Former national chairman of Chibok Community Association in Borno State, Dr. Pogu Bitrus is not a happy man, understandably so having lost many of his kinsmen, women, daughters, sons and other relations to the Boko Haram insurgents.
When he spoke exclusively to Daily Sun at the weekend, Pogu exposed that which those close to him may not foresee in his emotions. Contrary to the claim of the military authorities that insurgency has been defeated, the ex-Chibok leader was categorical that Nigeria was yet to defeat Boko Haram. According to him, the overly rigid schedule of the military by waiting to be attacked before repelling them was the cause of the nemesis afflicting the people of the North East.
Pogu, who is the current National President of the Middle Belt Forum, spoke extensively on the battle against the insurgents in the North East and concluded that the Nigerian military was largely the source of the supply of arms and ammunition to Boko Haram while describing the former governor of Yobe State, Senator Ibrahim Geidam as a Boko Haram apologist for proposing a bill seeking to establish a National Agency for Education and Rehabilitation for repentant Insurgents.
Not long ago, the Chief of Army Staff told Nigerians that they have defeated insurgency and not terrorism and that terrorism will always exist no matter what in different societies. You were at a time the Chibok Community leader in Borno State. So it is important we get you to speak on the issue. In your view, have we defeated insurgency and are looking at terrorism?
We have not defeated insurgency. That is number one. Number two, the insurgents are occupying Nigerian territory and the military knows the areas they are occupying and the military stays in one point waiting for insurgents or Boko Haram to attack before they repel them. So I can also claim and say categorically that we are not fighting insurgents. This as far as I am concerned allows insurgency to continue and thrive. Again, we have been aiding insurgency. Let me tell you why I said that. If you start taking records and stocks…I don’t have the value, but if you go into investigative journalism to find out the amount and quantity of arms and ammunition taken by Boko Haram from the military, from the Police right from 2014 up to this period, you will know that the main supplier of arms to the Boko Haram insurgents is the military forces because they have taken arms from Damaturu, Maiduguri Airport, Gwoza, Damboa, Bama, Monguno and other places in large quantities. There was even a time when Boko Haram posted the arms they have taken from one of the locations on Facebook. Those large arms have now provided the required logistics of arms and ammunition for the operations of Boko Haram. So if somebody says Boko Haram is getting arms from somewhere else, no; they are getting them from here. If you recall when Boko Haram started as a fledgling insurgent group, they were attacking Police Stations to collect arms and ammunitions. Now that they are strong they are comfortably attacking military locations. So, one, we have not defeated them. Two, they are now well equipped with the weapons which they took from us. Even few days ago when they attacked Chibok, they went away with about five vehicles; some of them belonging to the Nigerian military and the others belonging to the vigilante group. The military vehicles had machine guns mounted on them. Boko Haram went away with them. So, if you ask me based on my observation, not only have we not defeated them because we are not fighting them, as in fighting a war, because we are only containing them; we have through our military given them arms to use in fighting us.
Sometimes ago, soldiers protested that it was a wrong idea to release any Boko Haram fighter because when they are captured by Boko Haram they are killed and that it was wrong to de-radicalise and imagine that such Boko Haram radicals would repent. But the military countered by saying that those being de-radicalised are not persons arrested in the theatre of war and that they are also not those being fully indoctrinated. They claimed that such category of Boko Haram radicals can still be reformed. Right now we have released 1,400 Boko Haram fighters back into the society. From your experience as somebody whose community has suffered immensely from the insurgency, would you say it is timely to release those considered as repentant Boko Haram fighters when the war of the insurgents against the people is not over?
