There are doubts that most of the people that are surrendering to military authorities are not actual Boko Haram fighters but those trapped in enclaves, sources told the Daily Trust.
The few among them who carried out arms against the state and locals before they surrender lost out of the power game and were left with no option but to go for the “amnesty window” availed them by the federal government, it was learnt.
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When contacted on Wednesday, the Director of Defence Information (DDI), Maj.-Gen. Olufemi Sawyer, dismissed the claim while urging Nigerians to stop heating the polity.
He argued that if it were not the real Boko Haram terrorists that surrendered, how did the military free Chibok girls married to Boko Haram commanders who had been in captivity for the past seven years.
General Sawyer premised his arguments on the international governing law of arm combat, saying “There are rules when combatants surrender…They cannot be killed.”
Sources close to the theatre of war in the North East said very few of the people trooping out from Boko Haram enclaves have genuinely repented and are ready to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society.
They said there was the need for “cautious optimism” in the way and manner those handling the security issues in the North East are receiving “repentant” Boko Haram members because some of them might not be sincere.
ISWAP not remorseful
Daily Trust gathered that commanders and foot soldiers of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) are also not part of the terrorists that repented and submitted themselves to military authorities especially in Borno.
Our correspondents report that so far, only those forcefully conscripted in the past few years and their wives and children have surrendered. Over 1,000 persons have surrendered to troops in Bama, Gwoza, Mafa and Konduga, among others in the southern and central parts of Borno.
Their camps were located in Sambisa Forest and around Mandara mountains even as many of them are locals who have been living there before the advent of Boko Haram. Some of them were “convinced” to join the group or forcefully taken on board and therefore came out from the trap when things changed.
The recent development is in the aftermath of the fall of Shekau, the leader of the Jama’atu Ahlis-Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad.
Shekau reportedly killed himself in his enclave in Sambisa Forest in May this year when he was boxed to a corner by fighters loyal to ISWAP who wanted him to surrender.
They had also wanted him and his protégés to pay allegiance to the ISIS’ backed Nigerian factional terrorist group.
During the melee, some Boko Haram top commanders who were part of the “negotiation” were blown up when Shekau pressed the button of his bomb-laden suicide vest.
Even though the bomb also killed some ISWAP “negotiators”, the incident nonetheless rattled the remaining middle cadre commanders, foot soldiers and followers of Shekau, it was learnt.
Before his death, Shekau had vowed never to surrender to ISWAP under the leadership of Abu Musab Al-Barnawy, the son of the late founder of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf, or any other person.
While ISWAP fighters sustained offensives against Shekau’s fighters that vowed to follow in his footsteps, the remaining fighters of the former kingpin lacked a formidable leadership to counter the resilience and commitment of their opponents, sources said.
The inability of the Shekau followers to resist the onslaught from Nigerian troops and pressure from ISWAP, therefore, contributed to disarray and then mass outflux of conscripted followers and those that were tired of fighting.
It was learnt that some of them “agreed” and joined ISWAP while others opted to surrender to Nigerian authorities.
BH fighters now slaves
“However, those that surrendered to ISWAP have been reduced to nothing by the factional group,” one of our sources said.
“There are some of them who were unit commanders under Shekau but are now nothing under ISWAP. They were hitherto so-called governors, LG chairmen, councillors, judges and Imams in different camps in the large swathes of areas controlled by Shekau before his death.
“They are now not influential because their weapons have been seized by ISWAP and were demoted. Some of them have been detained by their new leaders when they showed some sign of disloyalty. This is basically why you see some of them that were dilly-dallying in the bushes opted to surrender to Nigerian authorities.
“This is what we are seeing now…Some of the fighters are surrendering because they have no option; Shekau did not groom a strong successor. He had personally killed many of those that were supposed to take over from him in the event of sudden death,” the source said.
The ISWAP ultimatum
Daily Trust reports that ahead of the recent “mass surrender”, the ISWAP leadership had earlier given an ultimatum to Shekau followers to either join them or leave.
It was learnt that the ultimatum will end in the next two weeks during which fighters would descend on them. A retired military officer, Salihu Bakhari, said “Most of those that came out are simply villagers. The few fighters loyal to Shekau have lost out.
“We must also find answers to some vital questions: why are they coming out without their weapons if truly they are Boko Haram? Where are the uniforms and other apparels we used to see them with?
“The stakeholders responsible for resettling them should show all these things so that the populace would have some relief.
“Government should also be on the watch out because ISWAP members are intact with their arms waiting for the rainy season to be over to unleash terror,” he said.
He also said Nigerian troops must not allow themselves to be carried away by the euphoria of “recent successes.”
According to him, “ISWAP fighters are on many islands in the shores of the Lake Chad; we should take the fight to them and see if we can force them to surrender. The Boko Haram faction loyal to Shekau lost its steam since his departure,” he said.
