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IDPs: We will never forgive our oppressors

By Njadvara Musa (Maiduguri), John Akubo (Abuja), Emmanuel Ande (Yola) and Rauf Oyewole (Bauchi)
15 August 2020   |   4:30 am
“How do you want us to feel seeing these people (repentant terrorists) among us in the society? Someone who had terrorised me? Without giving us any incentive to make...

Some IDPs at a camp in Borno State

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“How do you want us to feel seeing these people (repentant terrorists) among us in the society? Someone who had terrorised me? Without giving us any incentive to make us happy, this same government is not prioritising on how to return us to our ancestral homes.

“The government should first rehabilitate those that were offended, if not, it is making a grave mistake. We are talking about camp, nothing is happening here. We are feeling like non-Nigerians in our country; we own this country together!”

This was the outburst of Bauchi State Chairman of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), Mr. Buba Musa Shehu, who relocated to the state in 2014, following an attacked by Boko Haram in Borno State.

Shehu, who said his family would never forgive their tormentors, explained that there are about 56,000 IDPs across the 20 councils in the state, adding: “We don’t have a defined camp here in Bauchi State; we are in host communities where they absorbed us. We pay our house rent, school fees, hospital and other bills ourselves.

“Some of our people are dying silently; hunger is killing us. We have no one to cater for us. Insurgents have long destroyed our means of livelihood and some of our family members have died in the hands of Boko Haram members.”

He recalled six years ago when about 50 Boko Haram members attacked his home in Gwoza Local Council of Borno State with two guns each.

“I left my town on August 14, 2014; my family was scattered. I climbed the roof to escape, then moved to hide on a nearby mountain. I came to Bauchi with only sleeping dress on, as we were attacked around 8:am.”

He said it took him over six months to discover that his children were in Cameroun and now wants them to return to Nigeria.

With such experience, Buba sees granting pardon and rehabilitating repentant Boko Haram members as a misplaced priority, lamenting that those who were terrorised are yet to fully recover from the pain, only for the government to spent huge amount of money on former terrorists.

In Borno State, the integration of 893 repentant Boko Haram terrorists into communities may fail, because of mistrust between Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and repentant insurgents.

About 80 per cent of IDPs in Maiduguri and Bama are facing challenges of living in the same communities with repentant Boko Haram members, after undergoing Operation Safe Corridor of Nigerian Army, led by Maj-Gen. Bamidele Shafa. The former fighters were freed at the DRR Camp in Mallam Sidi, Gombe State.

The IDPs, however, attributed the challenges and fears to years of insurgency and mistrust among some repentant Boko Haram members being reintegrated into few communities.

Senator Ali Ndume, representing Borno South Senatorial District, has also argued that it is victims of Boko Haram insurgency that should be rehabilitated and not the terrorists, saying, “If the government is serious about a programme like this, it should start with the victims first and not the perpetrators.”

While commending Federal Government’s deradicalisation programme in Maiduguri, Mallam Ibrahim Salihu, the Bakassi Camp Manager said the challenges being faced by the IDPs in camp are the continuous attacks and killings in some of the communities in Borno State, declaring that the Boko Haram insurgency is not showing any sign of ending.

He noted that instead of massive killings of civilians and soldiers, including displacement of people coming to an end, the camps are being filled up with victims, adding that in Bakassi Camp alone, there are over 44,000 IDPs, comprising over 20,000 male and female farming households.

Salihu doubted the readiness of repentant terrorists to live in peace with the IDPs in communities, describing it as the main challenge of integrating the repentant Boko Haram members.

“Some of the repentant insurgents make statements that could provoke some of the victims of insurgency. Most of the IDPs in this camp are saying that the repentant Boko Haram terrorists are federal government’s ‘untouchables’ integrated into
various communities of Borno State.”

Salihu stated the verdict of the IDPs regarding the integration programme: “About 80 per cent of the IDPs in the camp are telling me that the integrated repentant terrorists brag of being challenged to live in communities. Their argument is that they had undergone the deradicalisation processes to live with IDPs in communities.”

He also claimed that United Nations (UN) humanitarian agencies and other international donor agencies are providing more assistance to repentant terrorists than the IDPs in camps and host communities, hence the need to motivate displaced persons with assistance to overcome what happened to them during the decade-long terrorism.

On reintegration of repentant terrorists, he said: “Anyone that kills a living person and repents, their repentance would be difficult to be accepted by us, particularly women and children that were devastated and displaced from their ancestral homes.”

He stressed that the only condition on which the repentant insurgents would be accepted into communities is for them to “live in good faith” with IDP returnees.

Meanwhile, a 65-year-old IDP at El-Miskin Camp told The Guardian that it is impossible to integrate the repentant terrorists into communities.

He attributed the non-implementation of integration programme to the incessant attacks and other terrorists’ activities perpetrated during
the 11-year insurgency.

Nana Umar, a mother of seven children at the camp, added: “It is only God that can intervene and allow repentant terrorists to live with us in communities.

“We are praying that this Boko Haram insurgency comes to an end. My husband was killed by Boko Haram and left me with seven children suffering in this camp for over six years.

“I want these calamities come to an end, so that we return to our communities in Marte Council.”

In Adamawa State, a cross section of IDPs lashed out at Federal Government, accusing it of abandoning them in inhabitable camps and paying more attention to their killers.

Some of the IDPs, who spoke to The Guardian at the Fufore Camp in Fufore Council and Malkohi camp in Yola-South Council, on condition of anonymity for fear of being attacked by the released Boko Harams, said the decision of the Federal government to free their attackers/killers when they are dying of hunger in camps, has confirmed their suspicions that government values Boko Haram members more than peace-loving Nigerians.

