• Says Nigeria has no resources to try 5,890 ‘repentant’ terrorists
•Cautions over ‘Boko Haram wives, kids’
By Ebele Orakpo
For years, the entire world has been dealing with the issue of terrorism and Nigeria has had her fair share of terrorist activities, notably the Maitatsine group in the North-East in the 1980s, and, of recent, Boko Haram, bandits, killer herdsmen, etc.
Nigeria has lost thousands of lives and many more uprooted from their ancestral homes, villages sacked and some razed to the ground. The displaced are languishing in IDP camps across the country. Schools are not left out as some state governments have had to shut down educational institutions due to kidnappings of school children.
In the last three weeks, however, there seems to be a ray of hope as thousands of Boko Haram members are said to be surrendering. No fewer than 5, 890 Boko Haram and Islamic State for West African Province (ISWAP) terrorists, including their wives and children, according to the Defence Headquarters (DHQ), surrendered to troops in the North-East in less than a month.
DHQ spokesman Benard Onyeuko said the surrender took place between August 12 and September 2. The surrender has been a subject of debate as some people doubt the genuineness of their repentance while many others believe they should be tried for their crimes against humanity and the Nigerian state. In this interview with Dr Lionel von Frederick Rawlins, Assistant Vice-President, Security and Safety Operations, American University of Nigeria in Yola, a forensic criminologist, former US Marine and the President of von Frederick Global Security, Africa, speaks on the surrender, the fall of Afghanistan into the hands of the Taliban and the implications for Nigeria and the rest of the world. He says the world should be cautious now more than ever. Excerpts:
We understand that thousands of Boko Haram terrorists are surrendering to the Nigerian military. What do you make of it? Should Nigerians be happy or worried?
Yes, it’s normal for them to worry. I know a lot of people are worried and have concerns; it is normal. Some people think that it might be a trick. They think that they are not really sincere in surrendering but I believe that. It’s all about perception. Nigerians should be happy that these people are surrendering for several reasons.
One, it means that the security forces are doing a wonderful job; they are bombing the daylights out of them and causing them to surrender. You must remember that up there, it’s wet, cold and damp; so it’s miserable living up there at this time.
Apart from that, bombs are dropping on them daily and consistently, so if you are up there, you will feel very uncomfortable. Here’s the good news, the people who are surrendering are not the Boko Haram hardliners, ideologists, believe in a caliphate. People surrendering are those who were kidnapped and forced to fight or people who were taken by Boko Haram as 9-year-old kids who are now 15 years old and given guns to fight. Others are women like the Chibok girls, Leah Sharibu and others who were taken and forced to support Boko Haram insurgency, so these are not the dangerous ones. The dangerous ones are those who believe in the ideology of Boko Haram. They are the ones that would rather die than surrender. Even though we heard that some hardliners, like the bomb makers surrendered, they surrendered because of the beating they were getting but the real hardliners are not surrendering. They are just like Shekau, who, rather than being captured by his opponents, detonated his suicide vest or so we were told.
Why are they surrendering without bringing their weapons along?
The answer simply is that not everybody up there fighting for or with Boko Haram has weapons. They are rationing too just like the military ration weapons and bullets. They have thousands of prisoners, so would you arm thousands of prisoners who might use these weapons against you? So, most of those people surrendering do not have weapons. No Boko Haram captive or supporter walks about with weapons, no, only the fighters walk about with weapons and bullets and, even then, they are being rationed.
What steps should government take in trying to reintegrate them into society? Should they just let them go into society to continue their lives without vetting?
No, government needs to work hard to de-radicalise them. They must put them through a program, whether it is the Chibok girls or Leah Sharibu; if anyone of them comes back or is released or surrenders, they must go through a program and the program is to find out whether they were affected by the Stockholm Syndrome or affected by their psychological support for Boko Haram or whether they are truly surrendering and the only way you can tell is by putting them through an in-depth, well thought out program.
