SIR: The amnesty granted repentant Boko Haram members under the Operation Safe Corridor at a time of continuing killings, bombings and surges in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps is misplaced priority. On June 11, 2020, the Defence Headquarters, Abuja, stated that 603 former Boko Haram fighters will be reintegrated to their communities after undergoing Operation Safe Corridor’s de-radicalisation, rehabilitation and reintegration programme.
Though this seems to be in line with international best practice, looking at the neglect that the victims of Boko Haram continue to suffer at the various IDP camps across the country, the programme would need recalibration to make it equitable.
Only recently, the governor of Borno State, Professor Babagana Zulum was attacked by the Boko Haram at Bama Local Government Area despite the location of a mega military camp in the area. This attack prompted an emergency meeting of the Nigerian Governors Forum following which they later met with President Muhammadu Buhari, on the worsening security situation. With gory tales of the murder and mayhem of the terrorists not abating, Ali Ndume, the senator representing one of the districts in the region would later threaten to take legal action against the military should they continue with the programme.
Apart from the senator, there are others that have questioned the legal and moral basis of the programme, putting into consideration the huge damage done by the sect to the Northeast and the nation at large.
Based on the report of the Nigerian Security Tracker (NST), the number of people killed in 2,021 incidents involving Boko Haram from June 2011 to June 2018 is 37,530. While the number of displaced persons in the conflict according to the United Nations’ Refugee Agency is 2.4 million. This not to talk of more than seven million at risk of starvation.
Also, the nefarious activities of this sect have led to the degradation of infrastructure, including the closing or destruction of more than half of the schools in the region and the near-complete breakdown of an already weak public health system. Most people living in the communities cannot sleep with their two eyes closed because of the continuous threat from the Boko Haram.
Yet, the same communities where these terrorist elements have wreaked havoc were not carried along in the so-called re-integration and rehabilitation programme. One would have expected that community engagement would be the first step in the rehabilitation programme.
As if this is not bad enough, most of the IDP camps have been reduced to glorified prisons where victims beg for food and other basic social amenities to survive.
While it is not a bad idea to adopt international best practice in handling a sensitive matter like the rehabilitation of the terrorists, it becomes dangerous when it is done at the expense of the welfare of the victims of their horrific activities.
Perhaps the military should have waited till the end of the war when the attacks of the sect no longer pose serious threat to the economy, unity and peace of the country before launching the programme. Or, they should have kept the so-called repentant terrorists from the region they only recently terrorised pending the time those communities would recover from the trauma occasioned by their murderous activities.
We urge the military to re-evaluate this programme with a focus on empowerment the victims to reconnect them back to the economic mainstream. That way, “Operation Safe Corridor” will not metamorphose into something else in future.
- Femi Oluwasanmi, Ibafo, Ogun State.