Thank you very much. Given the final and last statement you made where you said when the war is not yet over, it would be rather advisable to still keep them under supervision until the war is over. Releasing them now would serve no purpose, but eventually they would be released. But as this war is still on and the so-called de-radicalisation programme which Nigerians don’t even know, what they mean by de-radicalisation…is it giving them psychotherapy and then asking them questions and bugging them to see whether or not their behavior pattern has changed; that is something we don’t know about. All we know is that what they said is that they have been de-radicalised. But given that reason that there is that possibility of them going back to be re-absorbed into the main stream Boko Haram and fight us again, it would rather be more advisable to still retain them in a more subtle environment where they are not free to be part of the society but they are not totally incarcerated so that by the time the war or battle is over, they can be re-integrated into the society with everybody. We are not saying they should be killed but we should also be cautious given that many things are happening to the extent that I read about two weeks ago that one of such persons was caught in another act. So, it is not advisable to release them now. Eventually, they should but not now.
That leads me on to this issue of a bill now before the Senate sponsored by former Governor of Yobe State, Ibrahim Geidam. That bill seeks to establish a National Agency for Education and Rehabilitation of Repentant Insurgents. What are your thoughts on the issue because the Senator wants them rehabilitated so that it would provide education for them?
There are educational institutions in existence. I do not think we need special educational institutions for Boko Haram insurgents that have been de-radicalised. If the person out of envy that Niger-Delta militants have been rehabilitated and so Boko Haram insurgents must also enjoy similar programme, then it is faulty, ab initio because what Boko Haram did, what they have done and what they are doing is different from what the Niger-Delta militants did. The case of the Niger-Delta militants was economic terrorism. They did not go around killing people, bombing people just for the sake of it. They bombed economic targets and when they kidnap, they go for ransom and they don’t just kill. So, it is a different ball game. Here are people who go out and kill. They even have a manifesto. They said Western education is evil. Alright going by their name Jama’atul-Alis Sunnah Lidda’wati Wal Jihad, that is people who propagate their religion through preaching or Jihad, holy war or whatever it is. That is their name. But the truth is that whoever is promoting that bill is selfish ab initio. The thinking is that, yes they have done it for Niger-Delta militants, so it should be done for Boko Haram. That means as far as I am concerned, he is a Boko Haram sympathiser. That Senator is a Boko Haram sympathiser. So, with such people around, I think we are in trouble.
Perhaps your understanding of the bill would be more appreciated if you get the contents. For instance, according to Geidam, it is meant to educate, deradicalise the defectors, repentant and detained members of the Boko Haram group to make them useful members of the society. The bill is also meant to provide avenue for reconciliation and promote national security, provide an open door and encouragement for other members of the group who are still engaged in the insurgency to adopt the group especially in the face of the military pressure. The bill also seeks to give government the opportunity to derive insider information about the insurgent group for greater understanding of the group and its inner workings. Are the contents not instructive to you?
As far as I am concerned, it is in line with what I last said. I said the person is a Boko Haram sympathiser. I am sorry to say that. We already have a Rehabilitation Center in Gombe and the Boko Haram members are aware that anybody who wants to jettison the struggle will be de-radicalised and would eventually be re-absorbed and taught some skills because they are not only being de-radicalised in Gombe, they are also taught skills so that they can be productive members of society. It is already in place though being done by the military. The man now wants a bill to make it official not just by the military. As far as I am concerned, this person as I said earlier is a Boko Haram sympathiser. If this person is one of those affected without provoking anybody in any manner and Boko Haram comes to attack their place, burn down their houses, destroyed all they have laboured for in life and kill their fathers, mothers, relations and made their children orphans and then many of them are in rehabilitation camps and can’t go back to their ancestral homes, will his concern be the Boko Haram who are still striking even as we speak? If your sympathy is to Boko Haram rather than those people who are in IDP Camps, who have lost everything they toiled for in life, then I can only say and re-affirm that he is a Boko Haram sympathiser. And maybe, he is one of those who are party to the creation of this mayhem in the first place. So, now they want a safe haven for them. I am sorry I don’t buy into that. I am sorry if government wants to do that much for them, let them do first thing first for those in IDP Camps who have been dislodged from their ancestral homes and lost everything they worked for in life because of Boko Haram. The victims have to be taken care of first before you talk of the terrorists.