Despite Army’s denial on release of Boko Haram members, Nigerians doubt govt sincerity

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Boko Haram insurgency has killed over 30,000 people in Northeast Nigeria since the group began its campaign against the Nigerian state and its people in 2009 following a riot in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital. The group also displaced over 3,000,000 people, making Borno state particularly a harbinger of poverty, disease, and death in the last 12 years.

Recently, Boko Haram fighters started coming out to surrender to the Nigerian troops. This has brought a lot of joy to the people and has encouraged the soldiers on the battlefield.

Residents of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, however, have divergent opinions about stories making the rounds that repentant Boko Haram terrorists were being secretly released by the military authorities and that these terrorists go back after gathering intelligence about happenings in the city, hence contributing to the lingering crisis in the Northeast.

Dr. Ahmad Shehu, a resident of Maiduguri told DAILY POST that, while the terrorists are surrendering, the people of Borno State are happy and believing that the end of the crisis has come. But the rumour making the rounds about the release of terrorists is not encouraging the peace-building approach given the fact that citizens are not yet comfortable with even those terrorists that have undergone de-radicalization.

“We learnt that some of these terrorists are being released. I think I was reading it some days back and I was sharing it with my colleagues in the office. If that is so, then we may as well think that there is a collaboration of sorts, which is not healthy to the current achievements. That indicates that there are saboteurs within the military,” he said.

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Hussaini Musa, a security analyst in Maiduguri asked whether those released were terrorists who have already gone through de-radicalization that are being released or some terrorists who were recently arrested by troops or those who were said to be surrendering.

“Yes, one of the Chibok girls- Ruth, abducted in 2014 has been released to her family. She came with two kids and many other victims like that. I do not think the military is releasing Boko Haram fighters. If wives of Boko Haram fighters were released, it would be a joyous thing because some victims got their freedom and nobody should have issues with that. These women did not join Boko Haram as most of them were abducted and forcibly taken as wives. If however, the claims making the rounds are that the military is releasing Boko Haram fighters who did not go through the process of decriminalization, then I would say it is very unfortunate.”

Recall that the military in 2016 launched Operation Safe Corridor, an initiative for the de-radicalization and rehabilitation of ex-Boko Haram members. The aim of the operation, the military said, is to reintegrate repentant Boko Haram members into the society. But while speaking at the North-East Governors’ Forum meeting in Bauchi, Governor Zulum said the initiative needs to be reviewed because some of the ex-Boko Haram members only come to spy on communities and then return to join the group.

“Another aspect of the war against insurgency that needs to be urgently reviewed or modified is the issue of de-radicalization of Boko Haram terrorists, who have been captured or have willingly surrendered themselves to the authorities. It has been confirmed that the concept of de-radicalization or Safe Corridor is not working as expected. Quite often, those who have passed through the Safe Corridor initiative, or have been de-radicalized, 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 de-radicalized, because of the despicable and atrocious activities they have committed in the past. So the idea of de-radicalization, as currently being implemented, needs to be reviewed because the main goals and the underlying objectives behind the initiative are not being achieved.,” Governor Zulum said.

Also In July 2020, some residents of Maiduguri kicked against the reintegration of repentant Boko Haram members into their communities, asking the federal government to take them to Aso Rock. Soldiers at the war front in the northeast had also expressed disappointment over the release of repentant Boko Haram suspects.

Recently about 1,009 ex-Boko Haram insurgents, who had been in military custody at Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri were said to have been released.

DAILY POST learned that the former terrorists were handed over to the Borno State Government in a secret ceremony that was initially billed to take place at an earlier date but was suspended indefinitely by the military authorities in the wake of the appointment of the Chief of the Army Staff, Lt Gen Faruk Yahaya.

According to sources in the army, the ex-terrorists were handed over to the Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo, who represented the state government at the event in Maiduguri.

While residents and soldiers fighting the insurgency remain of much concern to issues of releasing Boko Haram fighters by the Nigerian military, the current trading that two Boko Haram bomb experts were released by the military has generated tension as to the sincerity of the authorities in the prosecution of the war in northeast Nigeria.

Speaking on the backdrop of these reports, Director Army Public Relations, Brig-Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu said the attention of the Army has been drawn to a publication by some online news medium in which the authors misrepresented the facts contained in that report.

General Nwachukwu said, “While the Nigerian Army (NA) does not want to be distracted from its main focus of dealing decisively with the threats against peace-loving Nigerians, it has become necessary to put issues in their right perspectives. It is a fact that in the recent past, over 1,000 members of Boko Haram and their families surrendered to the troops due to the intense pressure from troops’ sustained offensive. Among those were key leaders of the terrorist group who have renounced their membership and have turned themselves in,” he said.

He stressed that the army, being a professional military organization, will continue to act in accordance with the dictates of the Nigerian Constitution, as well as international best practices.

“It is absolutely wrong to say that the NA will free repentant terrorists. It, therefore, appealed to the public to disregard the deliberate distortion of facts by these online media and continue to support the NA to rid the country of terrorism and other forms of insecurity,” General Nwachukwu said.

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