The print and social media have been inundated with reactions over the Bill which seeks to rehabilitate repentant fighters of Islamist terrorist groups such as Boko Haram, Islamic State in West Africa Province, ISWAP, and oth- ers currently waging wars against the country.
The Bill entitled: “National Agency for the Education, Rehabilitation and De-radicalisation of Repentant Insurgents in Nigeria” is being sponsored by a former Governor of Yobe State, Senator Ibrahim Geidam (Yobe East Senatorial District).
Gaidam has vowed to pursue his bill on ex-Boko Haram militants’ rehabilitation fully, arguing that the amnesty he is advocating for is for those who will come out voluntarily to lay down arms.
He said more terrorists want to surrender, particularly if given a soft landing, assuring that the exercise will promote national security.
The lawmaker who provided more insight into reasons for his bill said most countries including Britain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Somalia, Pakistan, Syria, and Iraq, etc have formulated various models of de-radicalization of people in similar situations.
In Senator Gaidam’s argument “Those who have become weary of the perpetual violence and have voluntarily laid down their arms and defected from the group will be accepted and rehabilitated using various tools of de- radicalization, rehabilitation and reintegration.
“In contrast, those captured active in the battlefields will be required to, in addition to the psychological therapy, participate in the criminal justice process. The proposed amnesty will promote national security as well as allow the government to derive insider-information about the insurgency group for a greater understanding of the group and its inner workings.
“Lots of countries, including Britain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Somalia, Pakistan, Syria, and Iraq have formulated various models of de-radicalization and rehabilitation programs to combat the menace of radicaliza- tion with a significant measure of success.”
Expectedly, there has been mixed re- actions trailing the bill since it passed the first reading on Thursday, Febru- ary 20, 2020, at the Red Chamber.
While the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, and many stakeholders have condemned it outright, which they say is dangerous and portends ominous times in the future, the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, NSCIA, commended and welcomed it.
NSCIA holds the view that since it is a project that will usher in reconciliation, bring peace and harmony that will guarantee stability and economic development then it should be encouraged. Most analysts say the Bill is a copycat attempt to secure for the insurgents, their sponsors and supporters the same soft landing that the late President Umar Yar’Adua offered former militants in August 2009, which led to the cessation
of hostilities and calmed frayed nerves in the oil-rich Niger Delta.
The then Yar’Adua-led Federal
Government packaged a comprehensive, well-thought-out rehabilitation programme, which helped the repentant militants to become useful and peaceful members of society.
Many Nigerians question this amnesty proposal for terrorists who are known sworn ideological enemies of the system.
They wonder how criminals who for over 11 years have engaged in the bizarre business of slaughtering thousands of in- nocent citizens and displacing over 3 million people in the process.
Also, most citizens that expressed their views to Sunday Sun could not come to terms on how the nation›s fighting troops will feel when they see those who killed their friends and
comrades suddenly being treated with kid-gloves and pampered with special care when law-abiding members of society are denied such welfare.
Last month, the Nigerian military said no fewer than 608 repentant Boko Haram insurgents were undergoing the De-radicalisation, Rehabilitation and Re-integration (DRR) programme under its Opera- tion Safe Corridor in Malam-Sidi, Gombe State.
Clients, the military euphemism for the repentant insurgents, were said to have been exposed to formal literacy classes, skills acquisition and Islamic Religious Knowledge (IRK) as well as drug and psycho-therapy during their training.
A group of Borno elders, led by ex-governor Kashim Shettima, last year, 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.
“The ongoing de-radicalization and re-integration of repentant Boko Haram insurgents under the Operation Safe Corridor of the defense headquarters is a cause for concern for members of the Civilian JTF and some stakeholders in the state,” the group wrote in a letter last year.
“(We) suspect that Boko Haram members do not repent, hence the de-radicalization programme may be breeding spies and agents of recruitment for the Boko Haram,” they had said. They urged the presi- dent to approve the suspension of the programme.
A political analyst and legal practitioner, Edwin Obendem, who expressed disappointment over the amnesty move wondered how the government could genuinely establish that a person who surrendered in battle has repented. He said: “How do you genuinely determine that someone who surrendered in battle has truly repented? You recall the favourable, incontrovertible quote of William Shakespeare that says in Macbeth that there is no art to find the mind’s construction on the face.
“I am beginning to see the entire deal as a racket. It is too early and foolish to offer the terrorists an olive branch they have not asked for or even deserve,” he told Sunday Sun.
The Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, has described any deliberations by the Senate to establish an agency for repentant insurgents as unfortunate.
PANDEF National Chairman, AVM Idongesit Nkanga (Retd), while questioning the rationale for the establishment of the agency, warned that the federal government is treating members of the Boko Haram insurgents with kid gloves.
Said Nkanga, “It is unfortunate that we are treating the issue of Boko Haram insurgents with kid gloves. There is nowhere in the world that you will go and be begging them the way we are beg- ging. In other countries, you do not negotiate with them (terrorists), but in our case, tomorrow you will see a governor standing with bandits and tak- ing pictures after which they will give them money.
