The move by the National Assembly to establish an agency that would see to the rehabilitation, de-radicalisation and integration of repentant Boko Haram members is still causing ripples in the polity.
The bill was introduced at a time when many Nigerians had been complaining that government was treating captured terrorists a lot better than it was treating hapless victims of insurgency at largely abandoned and epidemic-prone internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camps.
The Senate, on February 20, began deliberations on a bill that seeks to establish the agency.
Despite efforts by those behind the bill to convince other Nigerians that the move was for the good of the country, especially in addressing the insecurity that has lingered for years, those against the bill have described it as needless and a misplaced priority.
The bill was sponsored by the immediate past governor of Yobe State, Ibrahim Gaidam, who now represents Yobe East Senatorial District at the Red Chamber.
Recently, the Nigerian military said no fewer than 608 repentant Boko Haram insurgents were undergoing the De-radicalisation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DRR) programme under its Operation Safe Corridor in Malam-Sidi, Gombe State.
The repentant insurgents were reportedly exposed to formal literacy, skills acquisition and Islamic Religious Knowledge (IRK) classes as well as drug therapy and psychotherapy during their training.
The introduction of the bill has continued to draw outrage from many Nigerians at home and abroad. They fear that releasing the ‘repentant’ Boko Haram terrorists into the civilian population could be counterproductive, noting that hardened fighters could return to the terror group to commit more atrocities.
Some serving and past senators have also kicked against the bill. The lawmakers described the bill as a needless waste of resources. They also questioned the nationality of the insurgents.
Giving reasons for sponsoring the bill, Gaidam said the proposed commission would help repentant insurgents to re-enter mainstream politics, religion and society. The commission would also promote reconciliation and national unity, he said.
His words: “The agency, when established, will help rehabilitate and reintegrate the defectors, repentant and forcefully conscripted members of the insurgent group Boko Haram to make them useful members of the society and provide an avenue for reconciliation and promote national security.
“It will also encourage other members of the group who are still engaged in the insurgency to abandon the group, especially in the face of the military pressure, and enable the government to derive insider-information about the insurgency group for greater understanding of the group and its inner workings.
“It will enable government to use the defectors to fight the unrepentant insurgents. It will help disintegrate the violent and poisonous ideology that the group spreads as the programme will allow some repentant defectors or suspect terrorists to express remorse over their actions, repent and recant their violent doctrine and in the long run re-enter mainstream politics, religion and society.
“The agency would also help to combat future recruitments into the insurgents group. If defectors told their stories and were made more public, their experiences would play a key role in countering terrorist propaganda, which in turn would lessen the appeal of joining the group.”
But many Nigerians, including lawyers and rights activists, have warned the senators not to allow the labour of past heroes end in ruins.
A Lagos-based lawyer and rights activist, Kunle Adegoke, described the bill as a complete travesty.
To him, the bill is an attempt by the people who felt that atrocities perpetrated by Boko Haram elements should go unpunished.
Said he: “At the heat of war, no one releases prisoners for the enemy’s ranks to swell. What Boko Haram has done is declaring war on Nigeria and for the government to want to create an agency for purportedly repentant murderers is beyond comprehension.
“For God’s sake, these murderers were arrested but not prosecuted to ensure that justice is done to the souls of their dead victims, the maimed, the orphans and widows brought into permanent and perpetual agony by these criminal elements. For the government to have kept them somewhere for a length of time and declared them innocent by way of purported repentance leaves much to be desired.
“Very soon, there shall be an agency for repentant bandits and herdsmen. It is a suggestion that the government has a hand in the nefarious activities of these individuals and it is a betrayal of the spirits of the gallant soldiers who lost their lives while defending Nigeria.
“It is a betrayal of the trust their families had in this great country to have donated their sons, daughters and in many cases, breadwinners to protect the sovereign integrity of this nation.”
Maduka Onwukeme, a lawyer, in his own view said, he was convinced that the sponsors and supporters of the bill are sympathisers of terrorists.
“It’s the height of absurdity. There is no agency to rehabilitate IDPs or victims of terrorist attacks. There is also no agency to take care of widows whose husbands died fighting insurgents. No agency to take care of children orphaned as a result of this insurgency. So why exactly do we need an agency to rehabilitate repentant BH terrorists?
“This shows there is more to this Boko Haram insurgency than we know. Boko Haram insurgency has become a big racket and I believe this is the next stage of the racket. Very soon, there will be an amnesty and payment of former terrorists like they did in the Niger Delta under the guise of rehabilitation,” he said.
Another rights activist and lawyer, Kabiru Akingbolu, said creating an agency for repentant Boko Haram members or terrorists was nothing but wickedness and a serious disservice to the people, especially the families of those murdered untimely and wasted by the faceless group.
“The soldiers, despite being ill-equipped, are trying their best to contain the situation, and this they have done so well and admirably. But how can one explain a situation where all the innocent people caught by Boko Haram terrorists were murdered in cold blood and their families continue to suffer while our own government continue to release the ones caught by the soldiers at the risk of their lives?
“It is antithetical to the government’s avowed claim to wipe out the terrorists. If this plan succeeds, then there is no end in sight to the devilish activities of these miscreants. This is so because by so doing, the government would have tactically made terrorism enticing, and more people will easily join the deadly group, knowing full well that even if they are caught, they have nothing to lose but a lot to benefit. So, this move is nothing but sheer tactless and idle proposition. It also in turn shows that the war against the terrorists are far from being won as they appear to be gaining more grounds of late,” Akingbolu stated.
Another lawyer, Ige Asemudara, said the bill was an idea to pat criminals on the back and gave them a retirement package.
His words: “It is pure nonsense. You mean people suddenly rose against us, killed us, decimated us without any reason and you want an agency to give them a ‘thank you’ package? This is an unserious government.
“We cannot build our nation this way. We cannot stop crimes this way. It is nauseating.”
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome, in his reaction, said the proposed law was madness taken to its very ludicrous apogee.
“It is an unfortunate confirmation of the long-held view that this government has been treating the Boko Haram insurgents with kid gloves, if not outright smooching and embrace suggestive of close affinity or patronising consanguinity.
“How can lawmakers establish an agency for the rehabilitation of alleged repentant members of a murderous, deadly organisation which has since been declared as the third most deadly terrorist organisation in the world?
“It is morally reprehensible and ethically odious to reintegrate into the society with tax payers money, earth-scorching killers who are daily destroying the very essence of humanity.
“What regrettable lessons is the Senate sending to those marines soldiers taking on these deadly insurgents on empty tummies and with antiquated weapons? How unfair can such a bill for the memory of those thousands of soldiers cut down in their prime while fighting this societal scourge of rampaging marauders?”