The military has shed more light on its controversial Operation Safe Corridor programme which has once again recently come under fire from the Nigerian public.
The multi-agency humanitarian effort, led by Defence Headquarters (DHQ), was launched in 2016 to encourage Boko Haram terrorists to surrender.
The programme is based on De-radicalisation, Rehabilitation and Re-Integration (DRR) of former members of the Islamic sect that has terrorised the northeast region for over 10 years.
A total of 881 ‘repentant’ former terrorists have been released since the programme was launched four years ago, with 601 released as recently as last month.
Many Nigerians have been highly-critical of the programme, noting that it made light of the atrocities committed by the terrorist group.
However, DHQ spokesperson, Major-General John Enenche, said during a media briefing on Thursday, August 6, 2020 that those released are categorised as Boko Haram victims themselves because they were forcefully recruited.
“These individuals were duly profiled and confirmed to be; low risk and not low risk repentants, who were ascertained to be innocent and forcefully conscripted to join the sects and are categorised as victims,” he said.
Boko Haram has killed over 30,000 people, and displaced over 2.5 million people in the northeast and surrounding areas in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.
Part of the group’s recruitment process includes routinely attacking communities and conscripting abducted victims, including children, to join its cause.
Boko Haram has infamously used more female suicide bombers than any other terrorist group in the world. Many of them were abducted from their communities, according to stories told by some that failed to detonate their bombs and surrendered to authorities.
Amnesty International in May criticised Operation Safe Corridor for being rife with violations, including the unlawful detention of people not proven to be Boko Haram collaborators.
Senator Ali Ndume (Borno South – APC) last week accused the Nigerian government of pampering Boko Haram terrorists with the programme which he described as a ‘very misplaced priority’.
The senator said the programme is ill-timed because over one million people displaced by Boko Haram are still suffering in internally displaced persons camps, and not getting the same level of attention from the government.
“The government is doing this Operation Safe Corridor bringing in those people that tortured, and killed, and maimed.
“The memory is still fresh in our mind because our people are still displaced, and then you say you’re bringing them back, pampering them and giving them start-up (capital),” he said.
Boko Haram’s insurgency in the northeast region kicked off in 2009 with the sect vowing to carve out a caliphate out of Nigeria and at some point controlling dozens of territories which it later lost over the years.
Despite its activities being significantly subdued by the military over the past few years, the group, alongside its influential faction the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), is still terrorising parts of the northeast and surrounding border areas.