By Kingsley Omonobi, Abuja
At the last count, about 3,116 Boko Haram terrorists (BHT), commanders, IED manufacturers, and their families from the forests and hilltops of northern Borno, Sambisa, Lake Chad fringes and Cameroon have come out of their enclaves/camps to surrender.
Of the figure, 1, 300 terrorists surrendered in Cameroon while 1,816 renounced fighting at Nigerian Army Theatre Command, Operation Hadarin Daji.
“They are coming out in droves. By the grace of God and, with requisite circumspect, we are hoping that with this turnaround, all shall soon be over”, a security source said.
But the surrender is raising concerns among people who question the genuineness of the terrorists’ repentance.
Besides, opposition is growing to the perceived moves by government to grant blanket amnesty to the repentant terrorists based on the lives that have been lost and properties destroyed as a result of their activities.
It all started with the surrender of the Boko Haram IED top expert, Abu Darda, with 20 of his subordinates as well as 283 others that included many strategic commanders.
This was followed by 186 Boko Haram members led by their Amir, Manye Aga, and comprising of 67 adult males, 54 adult females and 65 children who surrendered to troops at Forward Operational Base (FOB) Ajiri, with items including several AK 47 rifles and magazines, a locally made pistol and eight locally fabricated daggers.
The Theatre again on August 15 took custody of 33 Boko Haram fighters and their families comprising of four adult males, 11 adult females and 18 children from Landanli, Azah, Ngaridua and Kondilla villages, who surrendered to troops of 151 Task Force Battalion, Banki Junction in Bama.
Between August 10 and 12, 2021, at least 1,500 Boko Haram/Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) members laid down their arms and surrendered to Nigerian troops at Konduga, Gwoza and Bama in Borno State.
219 more Boko Haram fighters and children surrendered to troops at Mafa LGA on August 14, 2021 in the north-east region of the country.
A top military source said, “We are expecting about 2,000 more from the Lake Chad axis.
“In fact, most of them were either conscripted or brainwashed in joining the terrorists during the heat of Boko Haram terrorism.
“They have also surrendered a lot of weapons and are cooperating with our team in designated locations”.
From Lake Chad Fringes, 750 Boko Haram terrorists who had surrendered are undergoing Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, DDR, at a center set up by the Cameroonian government in Meri, a town on the northern border with Nigeria.
One of the administrators of the centre, Dieudonne Nkollo Zanga, said the center received more than 155 militants within the past seven days and a total of about 450 militants have arrived at the center recently.
Many reasons have been adduced by observers and terrorism experts as responsible for the volume of terrorists seen running out of their enclaves, the primary and frontline reason being that of the Nigerian Army’s employment of heavy battle artillery and armoured tanks with heavy munition launchers which is getting into their inner caves and mountainous enclaves.
Then the raids of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Alpha Jets and the Mi 35 helicopter gunship whose bombardments make terrorists and their commanders flee in disarray due to its destructive impact.
“Through the employment of these military hardware, the logistics and arms supply bases of the terrorists in several locations both in Sambisa and the Lake Chad fringes, which had been identified through intelligence led operations, had been taken out”, a military source told Sunday Vanguard.
“The use of gun trucks which the terrorists had resorted to, particularly with deceptive and night time movements which, in some cases, caught troops unawares, had been uncovered and strategies worked out to neutralize them.
“So night time operations by NAF surveillance aircraft had successfully alerted standby attack jets to their movement and through precision strikes destroyed many of the gun trucks and killed scores of the fighters.
“At the same time, Nigerian Navy gunboats and platforms deployed at the Lake Chad, while also getting aerial support from NAF fighter jets, are smoking out the terrorist’s bases in the Tumbus and tributaries through which they carry out occasional attacks on communities in Borno and Yobe states”.
An intelligence source said: “Apart from the impact of the fire-power from troops, the heat from troops on ground offensive is further enhanced by the rapid and highly impactful non-kinetic line of the operation which is giving affected communities confidence and belief in the army to cooperate against the criminal elements.
“Our kinetic and non-kinetic lines of operations are paying off. That is why the massive laying down of arms.
“Moreover, those that have surrendered are treated within the ambit of international best practices.
“We also believe that the feedback of how those who surrendered are treated is getting back.
“The role of intelligence is massive but, as you know, intelligence successes are not visibly seen when inserted but the outcomes are currently manifesting.