Another ex-military officer, who was once close to the terrorism operations, said, “From the locations they come out so far, it is Shekau’s group and they are not happy as ISWAP is creating a division within the camps.
“ISWAP members are armed while the JAS (Jama’atu Ahlus Sunnah) members are deprived of their weapons; they are not allowed to gather in groups and their movement is restricted. They are also not allowed to use mobile phones,” he said.
Asked how those who surrendered should be treated, he said “reintegration is easy if the government provide the enabling environment for them after their training.
“The government should not make false promises to them. Right now, those that have completed their reintegration training in Gombe have not been provided basic business tools.
“Eighty per cent of those who are coming out are natives, so it is not difficult to work towards their resettlement.
“But the government must improve its psychological operations both within the population and the repentant terrorists to avoid the same crisis that occurred when those from Gwoza were brought from Gombe training camp and resettled at the Bakassi IDP Camp along Damboa road in Maiduguri.
“The people living in the IDP Camp revolted and the repentant terrorists were relocated from the camp,” he said.
‘Repentant fighters could be deceptive’
The District Head of Chibok, Engr Zanna Modu Chibok pointed out that those who surrendered in Mafa Local Government come out without coming with their guns could be paying out a gimmick to deceive the populace.
“Honestly, it is a serious issue of concern, although it is a good development that Boko Haram sect members are surrendering. But we need to be careful and vigilant because something like this had happened before.
“Not so long ago, we began to find out those who claimed to have repented had gone back to bushes again so we need to be diplomatic.
“I am sceptical if they truly repented or surrendered; it seems they are up to something, surrendering without a gun is questionable.
“To me, Boko Haram who have killed your mother or father abducted girls and married them against the will of the victims must face the wrath of the law.
“Someone who has committed a crime against humanity should be charged to the court. We know all religions preach forgiveness but honestly, it is a difficult thing with these situations because if they were allowed, they would have finished all of us. So, my advice is that government should find where they can be kept for a long time.
“They should be out of sight completely from those they have offended,” he said.
We’ll not forgive them – IDPs
A displaced person from Guzamala, Ali Mohammed, while reacting to the news said he has been living in an IDP camp for the past seven years after fleeing his village.
He said that the village is still inhabitable till today and rejected the amnesty for Boko Haram insurgents who reduced them to beggars and rendered them homeless.
“It is difficult to forgive terrorists,” he said.
“We have been hearing some strange news that so-called repented or surrendered Boko Haram fighters would be reintegrated into the community.
“I think the government is not sensitive to our plight, it is easier to say to forgive but these bad people have destroyed our lives and now they are being welcomed into society as heroes. The government is not fair to us.” Ali said.
An 18-year-old IDP, Salma, said she wondered if it would be possible for communities to co-habit with the repentant fighters.
“I am a young girl but my life is ruined. The life of my family is ruined and it will never be the same. I think the government should create another town for the repentant Boko Haram fighters and keep them there,” she said.
A resident of Maiduguri, Abdullahi Saidu said people are not ready to accept repentant insurgents and will not welcome them in their midst.
He said, “These people who are claiming that they have renounced insurgency are the same people that kill our brothers, friends and business partners; some even killed their parents.
“So how do you expect us to live side by side with them when in reality they are the people that destroyed our society?”
A mother, Bintu Mala, who claimed her brother was killed by the insurgents in 2014, said some of the insurgents who surrendered are not sincere and that reintegrating them into society is not worth it.
“Some of them had to surrender because their leaders were killed by a rival group while others had their enclaves destroyed by the military. These people are likely to return to the bush or become informants,” she said.
‘Good opportunity for government’
A public affairs analyst, Mohammed Kareto, said the war against Boko Haram has been on for nearly twelve years saying this is a good opportunity to end their reign of terror.
“Over 1,000 Boko haram fighters were said to have surrendered recently. This is a very good development and the insurgents seem to be battle fatigued, losing grounds and there is likely leadership disarray in their camps
probably because of divergent interests as a result of the recent killing of Shekau.
“It is clear that the Nigerian military has resolved to intensify both its kinetic and non-kinetic approach towards the ongoing fight against insurgency. But the military shouldn’t be in rush to return the so-called repentant Boko Haram to their communities because it would be very difficult for the communities to accept them back.
“It is normal for one side to give up in a prolonged conflict of this nature but the acceptance of Boko Haram fighters back has to be done with caution.
“There should be proper profiling to ascertain those that were forcefully taken just like the Chibok girls and those who voluntarily join to fight,” he said.
‘Traditional rulers key’
A Professor of Political Science at the University of Maiduguri, Umara Ibrahim Gudumbali has called for the inclusion of traditional rulers, community stakeholders and the military in the process of deradicalisation and reintegration of repentant Boko Haram members.
