From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Chairman of Senate Committee on Army, Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume, has insisted that former insurgents who have surrendered to authorities should not just be set free but be appropriately profiled, interrogated and those with blood on their hands prosecuted.
Criticism has trailed the de-radicalisation of repentant members of Boko Haram by the Nigerian Army under its Safe Corridor programme.
The Safe Corridor programme was launched in 2016 for the de-radicalisation, rehabilitation and re-integration (DRR) of ex-insurgents in the country.
Speaking to State House Correspondents at the weekend after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential villa, Abuja, the former Senate Leader affirmed that the ex-insurgents cannot be let off the hook just because they have surrendered.
According to him, even though there may be innocent persons among them, some of who may have been used as slaves and human shields, they must all be processed according to national and international laws.
Ndume maintained that since they have surrendered, they cannot be summarily executed just as no one has the right to let them go without following due process of the law.
Ndume, was stating his position on reintegrating the former insurgents into Borno society, said: ‘My stance on this has not changed, only that maybe people interpret it the way they want. There is a national law that should guide all these and there’s international law that guides this because this is not the first time we’re having this sort of challenge in various countries.
‘Normally, when you get to war level, you are expected to either defeat the enemy or the enemy surrenders. Once the enemy surrenders, you lose the right to summarily execute him because he is an enemy.
‘You also don’t have the right to summarily declare him innocent and say, Oh, you have sinned, go and sin no more.
‘What I’m saying initially, and I still maintain this position, in as much as we welcome the surrendering of the Boko Haram, it is very important that we follow the due process, according to the law of the land and the international law.
‘That is to say, take them in, profile them, process them, investigate them, interrogate them and then those that are innocent, should be let go, and those that have blood in their hands, they should be appropriately prosecuted.
‘Once the person surrenders, now, he has an advantage. Once you surrender, you cannot just be summarily convicted, you will be given the right to go to court and declare your innocence or otherwise. That is what I’m asking for.
“I’m also saying that as long as the war is continuing, it is now time to apply the carrot and stick approach. While we are prosecuting the war rigorously in order to bring it to an end, a window is there available to tell those that are willing to surrender, that you can surrender and then you will be processed accordingly.
‘After that defeat or after the war has come to an end and the window is there for them to surrender as they are surrendering in droves now, they should be processed, they should be investigated.
‘We have sat down in Borno State last week, as stakeholders, to look at what are the suggestions or what are the ways that these people can, after surrendering, be managed according to the law.’
The seator said that following the resolutions reached by the Borno State stakeholders meeting, the Federal Government will soon come out with a definite position of the best way to manage the issue of the surrendered insurgents.
He advised that those who still want to surrender should be given a window of opportunity to do so.
On whether information can be extracted from those who have surrendered to end the war, he said: ‘That is why I say when they are processed, if somebody surrenders, most of them are very bold to own up. Most of them will disclose those who were their sources or their sponsors if any, and where are they getting the equipment or the arms and ammunition they have been using and they will be useful in providing information to our security agencies in order to finish the business at hand and that is winning the war.
‘I think we are getting there because they themselves, had the number, the number coming up to surrender is always increasing. I know in Cameroun, over 1000 of them surrendered and most of them are Nigerians. The Borno State Government is making arrangements.
‘As I said, the governor is on top of the situation, the people are carried along, even the victims are being carried along. For example, I’m a victim and my people are victims. It varies, the degree of the effect of the insurgency on us, but we as Nigerians, we as humans, we have sympathy, or we have the heart to easily forgive.
‘It’s not the forgiving that is the problem, it is the issue of if you forgive somebody that has done something so horrendous like that, and you are not sure that he’s not coming back or see repentance and all that. Besides, as I said, if somebody has blood in his hand, and it’s not your blood, do you have the right to say, ‘go, you are forgiven?’
‘In all these, there must be procedure and fortunately, there is an international law and the national law that should guide this and that’s why at the summit, I said that we as National Assembly members are lawmakers and whatever is required by law, in order to address this thing that is strange in our hand, then we’ll support the government to do that.’
Ndume further explained that the Nigerian intelligence services are capable of obtaining the necessary information from those in custody.
‘That is what the intelligence agencies are trained to do. We have well-trained intelligence personnel in various armed forces and security agencies. In Nigeria, we have good intelligence officers that if they are given the chance and they are given the time, they will go deep into it to find out and that’s why I say as they surrender, they are taken in and be processed and attention should be on the victims,’ he said.
‘We have thousands of our people scattered all over Nigeria that are victims of this insurgency. Once they surrender, we take them in, process them, then more attention should be given to the victims before coming to the perpetrators.
‘The priorities should be in my own position; one, end the war. Two, resettle the victims, then process, interrogate and investigate or prosecute. Or if those that are innocent, because, among those that surrendered, there are victims also because I know even in my place, in my local government, there are people that are trapped by Boko Haram and for all these years, they’re not part of the Boko Haram, but the Boko Haram used them as a shield.
‘In fact, some of them were converted to what they call slaves because they are victims. Those that have surrendered to them are converted to slaves; they farmed for them, they do their manual works for them. So, if such people, in the process of surrender, if they come in, you have to find out whether he is actually Boko Haram or a victim of Boko Haram in the hands of Boko Haram.
‘This is what we are saying that there should be no hurry in it. Once they are taken in, they should be kept somewhere and in fact, we are suggesting that they should be somewhere they will be housed so that it will give a place for interrogation and investigation.’