Before the Nigerian Senate, there is a bill which has been generating controversy. It is a bill that seeks to establish an agency that would see to the rehabilitation, deradicalisation and integration of repentant insurgents in the country. The development is already in the public domain and raising dust.
On Thursday, last week, the Senate began deliberations on the bill, read for the first time on the floor of the red chamber. It was sponsored by Ibrahim Gaidam of Yobe East senatorial district.
Expectedly, it is raising concerns among critical observers who feel that the bill offers further concessions to Boko Haram militants who have put down their weapons for peace.
Last month, the Nigerian military had 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, the military said, have been exposed to formal literacy classes, skills acquisition and Islamic Religious Knowledge (IRK) as well as drug and psycho-therapists during their training.
But last year, a group of Borno elders, led by ex-governor Kashim Shettima, had frowned at the initiative, saying the military’s operation was not well thought out.
They feared that releasing the purported repentant Boko Haram militants into civilian population could be counterproductive as hardened fighters would return to the terror group to commit more atrocities.
Just like the fears of Shettima and his group, since the idea of government’s plan to establish an agency to rehabilitate the repentant Boko Haram terrorists became public knowledge, Nigerians have been reacting with many calling on the FG to jettison the idea as it would be counter-productive. People with this line of thought believe that it would not produce any positive result as the acclaimed repentant terrorist would eventually find their way back to their fold.
However, there are others who believe that it is a welcome development. They argue that the development would lead to voluntary surrender of many of the Boko Haram terrorists who are already fed up with fighting and killing innocent Nigerians but are in a fix as to how to come out of the sect. They equally believe that the cooperation of repentant insurgents with the security agents will bring about total defeat of the terror war, since they are conversant with operations of their erstwhile members.
Yet, there are others who believe that those pushing for amnesty for the repentant Boko Haram fighters have something up their sleeves. Those who hold this view believe that the people pushing for the establishment of the agency have one or two things in common with the Boko Haram sect. They don’t understand the rationale behind doling out money to people who have inflicted, and are still inflicting so much pain on thousands of families in Nigeria, while the direct victims of their evil activities are not remembered in any way.
Again, there are those who would want the President to remember that he was elected to defeat Boko Haram insurgents as a retired general and former military Head of state and not to grant amnesty to heartless dissidents who have killed thousands of Nigerians. People who hold this view want the president to remember that former President Jonathan was voted out of power because he could not defeat Boko Haram. “For Buhari to have deceived Nigerians that he would defeat Boko Haram terrorists in six months, only to turn around and begin to talk about amnesty and rehabilitation after five years in power is unacceptable,” they protested.
However, the views of many Nigerians on this vexed issue was summed by the National President of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Alhaji Yerima shettima, who plainly stated that the implication is that the FG and the National Assembly are trying to encourage more Boko Haram members in future. “For me I have made my position very clear on this issue and posterity will judge me on that. It is not acceptable and it must be condemned by all Nigerians. We must fight against the idea no matter who must have conceived it. In fact, if I have my way, I will ask that those people pushing for the bill should go because it is possible they have one or two things with the Boko Haram. That is my position on that. We cannot continue to encourage this madness that is going on because it is running us down,” he stated.
He went further to describe the person sponsoring the bill and those supporting him as evil; as he argued that amnesty to Boko Haram does not make any sense. “Anybody who joins Boko Haram and suddenly wakes up to say he has repented and wants an amnesty, should tell us where the money for the amnesty will come from. Is it from the national purse, national treasury or from where? You begin to give people free money when you cannot cater for those who are direct victims of Boko Haram; when those in IDP camps are not secured any longer. People go to the IDP camps to pick children and rape them; people go there to humiliate and harass them and even kidnap them. The FG and the National Assembly didn’t look at that as worthy. They didn’t bother to compensate those who lost their loved ones. They didn’t bother about the soldiers and policemen who have put their lives on line, suffering on daily basis and dying. They didn’t cater for their families or compensate them for going to that war, but they want to reward the common enemies who have caused so much havoc and pains to Nigerians. What kind of counter-productive idea is that? What kind of society are we in?” he fumed.
