BY Philip Agbese
I am an ardent follower of the cause of humanity. So, I will be unfair to myself if I view certain issues of humanity from the same narrow prisms like others. Invariably, it would mean my knowledge as a student of human rights and international humanitarian law, coupled with my researches and interactions with multiple conflict resolution experts across the globe is useless to me. I say this without haughtiness.
In Nigeria, we know that Boko Haram terrorism was a creation of a few people sometime in 2009 in the North-East region of the country. But overtime, it developed into a true monster, a nightmare and a sour grape with unimaginable tentacles.
It became a symbol of pains and sorrows in our national life. We lost our dignity in the comity of nations by the sheer freedom we allowed Boko Haram terrorists exhibit in atrocities and heinous crimes against humanity.
I wept endlessly the day military authorities authentically established the existence of Boko Haram child-soldiers and teenage female bomb carriers they hypnotized into committing these satanic acts at designated destinations.
But the Almighty God in His infinite mercies has through the Nigerian military shown us a today, which is far better than the yesterday’s years of turmoil under Boko Haram Haram Terrorism (BHT). If we believe in the existence of God Almighty and listen to our inner voice of conscience, we shall hear the truth and truly empathize with some Boko Haram insurgents.
I believe other Nigerians also know that at the turn of 2015, Boko Haram Terrorists (BHTs) foot soldiers were in multitudes. And the recruitment of innocent Nigerians into this devilish sect was also done diabolically and frequently. Some were charmed; while others were forcefully captured and indoctrinated into the ideology of the sect much against their wish. They were threatened with death and all manner of intimidations into submission.
The everyday cries and sorrows of Nigerians over BHTs sequel to the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari sprouted from the huge reservoir of foot soldiers the terrorists kingpins had amassed. They declared total war against the rest of us. But I can comfortably and assertively say, we have a breather from this bile of terrorism that reigned from 2010 to early 2015. It is no longer ceaseless bloodbath, tears and sorrows as it used to be in the past.
And I do understand that winning such war completely is beyond the force of guns and booths. The stick and carrot approach is also a veritable instrument in resolving such conflicts in most parts of the world. We must understand that artillery exchange of gunfire alone do not terminate wars, but dialogues on the dialogue table, with concessions on either side, assist tremendously in facilitating the process of peace.
Therefore, I was taken aback, when loud murmurings greeted hints by Nigeria’s Minister of Information, Culture and National Orientation, Alhaji Lai Mohammed that the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) is tinkering with the possibility of granting amnesty to repentant Boko Haram insurgents. I read the deluxe of opposition to the idea, but found nothing or a point strong enough to cancel the idea of amnesty to repentant insurgents. But they were handsomely replete with baseless sentiments of either religion or ethnicity.
I was almost weighed down. Analysts, commentators, mob attackers and critics left the core of the issues and dwelt on trivialities. We forgot easily that the orthodox religion we practice in Nigeria, whether Christianity or Islam all preach forgiveness of those who offend us. Not just that but also as a way of making our victory total.
I am amazed at how every Nigerian places himself a professional or expert to advise government on every national issue. So, we were the least to remember that the guilt of some Boko Haram members is through vicarious liability by demonic indoctrination.
Some of them who regained consciousness have willingly surrendered themselves to the Nigerian military. Yet others are still held by the goons of terrorism because they are skeptical about the fate that awaits them should they surrender. Invariably those who left this angle out, got it completely wrong.
But we all know the severity of the Boko Haram scourge before now and the efforts at quelling it at the moment. BHT reached frightening dimensions long before 2015. The international community had already branded Nigeria a failed nation-state. We allowed it to breach our sovereignty to shameful limits; hence we could not defend our civilian population from the matching swords of rampaging terrorists.
For instance, Boko Haram attempted to take over Giwa Barracks in Borno State, but succeeded in taking over the Police College Gwoza and palaces of some Emirs in the North. They deposed these Emirs, appointed new Emirs and foisted their emblems in every territory they captured. Nearly 23 LGAs in the Northeast were under the control of BHT at the turn of 2015.