“This unfolding mixed technique and humane handling of surrendered members are tangible steps towards ultimate success”.
According to the intelligence source, the media also has been instrumental to shaping and boosting troops resolve to continue their aggressive posture.
“In keeping to international best practices, within the last one month, hundreds of insurgents who renounced their criminal involvement in the warped belief of the group were released to government”, he said.
Another important reason for the surrender, according to the military, is the killing in May, of Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Islamist group, who, it was believed, could not be killed after mysteriously escaping and surviving several attacks by Nigerian troops.
While Shekau was alive, his strong arm tactics of executing and dealing with Boko Haram members who attempted to defect or submit to the Nigerian government’s de-radicalization or repentance program elicited fear among terrorists.
But with his death, many terrorists, it was learnt, feel confident that throwing in the towel would not have such repercussions.
Blockade of food supplies
“Another very important reason for the surrender of the terrorists is discontent as a result of internal skirmishes brought about by Shekau’s death, coupled with overwhelming famine, blockade of illicit drugs and food supplies, internal and health challenges as a result of strange diseases and untold hardship which has made life unbearable for the terrorists”, one of the sources said.
A top police officer, speaking under condition of anonymity, said the terrorists are surrendering because security forces and floods have blocked the supplies of food and other logistics to the insurgents in the forests.
“Most of the dirty roads into the forests and lakes have been flooded. So it has become very difficult to ferry most of the food supplies the terrorists depended on to fight troops and the police hence they are boxed to a corner”, he added
“Also of great importance as to why the terrorists are surrendering is the operationalization of synergy in the real sense of the word among the service chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and the Nigeria Police in the real sense of the word”.
It would be recalled that the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor, once held sway as Force Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole and captured Ground Zero, headquarters of the Boko Haram terrorists group in Sambisa.
Later he was Force Commander, Multinational Joint Task Force.
Air Chief Oladayo Amao, on his part, was the Air Force Component Commander and flew fighter aircraft extensively in the Theatre while the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral AZ Gambo, is seen as someone who has zero tolerance for terrorists or criminals.
“Hence the CDS, Service Chiefs and the Inspector General of Police, an alumni of the National Defence College who knows the power of, and thinking behind synergy, have since their appointments, worked in one direction and in togetherness”, a source said.
“So the days of one service trying to take credit for the prosecution of the war, and thereby sabotaging or downplaying the efforts of other services, a situation which breeds unhealthy competition and embarrassing killing of troops and police personnel as well as capturing of troops’ equipment no longer exists.
“Very importantly, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Farouk Yahaya, during his visits to troops in the battle areas in the theatre, spent time with troops and assured them of all the necessary support with regard to provision of adequate ammunition.
“The days of ‘not enough ammunition’ are gone hence his directive to go all out to wipe out the menacing terrorists”.
With the belief in certain quarters that the terrorism war has dragged for so long because of lack of political will to end it, the Army Staff is said to have told his troops to ignore any such belief while ordering them to smoke out terrorists from their caves and hideouts.
Concerns/accepting surrendered terrorists
Meanwhile, while some may be heaving a sigh of relief that after more than a decade of conflict, Boko Haram terrorists are beginning to surrender, there are concerns.
For Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State, the epicenter of Boko Haram attacks, the ongoing surrender of terrorists had presented the state with two difficult situations requiring stakeholders’ serious examination of the wider implications.
“We are in a very difficult situation over the ongoing surrender by insurgents. We have to critically look between two extreme conditions and decide our future”, Zulum said.
“We have to choose between an endless war or to cautiously accept the surrendered terrorists which is really painful and difficult for anyone that has lost loved ones, difficult for all of us and even for the military whose colleagues have died and for volunteers.
“No one would find it easy to accept killers of his or her parents, children and other loved ones. In the last 12 years we have been in this war, and we have lost thousands of fellow citizens.
“We don’t know the whereabouts of thousands of others. We don’t know whether they are alive or dead.
“In these 12 years, millions have been made homeless and many wealthy farmers, transporters and others have been rendered poor.
“In these years, we were able to cultivate maybe around three percent of the arable land.
“As a result, our people became dependent on food aid amid donor fatigue and potential food insecurity. “In fact, the repercussions of the Boko Haram crisis are enormous and, as someone who has been involved with assessment of the impacts and rebuilding efforts in the last seven years, I am in position to know the endless negative impact the Boko Haram has made in Borno.