He called on well-meaning Nigerians, irrespective of tribe, religion or political leaning to condemn the move. “So, it must be condemned by well meaning Nigerians; everybody must condemn it and those repentant Boko Haram fighters must be brought to book. By God’s grace, the names of those who are behind this wicked and evil plan will be revealed. They will never be forgiven and their names will ever be on the negative side of this country’s history; anybody who is part of this nonsense,” he submitted.
For the spokesman of the Afenifere Renewal Group, Dr. Yinka Odumakin, such agency would only serve to promote crime against humanity.
He said: “Boko Haram terrorists have killed thousands of Nigerians in their over a decade of senseless war against Nigeria. Today, they are still bombing, killing and committing all kinds of evil. So, it is very unfortunate for any rational human being to now think of setting up an agency for the repentant Boko Haram fighters. It is inhuman, wicked, and abominable. It shows lack of human feelings, and we doubt whether human blood flows in the veins of those planning to set up such a satanic agency.”
He lamented that the government, rather than protect citizens from criminals, has now turned itself into a religious institution that administers repentance to criminals. “It is not for government to give repentance to anybody because repentance is for Jesus Christ. So, anybody who wants to repent should go to a Bishop or Imam. The duty of government is to deal with criminals and keep society safe but Nigerian government has abandoned that responsibility and has now taken up the role of administering repentance to Boko Haram. It is not acceptable. We reject it. It will do more harm to the society as it will mean that ours is a society of Boko Haram,” he submitted.
However, as the argument for and against the agency rages among Nigerians, even as the NASS is poised to pass the bill into an act of parliament, government is reminded that the amnesty for the Niger Delta militants and that of the Boko Haram are not the same and cannot be the same.
Amnesty to freed insurgents
Some soldiers have continued to raise the alarm that their lives were in danger as many of the arrested Boko Haram fighters gain freedom back to the society. Their fears were confirmed when it was reported that about 1,400 suspected Boko Haram terrorists were released by the Federal Government recently. According to the report, the release of over 1,400 Boko Haram did not go down well with soldiers at the theatre of the insurgency war. Soldiers are said to be uncomfortable with the Federal Government for giving freedom to the Boko Haram suspects. They insist that it would be a wasted effort for soldiers to fight Boko Haram only for them to be released after they had been captured.
“A lot of soldiers are not happy about this. We were there at the Maimalari Barracks when some of these Boko Haram people were released. The authorities are releasing them, but they are killing soldiers that they capture. This does not make sense to us at all. We continue to sweep across the bushes to flush these people out, and then the government will release them. Does that not amount to wasted efforts?” a soldier was quoted to have said.
Another soldier stated that most of the Boko Haram insurgents, who were being released on a ‘repentant’ claim, have found their way back to terrorism, unleashing mayhem on Nigerians.
“Are you surprised why Boko Haram members are on the increase? When we arrest them and bring them here, some top people would come and start negotiating their release. But, I will tell you, some of these so-called suspects are returning to the bush because they were never repentant,” he said.
Before the soldiers’ predicament was brought in the open, some Nigerians have also accused the government of treating the Boko Haram terrorists with kid gloves. They alleged that government is complicit in the crisis, buttressing their argument with the statement credited to late General Sani Abacha that if an insurrection lasts more than six months, government knows about it.
But, the Borno State Commissioner for Information, Babakura Jato, would not agree with the soldiers’ claim.
Although, he confirmed the release, he stressed that most of the persons released were not actually Boko Haram members but relatives of terrorists, or persons found in the wrong place at the wrong time. He said 1, 400 had been released in three tranches since the ‘Operation Safe Corridor’ programme began.
He said: “There have been a series of releases. They were released in three tranches. The first set was released during Governor Shettima’s time while two sets have been released under Prof. Zulum.