A 65-year-old IDP in Malkohi camp from Damboa in Borno State said government’s “release of Boko Haram on the pretext that they had repented, when it is clear that they will become spies for their leaders in Sambisa Forest, has endangered the people of north east region.

“Sometimes, we eat only once, sometimes twice, but when a top government official is visiting the camp, they will bring plenty food to convince the official that we are well feed. If Federal Government did not place more attention on Boko Haram, why are we still in camps when the military is lying to Nigerians that it has technically defeated Boko Haram? If it is true that the military defeated Boko Haram, why are they not returning us back to our villages,” he quizzed.

Another IDP, a 32-year-old widow, who lost her three children and husband during Boko Haram attack in Askira Uba in Borno State, said if the Federal Government train and rehabilitate Boko Haram and released the killers of their love ones when they, the victims, are still suffering in camps, with hunger and sickness ravaging them, there is no other way to described the action than saying the government is insensitive to their plight.

John Musa, who insisted that his name must be mentioned, told The Guardian that there is no need hiding his identity, because the Federal Government has already taken side with Boko Haram by releasing their killers when government has done little to reduce the pains of the victims of the insurgents.

“Why should I be afraid when it is now clear to me that government is more interested to make Boko Haram comfortable than those that are victims? We in the northeast are just moving corpses. In the whole world, only the Nigeria government can maltreat its citizens in such a humiliating manner.

“It means our government place more values and respect on those that killed and destroyed. It is unfortunate. Indeed, there was a country, according to the late Prof. Chinua Achebe,” he said in cracking voice.

He stated that with the Federal Government’s action, Nigerians should forget the idea that this administration wants to end insurgency, alleging that government programmes concerning insurgency is in favour of the killers.

Musa, who called on the federal government to have a rethink concerning the release of the purported repented Boko Haram, as such action would only aggravate the security crisis in the northeast and other parts of the country.

On his part, Senator Alex Usman Kadiri, an All Progressives Congress (APC) stalwart, who represented Kogi East from 1999 to 2003, stated that the Bill for an act to establish National Agency for Deradicalisation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Repentant Insurgents before the senate is a manifestation of weakness on the part of the Federal Government to tackle insecurity.

However, sponsor of the Bill and a former governor of Yobe State, Ibrahim Gaidam, said it is simply to encourage Boko Haram members to abandon the evil path.

Kadiri expressed sadness over the level of insecurity, blaming security agencies for their failure, saying: “I feel sad that my country cannot control the activities of this insurgency, whether Boko Haram, pure straightforward terrorists, cattle rustlers, kidnappers, thugs and so on.

“It shows the weakness of government. Giving them amnesty and scholarship to travel abroad for studies or whatever is bribery. It shows that government’s methods have failed and they are looking for scapegoats. But who tells you that after they return and there is no job waiting for them, they will not resume their act of terrorism?

“We went into amnesty in the South-South, because 95 per cent of our income was coming from oil and these fellows were busy blowing up pipelines.

“Why is it impossible for the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Police and the Nigerian Air Force to control insecurity? Every state is now affected; you cannot drive from Lokoja to Ayangba now before 10am or after 4pm. You cannot go from here to Kaduna at any hour of the day, as most of the incidences are unreported.”

Asked if the Federal Government could be said to have been overwhelmed, he responded: “The security situation has overpowered the Nigerian government; we cannot pretend. That is why they are talking about amnesty; promoting a bill in the National Assembly to make sure you give them blanket amnesty, send them for studies.

“All these things will not work on the long run. Let me ask this question: The people they sent for studies in Europe, how many of them completed the programmes? Those that returned, did they come back to meet any work? Has insurgency or banditry ceased in Niger Delta because of the amnesty?

“We just need a good government with good policies that will affect the majority of Nigerians.”

The controversial Bill, which has been mentioned for First Reading, was met with stiff opposition, as stakeholders rejected the move to make life comfortable for people that have inflicted deaths and injuries on Nigerians.
But Gaidem explained that the Bill provides for varied deradicalisation and rehabilitation process for former members of Boko Haram on a case-to-case basis, adding: “Those who have become weary of the perpetual violence and have voluntarily laid down their arms and defected from the group will be accepted and rehabilitated using various tools of deradicalisation, rehabilitation and reintegration.

“The challenge today is to ensure repentant terrorists are rehabilitated in the best possible way so that they become useful members of the society.”

He said since the Boko Haram insurgency is becoming increasingly aggressive and marked by extreme brutality and explicit targeting of civilians, it was expedient and instructive to go back to the drawing board and adopt an alternative approach in addition to the military option.

“There is need for a more strategic and comprehensive approach to entice those members of the group who, after realising the futility of the course they are pursuing have eventually decided to voluntarily lay down their arms and chose the path of peace.”

But elder statesman, Alhaji Buba Galadima, described the Bill as the best way out on the issue.

Speaking against the backdrop of sentiments against the idea, he said it is still the same thing that was done for Niger Delta militants when the late President Musa Yar’Adua granted them amnesty (as if modeled after the amnesty and training of so-called repentant Niger Delta militants).

Galadima said it is better to rehabilitate them and bring them back to normal life than leave them with the radical tendencies, especially as most of them were forced and radicalised, adding it is proper now to deradicalise them and make them useful members of society

“How did you look at the Niger Delta amnesty, did they not also cause destruction and they were rewarded? The issue is that they are only training them the same way they trained militants in the Niger Delta who destroyed public properties.

“So, it is to secure them make the good citizens rather than to leave them in the wilderness. Are people now suggesting that whoever is arrested, whether militant or Boko Haram, should not face due process of law and should just be shot?

If that is what they are suggesting, let us go full hug.”

He said it is counter-productive to leave them without making them useful citizens, adding: “It is better to rehabilitate them, but because Nigerians take their decision based on sentiments and emotions, they cannot see reason.”