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Can Boko Haramists be deradicalized?

A bill for the establishment of a commission for “rehabilitating, de-radicalizing, and reintegrating the defectors, repentant and forcefully conscripted members of the insurgent group Boko Haram…

A bill for the establishment of a commission for “rehabilitating, de-radicalizing, and reintegrating the defectors, repentant and forcefully conscripted members of the insurgent group Boko Haram to make them useful members of the society” as explained by its sponsor, senator Ibrahim Gaidam of Yobe East has generated controversy.

Countries grappling with insurgency and other forms of organised terrorism tend to introduce programs to rehabilitate captured and surrendered elements involved in such crimes to prepare them for successful reintegration into society through a structured process of psychological reform, deradicalisation, attitudinal change, and economic empowerment. An affected country’s prospect of success depends on the extent of its understanding of the underlying dynamics of its peculiar situation, and indeed its ability to come up with appropriate deradicalisation and rehabilitation strategy.

A standard deradicalisation program is always limited in scope and period; it’s designed in such a way that it only benefits those who deserve it who are also usually relatively very few. In other words, it’s meant for those whom terrorist recruiters had capitalised on their naivety recruited them through misleading ideological indoctrination and physiological manipulation. They are largely identified among the rank and file of ideologically-motivated terror groups like Boko Haram. They are rarely found among solely greed-driven criminal groups like bandits and kidnappers.

Basically, all captured subversive elements should always be subjected to applicable criminal investigations and judicial trials to determine their respective guilt or innocence, and be treated accordingly. After all, the convicted who should face either execution, life imprisonment or extended jail terms, are automatically excluded from any deradicalisation program with a view to releasing them.

Now, over the past few years, Nigerian authorities have released hundreds of the so-called repentant Boko Haram fighters said to have been deradicalised and rehabilitated. Yet, a controversial move has now been initiated at the Senate to establish a whole substantive commission ostensibly for this purpose.

Regardless of the reliability or otherwise of the deradicalisation process through which those “repentant” Boko Haram fighters were released, a move to establish such commission is not only unnecessary but also insensitive to the feelings of the millions of innocent Nigerians rendered miserable as a result of the terror activities of the very terrorists being released under this questionable program. Besides, it was, and in fact, it’s still, too early, in the first place, to embark on releasing the captured terrorists while their fellow terrorists are still out there massacring defenceless Nigerians, displacing thousands, and unleashing misery in the country.

That move also suggests a tacit and certainly unjustifiable presumption that the Boko Haram insurgency and other major security challenges in the country are here to stay hence the need to establish a whole commission to embark on a vicious circle of rehabilitating captured and surrendered insurgents and bandits. And, of course, when established, the commission would end up as another source of stealing public resources in the name of rehabilitation and deradicalisation of captured terrorists and other criminals. By the way, though one’s unawareness of the existence of something never means its absence, arguably there is no such a commission even among the worst insurgency-hit countries in the world.

Anyway, while captured Boko Haram terrorists can indeed be deradicalised and rehabilitated to become law-abiding and productive citizens, the obvious incompetence on the part of the relevant Nigerian authorities doesn’t only undermine the program but also renders it counterproductive for that matter.

Nigerian authorities should immediately suspend this program to review the process of identifying the eligible candidates for deradicalisation, rehabilitation and release among the captured and surrendered terrorists, in light of the arguments highlighted herein. This has to be part of a comprehensive policy that guarantees the achievement of the intended purpose.

A painstaking vetting process should be put in place to identify the eligible candidates because obviously every captured terrorist or bandit will claim repentance and pretend accordingly to get away with his crime and get released.

Also, with regard to the captured members of the Boko Haram group and other like-minded groups found eligible for deradicalisation and rehabilitation for possible release, Nigerian authorities should engage the services of reputable Islamic scholars in the process. Because such elements are under the illusion that they are right and that what they are doing is according to Islamic teachings. Also, having imbibed a lot of grossly misrepresented meanings of some Qur’anic verses, Prophetic hadiths and jurists’ opinions, which they vehemently cling to, they can discard those illusions only when overwhelmed with superior arguments on the correct meanings of those Qur’anic verses, hadiths and jurists’ views.

To achieve this, a relaxed but regulated environment should be provided for regular seasons of this engagement with the candidates over a reasonable period at the end of which the authorities should be guided by the recommendations of those scholars on determining whether a particular candidate is deradicalised or not. After all, spiritual guidance is exclusively Allah’s Who gives it to whom He wishes.

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