“The total number of persons released is 1,400. Out of the 1,400, majority of them are cleared suspects. These were people who were suspected of being members of Boko Haram and it was discovered that they were not.
“The rest are children of Boko Haram or actual Boko Haram members. I cannot give you a breakdown of the figure now for security reasons.”
Jato debunked claim that the released repentant Boko Haram suspects had gone back to terrorism, saying that the President Buhari-led administration had handed them over to the Borno State Government for proper re-integration to their communities.
NASS under threat
Also worried by the worsening security situation in the country, the Senate and the House of Representatives last week called for a tighter security at the National Assembly Complex over alleged Boko Haram threat.
The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, recently tasked top security officials to beef up security measures at the NASS to avert any threat by Boko Haram.
In a related development, the House of Reps also directed the management of the NASS to immediately step up security in and around the Complex.
Lawan, who is also the chairman of the NASS, in his meeting with the top security officials penultimate week, said: “Personally, I had a report from the Department of State Service (DSS) that we had a security threat. Many unknown and uninvited persons came or are coming into the Complex and we felt we shouldn’t take this lightly.
“From today, we have to find temporary solution to support the security arrangement here. We will find a more permanent solution by the time the entire environment is remodeled.”
Also at the plenary of the House of Representatives, members mandated the committee on internal security to begin a full investigation into the alleged report so as not to be caught unawares.
But, in a surprise move, the same National Assembly has proposed a bill to establish a national agency that would be saddled with the responsibility of educating, rehabilitating, de-radicalizing and re-integrating repentant Boko Haram terrorists. The bill has already scaled the first reading on the floor of the Senate amidst uproar.
Although, the introduction of the bill by the Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi, attracted reactions from the lawmakers during plenary, it was put to a voice vote by the Deputy Senate president, Ovie Omo-Agege, who presided over plenary.
Recall that the Federal Government commenced an amnesty programme for repentant Boko Haram terrorists in 2018 even as many Nigerians kicked against the idea.
Government is also reminded that while the Niger Delta militants’ demands were genuine and known to all Nigerians, nobody can say for sure what the Boko Haram terrorists want exactly. In other words, no amount of amnesty for the Boko Haram will stop them from prosecuting the terror war against Nigeria and Nigerians.
Change of Service Chiefs
Nigerians from different walks of life have been talking, and calling on the FG to change the country’s service chiefs who have served out their terms according to the constitution. The belief in some quarters is that the Service chiefs had done their best, but their best are not enough; so, others should be given the opportunity to try new ideas. Proponents of this view also believe that the continued retention of the service chiefs even after they had reached their mandatory retirement age has already dampened the morale of the country’s security personnel, particularly officers trying to combat the Boko Haram terrorists.
Prior to 2015 general elections, the activities of the Boko Haram Islamist sect in Nigeria had almost reduced the country to a Hobbesian state, where life was virtually short, nasty, brutish and poor, particularly for the people in the North East of the country. It was so bad that foreign nationals, especially the Americans and Britons were constantly given travel warnings about Nigeria at various times by their home governments.
Although, there were pockets of other security threats emanating from the criminal activities of kidnappers, cattle rustlers, armed robbers and cultists as well as clashes between Fulani herdsmen and various communities across the country, the activities of the Boko Haram insurgents remained the deadliest and the most devastating. Many Internally Displaced Persons(IDP) camps were set up across the country as a result of the activities of Boko Haram.
That was the situation as Nigerians prepared to elect new sets of leaders, who would lead the country from May 2015 across various strata of governments.
So, during the 2015 general elections, Nigerians expressed their dissatisfaction with the security situation in the country through the ballot. They voted out the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which had been in control of the government machinery for 16 years, and voted in the All Progressives Congress (APC). They accused the PDP-led Federal Government of Goodluck Jonathan of lacking the capacity to arrest the then worsening security situation and secure lives and property of Nigerians. The action was taken by majority of Nigerians who believed in the APC’s then of change mantra. The party convinced Nigerians that it had the magic wand to the worsening security situation at that time, especially with its flag bearer, President Muhammadu Buhari as an army general and a former military Head of state.
