Accepting Ex-Boko Haram Fighters

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The protracted Boko Haram conflict has attracted numerous state responses to end the carnage. Both counterterrorism and counterinsurgency measures employed by Nigeria and other affected neighbouring states (Chad, Niger, and Cameroon) have not produced the expected results. The ensuing impasse has not ended killings, displacement and disruption of livelihoods in the war zone. To move forward, the Federal government of Nigeria, through the Defense Headquarters inaugurated the Operation Safe Corridor (OSC) in 2016. The OSC programme is a counterinsurgency approach aimed at rehabilitating low-risk repentant Boko Haram fighters and reintegrate them back into society. The rehabilitation programme involves vocational training, access to deradicalisation and civic programmes. So far, the Nigerian Army says it has rehabilitated 893 ex-Boko Haram members since 2019. Meanwhile, the Nigerian Identity Management Commission said it has registered about 900 repentant Boko Haram members in the country. These programmes are to help the repentant fighters become productive members of society. Although the move postures a way out of the conflict, it has come with stiff opposition.

The amnesty for Boko Haram has been trailed by stiff opposition. Many victims of Boko haram insurgency have reiterated their opposition in accepting back into their communities, prospective rehabilitated ex-insurgents. An online poll conducted by Premium Times, a Nigerian newspaper, shows that over 14,076 and 5,481 respondents on Facebook and Twitter respectively, 92 per cent and 91.9 per cent voted against the idea of amnesty for ex-insurgents. Widespread condemnation face government’s amnesty efforts for Boko Haram for obvious reasons. First, victims of Boko Haram insurgency are still suffering the harsh realities of the war; humanitarian crisis, loss of loved ones and livelihoods. They are still refugees in squalid displacement camps. Second, about 38,000 people have died as a result of the ongoing conflict, the anguish is still fresh as jihadists attacks continue. Third, the government’s amnesty programme may not have considered victims of Boko Haram insurgency and designated communities in implementing the amnesty.

Therefore, Government must prioritise the influence of those affected by the insurgency. The Nigerian state must ensure that direct victims of Boko Haram insurgency accept the principle of dialogue and support the process. It is the buy-in of Boko Haram-impacted communities and designated resettlement locations that will, to a large extent, determine the success of the programme. The Nigerian state must also pay heed to concerned collective voices in the terror-troubled area. Arguably, the amnesty programme for repentant low-risk Boko haram members may seem like a good path to peace, it may also create inherent problems if not properly implemented.

In addition to these, the Nigerian forces must commit to counterterrorism missions in ending the war. The idea of amnesty may appear like a suitable alternative to peace, but it should not brew complacency towards the successes recorded so far. According to Brookings Institute, discussions of amnesty and the existing leniency programme have only emerged out of the recognition that the counterterrorism campaign has struggled. Hence, the desire to seek other methods to end the conflict. Consequently, such amnesty should not emerge from a point of weakness, otherwise, it will not meet its objectives.

Counterinsurgency measures by the Nigerian state must involve all actors in the conflict. According to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), the voices of the community must be magnified when considering dialogue as a counter-terrorism intervention. ISS projects that community actors are best placed to understand the required concessions and possible successes of any dialogue process. Besides, since communities are directly affected by both the conflict and the reintegration programmes, their buy-in is vital for the success and sustainability of the initiative.