“When you are talking about deradicalisation, it is a process of psychological altering, the belief systems of people who have derailed from the normal belief of society.
“So, when you want to counter their belief systems, there is information, which the state should know, what we are saying, those who surrendered or were taken to camps for deradicalisation where are they from? Which wards or villages? Did the government allow the community leaders to ascertain the genuineness of these being Boko Haram combatants or innocent people? This information is not available for people to scrutinise.
“For the past few weeks, we have not recorded any attacks, now the government is recording huge surrender by insurgents, the people didn’t protest because we have had solace in the last two months. It is difficult because people have witnessed the beheading of their fathers, children and loved ones, many have been abducted against their will, some people are missing and some on daily basis could not overcome the trauma because of their loved ones.
“It is important to allow the traditional institutions to access those surrendered insurgents. There are many people among the surrendered insurgent such as abductees, local villagers forcefully taken into the group and real ones with guns.
“So, in transitional justice, it is important to take cognisance of the role which all of them have played so that whatever community decided or suggested should be the framework. But those who willfully take up arms to destroy, maimed people with blood in their hands for the sake of peace should not be allowed to move freely.
“This is because another generation will come and say even those people who perpetrated these acts of violence nothing happen to them, at the end they were pardoned and therefore if we do it, we will also be pardoned and it will set a bad precedent for our peaceful co-existence,” Professor Gudumbali said.
Daily Trust recalled that Governor Babagana Zulum at the weekend said that the surrendering of over 1,000 Boko Haram terrorists had left Borno State and its people with two extremely difficult security dimensions.
According to him, the current security situation, if not collectively handled by stakeholders, could lead to a civil rebellion. He raised the fears while addressing military officers and community leaders at Bama and Gwoza.
When contacted yesterday to shade more light on what the governor said, his spokesman, Isa Gusau said, “It is not that the governor is apprehensive about the repentant and returning Boko Haram insurgents, rather, he is being careful, analytical and sensitive.
“You may have read what the governor said two days ago in Gwoza and Bama, he said the situation was about two extremes; on one hand, the governor recognises the fact that surrendering of the insurgents is one of the opportunities or best signs Nigeria has witnessed in recent times, which gives an indication or path to ending Boko Haram insurgency.
“The military has always had the Operation Safe Corridor, which was approved by the president. It is a kind of tool for psychological warfare and it is an important element in war. The whole idea is to reduce the ranks of Boko Haram and when Shekau died, an opportunity came.
“The governor also said that there is a risk of the lots of the members joining ISWAP, so he is looking at it from both sides. There is a huge advantage and a potential to end Boko Haram.
“There is also the concern on what is the implication of them coming, what about people whose families were killed and communities destroyed? The governor believes that the option for all critical stakeholders, including victims of the insurgents is to come together for the pros and cons to be looked at, together with the military and the federal government. This to adopt a workable framework; I do not want to pre-empt what will be adopted, but you know the whole issue is a project of the federal government and not the Borno State Government,” he said.
‘Repentant Boko Haram must face trial’
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) on Tuesday advised the federal government to prosecute Boko Haram members who have repented or surrendered.
In a statement issued to newsmen in Kaduna by the National Chairman of the forum, Audu Ogbeh, ACF recalled that the insurgents were one-time bomb makers, commanders, arsonists, rapists and children snatchers.
According to him, “Do we have any reason to cheer up and believe that the war is over, asking if saying ‘I am sorry is enough to bring relief to thousands of Nigerians or even those killed?
“What of all the men and women in uniform murdered by them? Who can count the thousands of widows and orphans they have created?” he asked.
Military dismisses report
According to General Sawyer, “We are here now as a result of the tactics that were being utilised to address the current issues we are facing. The Boko Haram fighters are now surrendering in droves.
“What are we supposed to do as a press, we should be singing a narrative to encourage them to come out so that all this nonsense will go off.
“You see, when they were coming out, for the first time, they were coming out with arms. They were coming out with both heavy and small arms, submitting to the security forces.
“At least, about three Chibok girls have shown up now. Were those Chibok girls just married to anyhow people? Were they not married to their commanders? And they are coming out now.
“Are we supposed to be asking questions to doubt the sincerity of purpose? I can see that some people are even saying they would not accept them back, okay, if you don’t accept them back, what do you want us to do with them?
“Must we always strive on negative news to sell our papers? No! Positive news with good headlines can be sold. Let us not start asking questions that are not there. These people are handing over their weapons, coming out, you will see them in droves.
“There is no truth in what they are saying because these people are handing over their weapons. If you’re talking of ISWAP, no ISWAP has handed over, no ISWAP has surrendered,” he said.
By Hamza Idris, Idowu Isamotu (Abuja), Misbahu Bashir & Olatunji Omirin (Maiduguri)