Boko Haram: Should Nigerians support government’s effort to rehabilitate insurgents?

A ruined town in Nigeria’s North East, following an attack by Islamic insurgents..

In the last 3 – 4 years, Nigeria’s federal government has repeatedly emphasized the need for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of Boko Haram insurgents in the troubled North East.

By December 2017, the Nigerian federal government, with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), adopted an initial Action Plan for Demobilization, Disassociation, Reintegration, and Reconciliation for those associated with Boko Haram. This plan was based on strengthening criminal justice responses to Terrorism in the Northeast. However, in the wake of recent government efforts, many Nigerians have expressed fears over what seems like an “immoral imperative”.

A Bill, sponsored by Ibrahim Geidam (APC, Yobe East), a former governor of the state; titled “National Agency for the Education, Rehabilitation, De-radicalisation and Integration of Repentant Insurgents in Nigeria, has been greeted by widespread criticisms. Many ordinary Nigerians, policy makers and political pundits have reacted cynically, with lawmakers in both the opposition and ruling party, slamming the move as provocative.

Operation safe corridor:

Clients (repentant terrorists) approaching a military plane..

Recent criticisms from Nigerians suggest that most people have little or no knowledge of the country’s existing deradicalization and rehabilitation program, and this partly stems from the program’s opaque nature. Operation safe corridor is a non-kinetic multi national and multi agency humanitarian operation, which encourages willing and repentant Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria’s North East, to surrender and shun acts of violence. The program began in 2016 and claims to have admitted and discharged over 250 clients (insurgents) since inception. It is not farfetched to suggest that a new agency for the rehabilitation and reintegration of insurgents, will take over the operation safe corridor (OPSC) program, with improved performance due to specialization.

While vital details in the operational methods of OPSC remain scarce, experts will agree that Nigeria as a matter of urgency, requires an effective DDR (deradicalization, demobilization and rehabilitation) strategy to help hasten the peace process in the troubled North East. But despite claims of best practises by the Nigerian military, journalists and civil society groups maintain that thousands of suspects remain in military detention in the North east, held without charges and often in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.

The notion that the program is not being conducted in accordance with extant international human rights and humanitarian laws questions its efficiency/effectiveness.

North East Development Commission (NEDC):

The North East Development Commission (NEDC) was created by an act of parliament in October 2017, with a mission to lead the reconstruction and development of Nigeria’s northeast. Prior to its establishment, various initiatives like the Victims Support Fund (VSF), Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE), and Presidential Committee on the North East Initiative (PCNI), all served as government interventions to address humanitarian and development challenges in the region. Fewer Nigerians opposed the establishment of the NEDC, most likely because it addresses the insurgency problem from the victim’s side. But when conventional interventions fail, it is only reasonable to consider alternatives.

If adequately funded, the NEDC could influence the peace process in the long term, via development projects, but a comprehensive DDR program can greatly influence the peace process in the short term.

Suggestion:

While it might not be the right time to create an entire agency to run the government’s DDR program, it is imperative that Nigerians understand and support government’s effort to deradicalize and rehabilitate “repentant” terrorists. This is because a carrot and stick approach is at the moment, necessary to win the war in the North East region, after more than a decade of violence.

With the NEDC mandated to plug infrastructural holes, a comprehensive and transparent DDR program on the other hand will convince insurgents that there is meaningful life if they want out. An agency solely dedicated to executing the DDR program seems way ahead, especially since there is no current peace deal between Nigeria’s federal government and terror groups in the Northeast; but the efficiency of a specialized agency is sure to deepen the scope of the DDR program, consolidate on already made gains and strengthen collective effort towards peace in the North East.

However, without transparency and robust collaborations, success, as well as popular support for the ongoing OPSC program and future DDR programs remain bleak.

By Cephas Kadiri

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