A lot of people might have already concluded that the Boko Haram insurgents who have just repented have cheapened themselves. As members of a militant group that has never rested since 2009 when it began to unleash terror on its targets mainly in Borno and Yobe States before it spread to other places, [Virtually every other category of people was and is still its targets], nobody would have expected them to submit themselves so easily.
The development, albeit encouraging, has still thrown up a lot of issues about the origin, crusade and mode of operations of Boko Haram [BH] to which in the last decade more lives and wealth than could ever be imagined were lost. Its incessant and extremely destructive attacks on communities and places which have resulted in the displacement of inhabitants have constituted a source of concern for humanity.
Clearly an off-shoot of the short-lived local Taliban group which emerged around the same Yobe/Borno in the early 2000s but was quickly subdued by the military, BH is further said to have drawn inspiration from the global terror organization, Al-Qaeda, to which it had paid allegiance. Right from the time its pioneer leader, Muhammad Yusuf, was killed by the police and up till now, BH has never hidden its implacable resolve to impose on the people a certain creed that is very unpopular among majority of Muslims.
The BH’s consistent launch of offensive against the members of the public as well as the government and all its symbols is a reaction to the rejection of its crusade. Even where and when it suffered setback, the group never manifested any sign of surrender and repentance, but instead expressed even greater commitment to its cause which created the impression that the BH members are naturally unrepentant.
What further re-enforced the belief that the insurgents will hardly ever discard their views was the crude manner in which they turned down several calls for negotiation by government and some concerned Nigerians. In the few cases that the BH entered into negotiation with the government, it was found to have violated the agreed terms as result of which a lot of peace and security restoration initiatives failed.
It is therefore on the basis of the incalculable pains that the BH inflicted on the society and its unreadiness for genuine reconciliation that the recent repentance of hundreds of its members becomes questionable or even objectionable. All the varying reactions from the government, security institutions, regional groups and other concerned bodies as well as notable individuals to this development are indicative of the huge controversy that it has generated.
The confession by Governor Babagana Umara Zulum of Borno State who, upon assumption of duty, made unequivocal commitment to the decimation of the BH’s capacity for violent attacks is both real and consistent with the feelings of all those who are conversant with the atrocities committed by the group and at the same time desirous of total cessation of attacks. As both the governor on whose shoulders lies the responsibility of provision of security to Borno State which is the centre of the BH operations and a victim of the group’s attacks, he definitely must have to weigh the insurgents’ repentance against their past crimes.
In fact, the reactions from several quarters have shown that many critical stakeholders are confused.It is just not easy or even possible to forget or overlook the sins of BH even if the repentance by the insurgents is genuine because there are more than enough casualties to remind everyone of their past crimes.
Although the repentance, perhaps, comes across as an opportunity that the authorities have been looking for to end the BH scourge, issues about the pains it inflicted on communities and families as well as the questions about the genuineness of the act should necessitate a comprehensive scrutiny of the insurgents’ surrender with a view to coming up with effective measures for their re-integration into the society. It must have to take tremendous caution for the government to be able to ascertain the most relevant facts about the repentance of over 2,000 insurgents so that the most appropriate action can be taken.
Federal Government’s excitement as expressed by the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, over the development, just like the repentance, has also generated concerns. Those insisting that the repentant BH members should be properly prosecuted which is a stance that is somehow at variance with the Lai’s disposition believe that any action that is contrary to prosecution is injustice.
The decision of the insurgents to repent and turn in themselves to the government is, undoubtedly, an unprecedented opportunity which, if properly utilized, will serve as a giant step towards the correct identification of the internal and external factors that have sustained the insurgency. It is absolutely necessary for the government to institute a mechanism for a probe into the substance of the BH crusade, the group’s composition and connection with some similar groups within and outside the country as well as the scope and effects of its activities on the society.
This will definitely require the engagement of some critical categories of people, a lot of which must have already carried out one kind of investigation or another into the matter and consequently generated some kind of report on the operations of BH. The repentance is an opportunity not just for prosecution, but also for effective de-escalation of violence and de-radicalization of insurgents or terrorists which can be guaranteed only by full utilization of relevant resource persons and materials.
Having come at a time when such other forms of insecurity as kidnapping, banditry and cattle-rustling in addition to ethno-religious attacks in particularly the northern part of the country are quite prevalent, the repentance by the BH members should bring about a common approach to all the threats to peace and security. BH insurgency is a clear product of the malfunction of the various strata of the Nigerian society which has evidently given birth to many other violent crimes and therefore needs to be adequately addressed in order to avert the foreseen dangers that the country faces.