To reinforce the citizens’ hope and belief in the capacity of the APC-led Federal Government, soon after it was inaugurated, President Buhari took some immediate, decisive steps to tackle the Boko Haram insurgents and other criminal elements terrorising Nigerians head on. He gave a couple of compelling commands, including instructing the Chief of Army Staff to relocate the military high command to the battle front in Borno, where the Boko Haram terrorists hold sway. Nigerians applauded the move and hoped to heave a big sigh of relief that at least their votes were not cast in vain. And the military soon swung into action, confronted the insurgents and even ensured the release of some of the Chibok school girls that the insurgents kidnapped in 2014 during the PDP era.
But what appeared like a solution to the ugly development was ephemeral. No sooner that Nigerians began to assume some air of safety than the Boko Haram insurgents began to launch the kinds of attacks that were never experienced before. This time, they became emboldened and more daring that they even attacked military formations and got away with it. They went berserk in their attacks such that governors’ convoys with all the security paraphernalia were not spared. Nigerians soon began to recite an old fable, “If tortoise with its thick back could be consumed by fire; what would happen to a fowl with its inflammable feathers?” which literally is translated to mean that if military formations, police stations, and governors’ convoys with all the security details could be brazenly attacked by Boko Haram, then ordinary Nigerians could only look up to God.
FG, Amnesty International, Civil Society bicker
As the situation grew from bad to worse, with thousands of innocent Nigerians being sent to their early graves, the government, Amnesty International (AI) and the civil society organisations engaged in verbal remonstrations. While the AI continued to harp on the casualty figure, describing it as unacceptable and the civil society organisations insisted that government has failed in its primary responsibility of protecting lives and property and that the country’s security architecture needs urgent reconfiguration to meet current realities, government insisted that Boko Haram had been technically defeated. At another time, government argued that the situation was not as bad as some people would want others to believe.
In the last one year, Boko Haram insurgency, kidnapping, armed robbery, clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers, cattle rustling, cultism, and ritual killings as well as raping of women have assumed the most dangerous and frightful dimensions.
Insurgents spread tentacles
It is generally believed that before 2015, North East was the country’s albatross security wise, although the criminal activities of some cattle herders in the North Central of Benue, Plateau and Nasarawa States were also in focus. But, today, close watchers of security matters in Nigeria agree that the ill wind had blown to and enveloped the North West, with Kaduna and Katsina states being the worst hit. The recent report of how bandits that attacked a community in Katsina State, snatched babies from their mothers and threw them into a burning fire was an eloquent testimony to the views being expressed by some Nigerians that the North West has indeed become as deadly as the North East, if not deadlier.
There is also the argument in certain quarters that the South West has equally come under heavy attacks by the Fulani herdsmen in recent time. The latest attack that got the South Westerners thinking was the brutal murder of Pa Reuben Fasoranti’s daughter by criminals suspected to be Fulani herdsmen. That singular savage act gave birth to the ‘Operation Amotekun’ security network in the South West.
The South West’s move has become infectious as the South East, South-South and North Central have all indicated interest and preparedness to launch their own brands of regional security outfits sooner than later. A group in the North, under the aegis of Coalition of Northern Group (CNG), has already formed what they called ‘Shege Fa Kasa.’
So, no part of the country is spared from the spate of insecurity swirling across the country. From East to West, North to South, the blood of the innocent cries for justice. If it is not Boko Haram attack in the North East, destroying lives and property and taking some persons hostage, it is the cattle rustlers and bandits killing and destroying property in Zamfara, Bauchi, Kaduna, Katsina or Fulani herdsmen invading communities in the Southern and North central parts of the country and callously spilling blood of the innocent.