“Accepting Boko Haram has the risk of seriously offending the feelings of victims with potential of civil rebellion, just as there is the risk that if Boko Haram fighters willing to surrender are rejected, they can join ISWAP to swell the ranks of fighters in the bush and the path of peace becomes narrowed”.
‘We can forgive but not forget’
On his part, the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Umar Garbai El-Kanemi, said, “The surrender Boko Haram members to the military is a welcome development to both the state government and victims of terrorism.
“The Safe Corridor programme of the Army led to the de-radicalisation of repentant terrorists in Gombe State. “But it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for us to reintegrate the repentant insurgents into our destroyed communities.”
Recalling that Boko Haram flattened Bama and its College of Education in September 2014, El Kanemi said the fears of the people over the 12-year insurgency still remain and would continue, especially in communities where the surrendered terrorists would be reintegrated.
Expressing regret that 13 district heads and many ward heads were also killed in the insurgency in his emirate, comprising 16 local council areas of the state, the monarch said, “It is easy to forgive for the destruction of many lives and property, but difficult to forget the wanton loss of lives in the various communities of my chiefdom.
“Many people were killed and their properties destroyed for 12 years. And you people and the media expect us to forget and forgive the repentant terrorists?”
Recalling the pain of one resident who lost a family of eight, the monarch said, “Since the repentant terrorists killed the entire family, the survivor will definitely pursue the reintegrated insurgent for revenge no matter where he goes or lives in the country.”
Mallam Aminu Isa, a resident of Maiduguri, said he doubted the genuineness of the terrorists’ surrender from the Sambisa Forest and Lake Chad region, noting that the surrendered terrorists could be out to “spy or recruit” for Boko Haram and Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) to continue with their terrorist activities.
‘No to blanket amnesty’
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Army, Senator Ali Ndume (APC, Borno South), while reaffirming his stand against blanket amnesty for repentant Boko Haram fighters, said, “It didn’t come to me as a surprise actually, because I’ve been saying for a long time that the armed forces and other security agencies of the country are handicapped, otherwise, they have the capacity and the ability to prosecute this war.
“Now that what they need is given to them, you can see the results within this short time. And I’m expecting more.
“It is only that, as I have said before, there shouldn’t be blanket amnesty and pampering treatment to those who have surrendered, rather, the relevant authorities should ensure that the contrite insurgents were carefully profiled without any rush to have them return back to the society”.
President of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (ACYF), Yerima Shettima, said the society could not forgive any Boko Haram terrorist adding, “I just get confused and I hope it’s not what I’m thinking. How can someone commit crime and you say you are giving him or her amnesty? Are you begging him?”
Shettima said government should rather “build another planet” for the terrorists to reside in after granting them amnesty, because those whose families and beloved ones were killed in cold blood by the terrorists would not forgive them.
Capacity to rehabilitate
A resident of Kaduna, Mr. Bolake Alabelewe, said there was nothing wrong in government pardoning the terrorists, noting his concern was whether government has the capability to rehabilitate them before reintegration in the society.
He blamed government for letting insecurity degenerate to the level it has reached today saying, “If government had risen up to its responsibility of protecting lives and property, we wouldn’t have been talking about granting amnesty to people who have maimed and killed and destroyed properties of good citizens.
“If the insurgents on their own are thinking that they are surrendering to government and laying down their arms and ready to accept peace and repent, it is not a bad idea to accept them, debrief them and reintegrate them back into the society.
“But reintegrating criminals back into the society have processes in advanced countries which include medical and training aspects.
“The question is whether Nigeria has the facility, the human resources to carry out all that. Reintegration doesn’t just happen; processes have to be followed; but how sure are we that Nigeria is equal to the task?
“That somebody has surrendered today does not necessarily mean the person is wholeheartedly ready to accept going back into normal life without carrying out all manner of crimes that he was used to.” In a related development, the Nigerian Army, through its spokesman, Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu, said, “The NA being a professional military organization will continue to act in accordance with the dictates of the Nigerian Constitution, as well as international best practices.
“It must be known that the NA will never encourage any act of lawlessness or extra judicial killings.
“Accordingly, all surrendered terrorists will be received, processed and passed on to the relevant agencies of government for further assessment in line with extant provisions.”
Vanguard News Nigeria