You cannot have jokers or non-professional and incompetent people running it. You must have professionals who have done it before and who are versed in that type of psychological trauma to be a part of it. You must also make sure that it is intensive. It must be at least a year long. You cannot do that in three or six months. When they let these people out into the population after three or six months, you have to do at least one year work on them and then when you let them out, you let them out under certain conditions.
You tell them where and where not to go, they must have jobs and, at night, they can either stay in their houses or church or mosque or at work; they cannot hang around with friends idling away and they cannot hang around the same people as before. They cannot drink alcohol. There are a lot of dos and don’ts that they must live up to and, finally, when they come out, you must follow them up; that’s the most difficult part.
You must have somebody following them up, maybe two days in a week; you check on them in the morning, noon and night to ensure they are home. This is the most difficult task because you have to follow them to make sure they don’t slip through the cracks and start going back and re-forming a terror group or re-establishing contact with old friends. So it can be difficult but you cannot allow them to just walk back into society without putting them through a rigorous de-radicalisation process.
Do you see this working out in the Nigerian situation?
Good critical psychologists and some good counselors who, I believe, if they follow the model that they use in Saudi Arabia, the US or the UK, they can do it, but you can’t just pick a man because he is an alhaji or a pastor or a bishop and tell him to go and de-radicalise these people by teaching them about God, it’s deeper than that. Yes, there is time for that but the bigger part of it is the de-radicalisation aspect. Why should people accept them back in society?
The truth is that if they do not accept them back in society, if society rejects and ignores them, they will go right back to Boko Haram or they form their own terrorist organisation and terrorise Nigerians. Remember some of them have been there for over 10 years, so they know how to do it. Secondly, if you try to stigmatise them, the same thing is going to happen. You cannot stigmatise them and call the women Boko Haram wives or the children Boko Haram kids, that is as bad as rejecting them. Stigmatisation and rejection are almost the same and so the results would be the same – you send them packing right back to where they came from.
Many Nigerians are of the opinion that ex-terrorists should not just be let off the hook without getting the punishment they deserve for their crimes. Do you share that view, especially as some of their victims are languishing in IDP camps; many having lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods?
People all over the world feel that way. “We are looking for redemption/amnesty for these people who have killed innocent people and made their lives miserable and now we want to give them amnesty! How can we do that?” I know and understand but the problem is, do we have enough judges, lawyers and magistrates to put that number of people on trial? Is the criminal justice system good enough, strong enough and supportive enough to deal with all of these ‘repented’ Boko Haram members? By criminal justice system, I mean the court trial of all of these people.
Can’t they be given blanket trial?
If you try them and put them in prison, do you have the space in prison to accommodate these people? Or will they just go there and recruit more people, thereby turning good people into bad people? If you put them in prison, do you have the resources, the logistical support to teach or train them in new skills so that when they are released, they can live a decent lifestyle and become good citizens? I don’t think Nigeria has that kind of resources and so you have to take these things into consideration.
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Are we looking for bloodshed or forgiveness or healing or reconciliation? In the Rwandan genocide, the Hutus killed most of the Tutsis and, in the end, they were calling for revenge but they didn’t have the logistical support to try all the thousands of murderers, they couldn’t do it; so they had to quash it and resort to traditional type of healing which turned out to be a great success. Maybe this is something Nigeria should consider rather than sending all these people to prison. However, I would support that the hard line commanders, the ones who were leading the fight, should not be allowed to walk free; they should be made to go to court and face judgment because they were the ones who instigated everything. On the other side, I believe that if they are going to give them amnesty, and not subject them to trial, imprisonment and death penalty, and just bring them back and let them go back into the society, then they will have to do something for all the IDPs, all the families and those whose lives they made miserable because you have people who the government has let out because they surrendered and said they are not going to kill anymore, but in the IDP camps, you have people living there for the past eight years, men and women who had good lives, who had cows, farms and families that were disrupted, maimed, damaged, uprooted and killed by these same people, so what are we going to do for those people? They are survivors and they need to be taken care of, so government cannot just take care of the perpetrators, they should equally take care of the survivors, whether it’s government or private sector, someone should take care of them.