“At some point, the government said they were foreigners. Are we de-radicalizing foreigners to keep them in Nigeria to do what? Besides, what is the point in wanting to establish this agency now when the Boko Haram war is still ongoing?
“If it was at the end of the war when you know you have put in more foundation and them never going back as bandits with the issue not arising again is a different thing, but doing it now, you will just
be funding them and that is what we are doing.”
A former member of the House of Representatives, Hon Tam Brisibe, cautioned against the use of adhoc agencies to deal with issues bedevil- ing the country, warning that there is no need to plan to establish one for bandits just because it was done for the Niger Delta militants, insisting that the issues at stake are different.
He said: “I do not think an agency for repentant Boko Haram insurgents is what is needed. We should stop doing certain things on a quota base. Because the amnesty programme was done for the Niger Delta people, somebody from that area feels that they should also have that kind of programme for these people who are destroy- ing the lives of people in that environment.
“We cannot legislate every single thing in the country and cannot create more Adhoc agencies to deal with things that as a country we should have a system of dealing with and government should be able to address the needs of the people and respond proactively as situations demand.”
Former 2019 presidential candidate of now de-registered Providence People’s Congress (PPC),
Victor Okhai, said it is not the best option to give insurgents and confirmed bandits amnesty but is of the view that considering the Nigerian situation, particularly the way and manner the soldiers are being wasted by the superior power of the insurgents it was better to take the option even though it’s a sign of weakness to save their lives.
He said it was a shame that the government has continued to use propaganda which has not helped matters, contending that the service chiefs have outlived their usefulness and deserve to be shown the way out for those that have fresh and better ideas.
He told Sunday Sun: “The issue of amnesty if we consider what has happened to the Nigerian military, I think it is a bit insensitive at the moment to do that when we have lost so many in the military and we have not even done anything to compensate them.
“Granted that some may argue that it is what they (the Army) have signed up for but imagine what it will do to the morale of these young officers and men and their family members when for a little offence they are punished and the very people who are killing them are being rehabilitated and treated with kid gloves.
“The idea behind amnesty is when there is a truce. You cannot capture obvious criminals and terrorists and then decide to give them freedom just on the face of it unless there is something that the government knows that we don’t know, but frankly it is an incentive for more terrorism because those out there in the bush, when they see such amnesty then they feel that at worst whatever happens if they get captured they will always be freed, put in a rehab centre and that is a disincentive for the military right now, who are out there sacrificing their lives in the field.
“It is obvious that government has no answer to what is going on. Several times they have told us that they have defeated them, sometimes you hear they have defeated them technically, another time you hear they have degraded them, they have different names they give to back up their failure.
“The truth is that the more they say that they have degraded them the more the insurgents come out more brutal, you see them re-enforcing and attacking in their deadly ef- ficiency to prove that government is lying.
“It is all propaganda that I see but granted that propaganda is a weapon of warfare but it is failing in this case, it’s not working because the people you are using the propaganda against, you are not just doing anything to them, they are more emboldened.
“There is also the kinetic approach to warfare but when you are dealing with terrorists such as we are dealing with right now, they are very unreasonable, they are driven by ideological vision, their anger against the Nigerian state is ideologically based and unless that issue is addressed, and there is no answer to their anger; quite frankly there is no rationale answer to addressing that issue.
“You cannot reason with them, you cannot sit down with them and talk unlike in the case of the Niger-Delta, where it was obvious that there was an injustice, they were fighting for a cause. When that was addressed it was understood, we under- stood what the war was about and what the is- sues were. In this case, the issue is not what any reasonable government will be negotiating.
“That you want western education banned in Nigeria, does that make sense? I think we need a new approach to this warfare and the current military chiefs obviously, don’t have an answer. There is a reason why there is a retirement age so that you can inject fresh blood, fresh ideas, etc in whatever you are do- ing, whether in the military, civil service or whatever.
“These ones (service chiefs) have tried all that they know, it has failed, it has not worked, so you should try to get a new set of people who will try a completely new and different approach. You noticed that when the president told them
to go to the war front they disobeyed him. They are scared. Remember Lt Col Abu Ali, the young man who confronted the insurgent frontally.
“Imagine a young man like that being at the helm of affairs, you could have imagined what would have happened, he was an officer and a gentleman indeed, but we lost him. He took the battle to the enemy territory. I suspect that there must have been a sale-out, the reason he was ambushed and killed.
“If you have young people like that with such radical ideas who are courageous and bold you will get a result. The ones that are there as chief of staff are too comfortable, they have nothing to die for, everything to live for. Their pockets are too heavy so they can’t go to the battlefield.
“For as long as these ones are still there noth- ing will happen, nothing has changed and nothing will change. They have failed and they have refused to leave. In saner climes, they would have resigned. They are supposed to have been retired a long time ago; I don’t know what they are still doing there.”