With the peace that has substantially returned, we embarked on an adventurous and humanitarian journey to the North-east in 2016. And in Maiduguri, we met the Shehu of Borno, a leader directly at the heat of the furnace of terrorism. He is a revered, very powerful and influential traditional ruler.
We had a chat with him and the Shehu of Borno indeed confirmed to us that the situation was so bad that about eight of his Chiefs had to vacate their palaces and flee to hibernate with him in Maiduguri.
But he was honest enough to inform us of the changed tides on terrorism by 2016. He was vehement that the Nigerian Army, under the leadership of the COAS and leader of the counter-insurgency operations in Nigeria, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai, have succeeded in pushing the insurgents out of his domain.
The Shehu of Borno confirmed that all his Chiefs have returned home and mounted their thrones. I went round the state to confirm same. At Kwajafa, the Chief also confirmed what the Shehu had told us.
And apart from Borno or the Northeast, we are all living witnesses to hellish experiences of Nigerians with terrorists in Abuja. The Federal Capital Territory was so frightened by terrorists to the extent that even the Police High Command could not navigate its office premises without blockage for the fear of BHT. Even diplomats at the United Nations country office in Abuja were scared-stiff. But by 2016 all these vanished.
The kidnap of the Chibok schoolgirls at that time was to crown the supremacy of Boko Haram over the Nigerian state. And our reactions only worsened the matter by demonstrating and trumpeting to the whole world our status as a failed state.
What we cannot take away from the current efforts in our appraisal of the anti-terrorism war is that the BHTs have been decimated and defeated through the efforts of our military. No matter the pretenses, we cannot dodge this reality with the empirical evidence around us.
Added to it, we must not lose sight of our humanity by acknowledging the fact that in the course of the military’s prosecution of this delicate war, it made enormous sacrifices more than what any of us can ever imagine, by even paying the supreme price. We cannot discuss the terrorism war anywhere without giving them the desired kudos and place in history for the selfless and patriotic service to our country.
It is the Military’s commitment to this cause that even compelled Boko Haram’s return of the abducted Dapchi schoolgirls timely, without any bruise on either side, in sticking to the agreement reached on their release.
Unfortunately, some of us believe more in the conspiracy theories. So, we are not prodded to first appreciate why it was convenient for Boko Haram to keep more Chibok girls for years, despite all the international and local pressures on them to return them, but why insurgents had to release the Dapchi girls almost immediately.
That’s the fruits or potency of dialogue and forgiveness in war situations. It has extinguished the fire of vengeance and established the first test case of insurgents’ trust that the FGN can be gentlemanly enough to honour its promise of pardon to all repentant insurgents if those still hiding decide to lay down their arms . And more would lay down their arms.
Consequently, there have been efforts by conflict experts across the globe having seen the level of success made by the current administration under President Buhari and the military to consider safe corridors for those who willingly lay down their arms. Some terrorists out of frustration and lack of escape have embarked on suidiced mission to end the war themselves and from investigations many still want to abandon their commanders but no solid assurance that the people could ever forgive their atrocities in a hurry.
It therefore gladdens my heart to hear about plans by the Federal Government to offer an exit program to members of the insurgent group who are ready to lay down their arms. This should be seen more as a testament to our collective humanity as a people and the efforts of the Nigerian government to humble these evil men to a point where they have abandoned their ideology. . Already, many of the Boko Haram commanders have surrendered and many more are still willing to surrender. But they want to be assured of the sincerity and commitment to this promise by government.
In essence, the planned exit program or soft-landing proposed by stakeholders is important to safeguard the lives of all innocent Nigerians or families dragged into the sect outside the main ideology which its core promoters had proclaimed. It’s permissible and practicable in any jurisdiction around the world and has worked perfectly well.
Nigerians have seen this worked in the instance of the Niger Delta militancy. It is now the prime responsibility of the international partners and civil society organizations to work conscientiously and assiduously to ensure all parties keep to their bargain for disarmament through the amnesty. This shall quicken the death of terrorism and return permanent peace to our devastated and ravaged communities.
Agbese is a human rights law researcher @ the Middlesex University London, United Kingdom.