There is a saying among the Igbo of South East Nigeria that no matter the effectiveness of the treatment given to a madman, it will not stop him from whispering. The same can be said of all these Boko Haram insurgents the military tell us have purged themselves of their radicalism and disavowed all links to that terrorist group. If they have, indeed, completely repented of their sins and have now turned a new leaf, then we have cause to celebrate. But we have our doubts and that is why we urge the military to trade softly on the issue. When Boko Haram reared its ugly head, it started by running down western education which is what the term literally means.
The vicious nature of the attack on schools and school children shocked the sensitivity of most Nigerians including Muslims. It was also believed that the terrorists were able to recruit followers as a result of the feeling the youths had which included disaffection with what they perceived as distant government which made opportunities for education limited even before the insurgents started torching schools. This situation made people, the youths and the other more vulnerable groups, particularly susceptible to Boko Haram’s views and violent version of Islam. Nigerians were left reeling in consternation at the negative dimension these elements gave the religion that translates to peace.
We are committed to any process that will lead to an end to the madness we all call Boko Haram. It is in this context that we agree that it is important to refute the interpretation of Islam enforced by Boko Haram. De-radicalisation, according to those involved in it, has as its aim not only to dissuade people from joining Boko Haram, but also to change the minds of those already involved in terror-related activities. De-radicalisation is simply assumed as the only hope for the stolen when they’re free. It represents a whole set of interventions that prevent terrorists from re-engaging in terror activities. One of these is religious. It is believed that it is a religious duty to help people reach salvation. That is a noble concept that cuts across the religious divide. In the effort to deconstruct these elements, participants are treated not as criminals but as victims of brainwashing.
These characters, we must not forget have tasted blood, human blood to the extent that it will be quite presumptuous to expect a total rehabilitation. It is important to bear in mind that it will take monumental effort to fully get them back as normal humans. These are people touted as disillusioned and angry. Terrorism, it was assumed, gives them who feel alienated a sense of belonging which turned out to be like the proverbial Greek gift. It is safe to suggest that they are very dangerous people, very hardened and breaking them may pose a real challenge. We are wary of the fact that they are still capable of anything. But it will be defeatist not make an effort to salvage what is left of the humanity of those involved. In order words, we are not saying that the military and other agencies, governmental and non-governmental, should not be encouraged to do the daring to try to retrieve them from the brink of self-destruction. Or rescue them from the clutches of self-inflicted degradation. We are only concerned about the motives of these terrorists who suddenly realised that what they have been doing, killing and maiming, is bad. If they are genuine, then fair enough. But from the way they operated, there will always be doubts about their readiness to do a 180 degrees’ turn.
There are doubts about the success of de-radicalisation programmes elsewhere. Saudi Arabia, for instance, boasted about a success rate close to 90 per cent, yet there have been high-profile cases of recidivism. The often cited example is that of Sa’id al-Shihri, who relapsed and became second-in-command of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula after completing the Saudi programme. It is also possible in Nigeria.
It is pertinent to point out that the main fear that we entertain is that it is not unlikely that the hierarchy of the terrorist group may be using these people surrendering themselves to penetrate the military and gather valuable intelligence.
In our opinion, and to avert this apprehension coming true, what is required of the military is extreme caution and professionalism devoid of any assumptions. No one among them, we insist, must be given the benefit of the doubt. There are many interpretation of what the military is doing. Building a bond between the treatment team and the Boko Haram inmates. That is commendable on the condition that national security will remain the over-riding priority.
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