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Encounter With Repentant Boko Haram Members In Gombe

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I read a report in the newspapers recently that over 2,000 Boko Haram members had willingly surrendered to our security forces. I found it an interesting development especially the aspect that said that the former insurgents had been surrendering in droves owing to the opportunities offered by Federal Government’s over three year-old De-radicalization, Rehabilitation and Re-integration (DRR) programme code-named Operation Safe Corridor (OPSC) located in a quiet location known as Mallam Sidi in Kwami LGA, about 32 kilometres to Gombe.

Few weeks ago, I had a great opportunity, in company of some top journalists and civil society groups, to visit the place. We got there only to realize that a team from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) had just visited. For me, it was a defining experience.

To receive us on behalf of the Coordinator, Maj Gen. BM Shafa, was the Camp Commandant, Colonel Beyidi Martins, a very courteous and dutiful officer whose unmistakable camaraderie with his officers pooled from the National Security Adviser’s office, Prisons, Armed Forces, Police, DSS, Immigration, NDLEA, NEMA, National Identity Management Commission, NOA, NDE and the Civil Defence Corps, was splendid.    

Entering the camp, the first sense you get is that of a family feeling and the first thing you learn is to address the ex-insurgents as clients, for example, Client Musa or Client Mohammed (not real names). You are told that it is standard practice to allow them re-discover themselves. The mention of the phrase, Boko Haram, is taboo outlawed here.

So it happened that as we entered the hall where they gathered to receive, they gingerly sprang to their feet and, rendering a unanimous shout of ‘’Gooood m-o-o-orn-ing sir-s-s-s-s!’’. We saw columns of very young agile boys in short-sleeve light brown soft khaki uniforms over trousers of same fabric. On the back of the shirts were bold specially-coded numbers written in black ink. We learnt later that the numbers were for identification, security and tracking purposes. They stood rimrod.

‘’Yes go-o-o-ood mor-n-in-ng to you to-o-o-o, how are you?’’

‘’We are very fine’’, they replied, adding, ’’How are you? How is your family? How is your journey?’’, ‘’Very fine, please sit down’’, we said, to which they chorused, ‘’Thank you, thank you, thank you’’, and made for their seats.We were told that their English was nil when they first arrived the camp months ago. Today, they can speak some English, marking the first successful onslaught against Boko Haram’s anti-Western education posture.

We also learnt that their enthusiasm over the derad programme has broken many walls.

The officials said they (ex-insurgents) are indeed remorseful about their situation, maintaining that most of them were conscripted, coerced and even drugged into joining Boko Haram, which explains why they go through comprehensive medical screening and profiling by the United Nations International Organization for Migrations (IOM) qualifying them for  derad therapies such as psychotherapy, psycho-spiritual counseling, drug, western education, art therapy and other critical intervention therapies conducted for them by specialist teachers, counselors, clergies, psychologists, social workers, drug rehab specialists, dramatists and interpreters.

Their DNA samples are deposited at DNA Laboratory of the Defence Headquarters. Part of the water-tight tracking measures is their captured biometrics in the National Identity Card System. They are issued specially-coded identity cards after detailed debriefing by the Camp Intelligence Cell for future re-integration and security purposes.

To enhance their health and boost self esteem as well as promote cordial interactions in the Camp and nullify Boko Haram’s evil ideology in them, friendly games, indoor-outdoor sports and recreation facilities such as football field, volleyball court, table tennis, driveway for jogging are provided. The entire process is breath-taking and revealing.

To guarantee their gainful self-employment, there is a modern skills acquisition centre built by the IOM where they are trained in vocational skills such as shoe making, leather works, farming, poultry, welding, tailoring, soap making and cosmetology, barbing, furniture, etc.

They showed us some of their finished products such designer and customized shoes, wears, cream, soap, wardrobes, settees, eggs, vegetables, fish, etc. We were very impressed prompting us to place instant orders. They were very excited.

Getting to the barbing wing of the vocational centre was another benumbing experience. At the very busy place, some of us opted for some haircut. They were spick and span. I flicked out three N1, 000 crisp notes. In their utter exhilaration, they said that on their last graduation day in November last year, they gave Maj Gen. Shafa a clean haircut.     

Upon graduation, they are transferred to their states for enrollment into NDE Skills Acquisition centers for further training but not after taking oaths of allegiance as law-abiding citizens before a Sharia or High Court.

So far, 260 former insurgents comprising the pilot six who were long detained for associating with the sect have been treated. Another 95 who graduated in February 2018 were transferred to their states-Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno and Yobe fully re-integrated and re-settled. Minors were released to UNICEF for onward transmission to their foster parents.

The last 150 who graduated on November 24, 2018, are still in the camp owing to resurgent attacks in the North East but will be released to their states which expressed willingness to receive them as the situation improves.

When we were about to leave the camp the second day, we had no doubts in our minds that the DRR initiative has gone down into history as a bright idea that holds the key to Boko Haram’s blight on our sovereignty as a nation and as a people. It is phenomenal.

Immense kudos to the CDS, General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin and his patriotic team led by Maj Gen Shafa, Nigerian Army’s most senior intelligence officer and Director of Operations at the Defence Intelligence Agency in Abuja. But the biggest thanks go to President Buhari for assembling the entire team on a noble mission.   

The DRR is a 52-week programme which was outcome of a National Security Council meeting in September 2015 that was conceived as a safe passage for repentant insurgents to escape from hiding. It is a joint multi-national humanitarian operation in line with international humanitarian and human rights laws and the Nigerian constitution.

President Buhari set the ball rolling in 2015 with a national committee chaired by the Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin with 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 as members.

Government has ruthlessly executed the DRR with astonishing efficiency.

Without firing a single shot, it has broken the ranks of Boko Haram with the defection of over 2,000 former members thereby breaking the fighting will of the sect to fast-track the return of peace and normalcy to the North East zone. There is no stopping the operation.

-Nwankpa, wrote this piece from Abuja

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