With an organisation like Taliban linked to terrorist groups now in control of Afghanistan, how would that affect Nigeria which has been battling terrorists for years and the world at large?
Well, the world better watch out. They should be careful. People in Nigeria, the US, UK, EU and others better be careful because Afghanistan was the training ground for terrorists before the US went in and chased out the Taliban 20 years ago. The Taliban and Osama bin Laden used Afghanistan as a training ground for terrorists.
They were trained there and then sent out into the world to kill people. If anybody thinks that this is not going to happen again, i.e. using Afghanistan as a training ground to send terrorists into different parts of the world including Nigeria, they better think again! Boko Haram, Ansaru, ISWAP and other terror groups, not just terror groups and insurgents, but also militants and secessionists as well, they are all going to go and get their training in Afghanistan because they get good training.
The Taliban doesn’t care who you are or what you do as long as you can go out into the world to terrorise and destroy the world. They don’t care if you are an insurgent, a militant or a secessionist, they only train you to go and make people miserable and turn the countries upside down. They may train terrorists to come to the aid of Boko Haram, ISWAP and al-Qaeda and others to destroy or at least try to destroy; whether they succeed or not is another thing.
Should the US be at alert now because as I understand, when the Taliban took over, many countries shut down their embassies except China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan? Also, should the world be afraid considering the amount of weapons the US left in Afghanistan which are now in the hands of the Taliban, making them one of the best equipped in the world?
What happened there is a disgrace to all military men the world over, a disgrace to the intelligence community, a disgrace to anyone who has ever worn uniform. You don’t leave weapons behind, you blow up or burn them. Instead of President Joe Biden listening to the men in uniform on the ground, he decided to listen to his people in suit and tie from Wall Street and this is the end result. As a result of that, the Taliban does not even have to buy a weapon; they have enough that they can sell. All they do now is sell weapons to the Chinese and Russians who can study these weapons. The US Night Vision goggles are the best with the best technology in the world and now, they have it. So if we are fighting the Taliban, the US used to rule the night as the US military were the only ones who could see in the night. Now the Taliban rules the night just as the US, so if we are looking at them using the Night Vision goggles, they are looking right back at us. Just as we can see them, they can see us.
So all the stuff the US left behind, all they will do is sell a couple of them to China and Russia which they will study and see the technology in our Tucano fighter jets, Black Hawk helicopters, the tanks, vehicles etc; they can study the weaponry to figure out how to make them. So many Tucano jets, a highly placed technological weapon. China will buy one or two and study them. Russia will do same. Just look at the four countries still in Afghanistan: China, Russia, ran and Pakistan, they are all believed to be state sponsors of terrorism and they want to get in on the action. They will export terrorists all over the world.
It’s alleged that four of the leaders of the Taliban government were hard line terrorists imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay prison and pardoned by Obama in 2014. What does that portend for the world?
That is what I was told but I am not sure if it’s true but if it is true, I think the US is in a better position than most countries in the world to deal with a situation like that. The US doesn’t fool around, they have ways of going after these terrorists, spotting them, checking them and preventing them from carrying out attacks. Over the years since 9/11, the US has foiled many terror attacks. There might have been one or two instances that succeeded, but these are lone wolves like the Boston attack by two brothers. The two brothers did it on their own but for any group to be out there plotting and planning another attack on the US, they won’t succeed. Also, the reason the US went into Afghanistan was to make sure that terrorists are stopped from coming into the US. The US went to meet them on their turf; they couldn’t go to the US to destroy like they do in the UK and France which refused to take US advice to take the war to the terrorists on their turf. What is happening in France and the UK will be almost impossible in the US.