Nigerian military releases 565 Boko Haram members to Borno government

Babagana Zulum, governor of Borno state, says he is critical of the Nigerian army so that they can improve in their fight against insurgency.

Borno government and its people are in a dilemma following the release of 565 Boko Haram members to the state by the military authorities that reportedly profiled them.

Some Maiduguri residents and people displaced by the terrorists and now living for years in IDP camps in the state capital said they were “rattled” by what they heard in Abuja on the release of the repentant Boko Haram members to the government.

They wondered how the repentant insurgents could be released few weeks after they surrendered, considering that many of them spent years in enclaves launching attacks.

On its part, the state government is yet to say anything on the latest development.

However, some sources close to the government said there was no formal communication on the handing over.

A senior government official said the repentant insurgents were not released to the government.

He said, “I have enquired about this and I was told the insurgents were not released to the state government and in fact, none of the repentant fighters has been released. They are all undergoing security profiling preparatory to their disarmament and deradicalisation.”

The official further said the deradicalisation programme was being run by the defence headquarters, which had a template on how to handle repentant insurgents.

He said “The state only supports the military towards peacebuilding. Their reintegration will not be immediate. Remember that the military, which leads the programme is at greater risk if wrong decisions are made, so there is so much carefulness in the programme.”

He said a meeting of stakeholders on the fate of the repentant insurgents took place on Sunday and the outcome was adopted by the government as its stand on the matter.

But the Military High Command said on Thursday it has handed over 565 Boko Haram terrorists to the Borno State government.

Brig.-Gen. Bernard Onyeuko, Acting Director, Defence Media Operations, who announced this while addressing journalists at Defence Headquarters in Abuja said the Boko Haram members were released to the government for further management after thorough profiling.

He said they include three commanders, five cattle rustling specialists and their family members.

Onyeuko also disclosed that between August 12 and September 1, more than 5,890 terrorists comprising foot soldiers and their commanders surrendered to troops of Operation Hadin kai in the North East.

He said, “Within the period under review, troops of Operation Hadin Kai sustained their operations against terrorists in the North East theatre. The counter-insurgency efforts of the troops through kinetic and non-kinetic operations compelled the terrorists to surrender in large numbers.

“A total of 565 BHT’s comprising 3 Commanders, 4 Amirs, 5 Nakibs and 5 cattle rustling specialists, out of the surrendered BHTs and their family members were handed over to the Borno State government in Maiduguri for further management after thorough profiling.”

But General Onyeuko did not give details on the exact day and venue the handing over was perfected.

The senior military officer added that no fewer than 52 assorted arms and 1,977 rounds of 7.62mm assorted calibre ammunition, including AK-47 and FN rifles with magazines, hand grenades, commando mortar guns, locally fabricated rifles, Dushka anti-aircraft guns, Dane guns and Nigerian Police rifles among other items were recovered from surrendered terrorists.

A credible military source told newsmen last night that considering that 5,890 Boko Haram members surrendered but only 565 were released so far, it meant there was “discretion of sort” in what transpired.

“My take is that our commanders at the top and the Borno government don’t want some of the details out considering the sensitivity of the arrangement. The good news is that some fighters are coming out, which is an unprecedented feat. We have been in this war for over 12 years,” he said.

Falmata Ari, a mother of 3 whose husband was killed by Boko Haram eight years ago said the government should build a new place of abode for the repentant fighters and their families.

“It would make sense if the federal government would go somewhere and build houses with all basic needs of life for them.

“There are fresh wounds in the hearts of many of us. As we speak, many families are living in IDP camps and you want to bring those who killed our loved ones?” she asked.

Baana Bukar, a resident of Maiduguri said the reintegration should be done systematically.

“Government should study how it was done in other places like Saudi Arabia. Many countries suffered from terrorism but they resolved the problem through careful planning,” he said.

An insider told newsmen that less than 20 of all the people released so far could be tagged as “high profile fighters,” adding “based on their profile, it would be exceedingly difficult for them to go back to their old trade. They genuinely repented and would not be harmful to the larger society.”

“Moreso, 5, 890 people that surrendered were classified into three categories- The high profile terrorists; those with moderate radicalism or forcefully conscripted and then women and children.

“So, the high profile fighters that allegedly repented would be taken to Gombe and other places for additional profiling and deradicalisation. Those in the second category would be deradicalised in the available facilities in Maiduguri before a decision would be taken on how they would be reintegrated and those in the last category, depending on discussion with community leaders would be released in piecemeal,” he said.

