished and suffering, while the so-called repentant Boko Haram members are being well fed.”
He argued that right now, the government had provided for the feeding and other needs of the repentant insurgents but wondered what happens after the money runs out?
“What if their handlers divert the money? These insurgents will just re-join their members. It’s all about the money. Many of them see terrorism as an easy way to make money. The government is making terrorism attractive for people. It’s dangerous!” said the ex-soldier.
He explained that so many soldiers had become disenchanted with the job but continued to remain due to lack of jobs in Nigeria. He added: “I resigned because I lost interest in the job. I love the job but the ill treatment was too much. These so-called repentant insurgents should be made to face the law.”
Another soldier, who also resigned, said there was nothing like repentance among the insurgents. He said there were so many things he would have loved to discuss with our reporter but for its sensitive concerns.
When information filtered out that the Federal Government was planning to forgive repented Boko Haram members, rehabilitate and then allow them into the society, many had scoffed at the very notion, perceiving the information as fake news, emanating from social media. Today, it has become a reality, with over 603 Boko Haram members alleged to have been rehabilitated and graduated from the Federal Government’s programme. Since the news broke, the Nigerian Army has witnessed turbulent episodes, with over 300 soldiers resigning and some taking to social media to call out their superiors. These were incidents unheard of before in a known regimented force.
As many soldiers were resigning, others were being killed by Boko Haram insurgents. According to a source, the army has embarked on recruitment, to replace its depleting workforce. The call for application, it alleged, had jettisoned the normal recruitment process.
A third soldier, who also resigned, said: “We have many undergraduates looking for jobs but instead of the government to look for ways to create jobs for them, the government is channelling its lean resources to care for insurgents. This is after soldiers lost their lives to these insurgents. You’ll be shocked at the amount of money they would later mention was spent on these repentant insurgents. Right now, the government probably thinks what it is doing is the right thing.
“I find it difficult to understand why insurgents should be pardoned. Nigeria as a nation should fight Boko Haram insurgency head to head and finish the war, rather than saying some of them have repented. Even those so called repented Boko Haram members, might not be Boko Haram members, and had never fought before in their lives. They just heard about the programme and keyed into it.
“The question should be; what has the government got from these repentant Boko Haram insurgents? If they had truly repented, they should be able to furnish the government with information, which would lead to ending this war.”
Security analysts believed that the gross disrespect being expressed by junior soldiers to their superiors were one of the fallouts of these ideas of forgiving insurgents, who had killed many soldiers and left women and children displaced.
Earlier in June, Coordinator, Defence Media Operations, John Enenche, told Nigerians that 603 repentant Boko Haram fighters were billed to be reintegrated into their communities by July after completing the Deradicalisation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration programme. According to Enenche, a Major General: “The programme has recorded tremendous success since inception in 2016.”
However, Senator Ali Ndume changed the tempo of the narrative by coming out to speak loudly against the programme. This was even as he stated that one of the repentant Boko Haram members, who had been deradicalised, rehabilitated and reintegrated, killed his own father.
A widow, who spoke with BBC, said Boko Haram insurgents made her a widow. She recalled: “They killed my husband and son in my presence. Till death, I will never forget that day. See how harsh life is today; someday we eat, another day we stay hungry. That is how we are suffering with the children. Look at the kind of care given to the Boko Haram members. We have suffered for six years now. We are not being taken care of. Truly, the government has not done justice here. I wash for people and do other menial jobs, after which I’m paid N500, which I use with my children to feed.”
A security analyst, Dennis Amachree, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Zoomlens Security Solution, said: “I have always advised against Operation Safe Corridor of the Nigeria Army, which seeks to deradicalise and rehabilitate ‘repentant’ Boko Haram insurgents. How do we really know they are repentant? Let’s for once agree that they are repentant and deradicalised; then why should the Nigerian Army re-inject them into society? The Al-Qaida fighters that were captured in Afghanistan are still locked up at Guantanamo Bay for safety. The hurry in introducing this programme and the speed with which they are being given concessions is suspect. No wonder, a ‘repentant’ Boko Haram member, reportedly returned to his community and killed his father! The effect on society for such killers to be re-injected into society is to say the least, traumatic, especially to the families that were victims to the carnage caused by the Boko Haram fighters.”
Amachree, who is a former Assistant Director, Department of State Services, added: “It does not show duty of care for law abiding citizens, when criminals are treated with kid gloves. Even people in IDP camps don’t have such preferential treatment.”
The Executive Director of Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre, Okechukwu Nwanguma, said: “Government’s programme of rehabilitation of so-called repentant Boko Haram terrorists is that it is a further testimony to the Buhari government’s insensitivity, cluelessness and misplaced priorities. It shows a government that is either incompetent to tackle terrorists or is sympathetic to them and their cause.
“It is the height of insensitivity and pathetic ignorance of basic governance issues for the government of Buhari to say terrorists had repented and that it was rehabilitating them after they had committed multiple atrocities. There is a process for reconciliation and peace between the perpetrator and the victim. That process includes truth, genuine repentance and apologies by the perpetrator to the victim and the victim’s willingness to accept the apologies and to forgive.
“No reasonable and sensible government can just come from nowhere and say terrorists have repented and then decides to forgive them on behalf of victims and then says it’s rehabilitating and reintegrating them into the same society with their victims, who are still nursing deep pains in their hearts.
“There have been comments credited to Buhari before he became president and during his presidency, suggesting that he is sympathetic and protective of Boko Haram elements due to sentimental reasons. On the one hand, the Buhari government has not done anything meaningful to protect communities under attack by terrorists; to rehabilitate and resettle those displaced and forced to live in camps.
“Women and girls in IDPs continue to be raped and sexually exploited due to deprivation and starvation. Government officials who divert and loot funds allocated to alleviate the conditions of internally displaced persons are allowed to go unpunished. The same government that is pampering terrorists after they had been allowed to destroy communities and kill their inhabitants has no compassion for those victimised by terrorism.
“When did these terrorists repent? Who determined that they have repented and how? What about those they killed or raped or rendered homeless? What about the families they wiped out? Did the repentant terrorists apologise to their victims? How about the soldiers being sacrificed because they are not adequately equipped and motivated to tackle the terrorists yet they are sent to the battle field?”
Presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, has answers for some of the questions posed by the human rights activists. Shehu disclosed that none of the 603 former Boko Haram members, who voluntarily laid down their arms, and graduated from the Federal Government’s deradicalisation and rehabilitation programme, were going into the military.
He explained that members of the public needed to be reassured that deradicalisation, rehabilitation and reintegration of violent extremists of the Buhari administration code named: “Operation Safe Corridor,” followed an established example from countries with similar experiences, and was supported academically and materially by the European Union and the United Nations.
Shehu further stated: “The lead agency for the implementation of the programme in Gombe is the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a leading inter-government organization which is represented in Nigeria. It is also important to note that this programme does not have a place for hard boiled, ideologically hardened terrorists. It only admits, after careful scrutiny, repentant fighters that were captured and forced to bear arms in the first instance, and there are many who have been drafted by force.”