If any further evidence was needed to prove the huge success of the Nigerian military’s counter-terrorism campaign under the re-elected President Muhammadu Buhari, it was the peaceful elections held in the North East where the people trooped out to vote. This was not so in 2015 when 27 local government councils were under Boko Haram.
It is gladdening to hear recently that over 2,000 ex-Boko Haram members have repented and willingly surrendered to Federal Government’s de-radicalisation programme code-named Operation Safe Corridor (OPSC) for which a special Camp is located in a quiet community called Mallam Sidi, about 32 km out of Gombe State’s capital.
It is a big relief that over 2,000 ex-combatants have dumped Boko Haram to embrace the programme otherwise they could have by now added to the number of those still in the bush.
In 2015, the President raised a national committee chaired by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin with the governors of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Air Staff, Inspector General of Police, a Director from Office of the National Security Adviser, Director General State Security Service, Chief of Defence Intelligence and the Director General National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), as members.
Today, it is good music to the ears that the programme has done very well under its charismatic pioneer coordinator, Major General BM Shafa and his 375 highly-dedicated staff mobilised from 13 key Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) such as the Office of the National Security Adviser, Prisons, Police, DSS, Immigration, NDLEA, NEMA, National Identity Management Commission, Armed Forces, NOA, NYSC, NDE and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps. This team of patriotic Nigerians have worked very hard to turn the programme into a viable non-military counter-terrorism offensive now rated beyond Africa as proof of Nigeria’s commitment to global peace, security and order. What is more? Boko Haram’s strength has shrunk incrementally.
The team created fail-safe monitoring, tracking and tracing devices that make contact between the former insurgents and Boko Haram impossible especially after undergoing the necessary de-radicalisation therapies. Besides, they are trained in vocational skills including shoe making, leather works, farming, poultry, welding, tailoring, soap making and cosmetology, barbing, furniture, etc,
Other measures taken before they are transferred and enrolled in NDE Skills Acquisition Centres to continue training in their respective states and communities include taking an oath of allegiance before a Sharia or High Court Judge to be law-abiding citizens as well as comprehensive medical screening to know their health status. They are profiled by the United Nations International Organisation for Migrations (IOM) which also sources support services for the programme.
As part of the rehab process, they are exposed to Western Education and art therapy apart from undergoing psychotherapy, psycho-spiritual counseling, drug abuse intervention and other therapies conducted by specialist counselors, clergies, psychologists, social workers, drug rehab specialists, dramatists and interpreters as part of the rehab process. To enhance their health condition and nullify anti-social ideologies of Boko Haram, indoor and outdoor sports and recreation facilities such as football field, volleyball court, table tennis and driveway for jogging are available for cordial interactions between the ex-combatants and Camp officials. As part of the therapies, some friendly matches are organised to further boost their self-esteem.
It should be noted that their DNA samples are deposited at the DNA Laboratory of the Defence Headquarters, Abuja just as they are registered on the National Identity Card System and issued National Identity cards with special code after undergoing detailed debriefing by the Camp Intelligence Cell to elicit information to aid their integration process and for other future security purposes.
It would be recalled that shortly before the just-concluded elections, there were unsubstantiated allegations of espionage in some quarters linking the resurgent Boko Haram attacks in Borno State to the ex-combatants. But independent verification by independent observers and journalists recently has shown that the allegations were false, as they were not based on facts.
It is clear that the repentant insurgents are now the new gospel to those still hiding in the bush with the message that there is actually a better life outside the bush. This is if the deep remorse and enthusiasm they displayed throughout their 52-week long progamme in the camp are anything to go by.
The Deradicalisation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DRR) initiative was fallout of a September 2015 National Security Council meeting, which endorsed the initiative as a way of facilitating safe passage for willing insurgents. And since its inception, it has been remarkably impactful. It is a joint multi-national humanitarian operation being executed in line with international humanitarian and human rights laws and the Nigerian constitution.
It is pertinent to note that experts believe that contemporary conflict resolution theories have proved that soft non-military strategies such as the safe corridor are far more effective and efficacious than wars and weaponry especially as far as breaking the ranks and the fighting will of the enemy is concerned. They said that the current DRR initiative has significantly boosted the success of federal government’s counter-terrorism operations in the North East.
The Camp Commandant, Colonel Beyidi Martins, told journalists recently in Gombe that 260 former insurgents had been treated comprising the pilot set of six who were long detained for their association with the sect. Another batch of 95 who graduated in February 2018 and handed over to their states-Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno and Yobe, are now fully re-integrated and gainfully re-settled. Minors are released to UNICEF for onward transmission to their foster parents.
He said that the last set of 150 who graduated on November 24, 2018 and are still kept in the camp to shield them from the recent attacks in the North East will be released to their states which have expressed willingness to accept and re-integrate them as soon as the situation improves.
It is re-assuring that the Chief of Defence, General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin and his vibrant team at Operation Safe Corridor have been able to utilize the deradicalisation programme to bring positive dynamics in the counter-terrorism operations in the North East.
Without firing a single shot to get over 2,000 to renounce their membership of Boko Haram, the Armed Forces of Nigeria has continued to shrink Boko Haram, denying them freedom to take territories at will thereby restoring law and order, and nay, democracy, in the North East.
Operation Safe Corridor is an important programme that should be sustained.
-Alkassim, writes from Maiduguri