In a telephone interview, security management and intelligence specialist, Kabiru Adamu, said that under the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) mechanism, it is the responsibility of the federal government to profile the surrendered terrorists.

Adamu, however, said there might have been an agreement between the Borno State government and the FG to receive them considering the state governor’s recent visit to President Buhari at the Villa.

He said, “Under the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) mechanism and Operation Safe Corridor, it is the responsibility of federal government to profile and after profiling, they will now admit the ones they want to admit.

“There are others who may not be admitted and may be subjected to judicial process or prosecution. And on why they may be handed to the state government, there are possibilities. We have to remember that the Borno State government visited President Buhari. He also asked the stakeholders to meet and part of their recommendations is to ensure the profiling.

“At this stage, frankly, I cannot say but in terms of responsibility for the final decision, it is a responsibility that is squarely on the shoulders of the federal government.”

On his part, Maj. Bashir Galma (rtd) explained that since the terrorists surrendered with their families, there is no implication if the Borno State government receives the children and women among them.

Newsmen report that Governor Zulum had last week convoked a security town hall in Maiduguri where stakeholders discussed the implications of the surrender of Boko Haram members and what should be done to mitigate negative consequences.

Those who spoke at the event included the Shehu of Borno, victims, Muslim and Christian leaders, CSOs, NUJ, NBA, NLC and women groups.

The meeting reached 16 resolutions, including demands that firearms be retrieved from all repentant insurgents and profiling made stringent to avoid the hasty release of hardened elements to the larger society.

The stakeholders urged intensified military battle against ISWAP, asking the federal government to quickly establish a world-class centre with facilities for deradicalisation and rehabilitation of repentant insurgents where they could be cautiously reintegrated after satisfactory rehabilitation.

At the opening of the meeting, Governor Zulum called on all participants to be very open and analytical in their submissions looking at potential advantages, problems and implications of having repentant insurgents back.

In his submission, the Shehu of Borno, Abubakar Ibn Umar Garbai El-Kanemi called on residents to consider genuine reconciliation to allow peace reign in the state.

Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume who spoke on behalf of the National Assembly members said the development must be carefully examined and that efforts must be made to address the grievances of the victims.

The Chief Imam of Borno, Imam Zannah Laisu, assured of the commitment of religious leaders to the deradicalisation process.

On his part, the Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Borno State chapter, represented by the Secretary, Reverend Joseph Kwaha, expressed the support of the Christian community to the deradicalisation of the repentant terrorists.

The Vice-Chancellors of the University of Maiduguri and the Borno State University announced plans by their institutions to critically study the situation and come up with robust academic research on how to go about with the repentant terrorists.

Representing the Borno Elders Forum, Dr Bulama Mali Gubio, while supporting the reintegration initiative, expressed reservation on the genuineness of the massive surrender by the terrorists in recent days. However, since after the meeting, the Borno State government is yet to come out with an official position paper on what transpired at the town hall meeting.

Shedding more light on the development last night, the Chief Whip of the House of Representatives, Mohammed Tahir Monguno, who is from Borno State, said the repentant Boko Haram accepted by the state government people will be treated within the ambit of extant laws and international conventions.

Monguno, who is representing Monguno/Matte/Nganzai federal constituency of Borno State said they agreed to accept the repentant insurgents after their rehabilitation by the military.

“We had a stakeholders meeting last week and I represented members of the House of Representatives. We have agreed to welcome these repentant Boko Haram members.

“Whatever we are going to do and the way we will treat them will be within the context of extant laws and international conventions.

“We also called upon the federal government to intervene given the huge humanitarian crisis Borno State is facing. Taking care of these repentant Boko Haram members is beyond the resources of the Borno State government. The federal government has to come in and assist.

“But the whole crux of the meeting is that they should be accepted but we should separate those that are core fighters and those that were also victims, like those who were forcefully conscripted and doing farm work for them, like the women and children. Those who have not committed anything should be allowed to go,” he said.

Since the death of the leader of the Boko Abubakar Shekau in May this year, the group has been in disarray.

Apart from his followers that surrendered in Nigeria, the authorities in neighbouring Cameroon also said more than 260 of the group’s members turned themselves in at a deradicalisation centre in the north of the country.

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