The Nigerian military has said that over 1000 Boko Haram fighters have surrendered and accepted the government’s amnesty offer. It is also agreed, in principle that these now “repentant” fighters will take part in the deradicalization, demobilization and reintegration scheme. When this scheme (Operation Safe Corridor, as it is known) was introduced as part of the efforts to end the insurgency that has rendered North-Eastern Nigeria desolate for more than a decade, it was met with criticism, most of which were valid.
Critics largely questioned how true the repentance of these former jihadists was. For the military and the Borno state government, however, getting even one terrorist off the streets was something to be happy about. The Borno state government has started the process of resettling its share of internally displaced persons in Baga, a fishing community close to Lake Chad which the Islamic State West Africa Province is said to control. Although, this decision is said to have been met with warnings that the area is still not safe for habitation, given that defenceless IDPs and refugees risk being exposed to Boko Haram.
The bigger picture which most people are yet to see, however, is what future awaits the fighters who lay down their arms. The North-East Development Commission, modelled after the Niger Delta Development Commission, was set up to rebuild the North-East (which has been destroyed by series of bombardments from the Nigerian military and Boko Haram). Three years after its proposal and launch, its impact on the ground is yet to be felt by the people who need its help the most – millions of internally displaced persons, as well as several other victims of the conflict.
At the end of every war effort, collective action to rebuild follows immediately and dominates national headlines. The Marshall Plan was developed by the United States to rebuild Western Europe at the end of World War II in 1945. While this was by no means altruistic because it was done with a view to prop up US allies to stand against a possible Soviet invasion, it served to reignite the global economy which had stumbled from the Spanish Flu pandemic in the 1920s, to the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s, and a devastating second world War that reduced the world’s centres to rubbles of killing fields.
In Nigeria, such post-war reconstruction effort is not entirely new. The 1970s witnessed government-led efforts to rebuild the East, which had attempted to break away in a failed secessionist agitation between 1967 and 1970. Within ten years, the three Rs – Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Reintegration – was achieved, aided by the oil boom of the 1970s which was occasioned by Arab-Israeli conflicts in the Middle East.
In 2021, the setting has changed, but the goal remains the same, as we’ve been told. In hindsight, those who dwell on whether ex-Boko Haram should be pardoned or not may lose sight of more important and practical matters. The discussion must now move to the practical realities of such controversial decisions.
The Nigerian economy which supported the post-war reconstruction efforts of the 1970s is a now a shadow of its former self. It is even a worse shadow of the economy that supported the Yar’adua amnesty programme for repentant Niger Delta militants that surrendered their arms in 2009. In all three instances, the crude oil economy appeared to be central to the sustenance of these programmes, but as things stand now, the Nigerian economy barely looks set to support such schemes, especially on a continuous basis. This is likely why social safety nets such as Tradermoni, Farmermoni and several others have failed, either due to poor policy conceptualization, implementation (Anchor Borrower Scheme comes to mind) or outright fraud.
While Africa’s largest economy continues to depend on oil for big earnings, the instability that the commodity brings also brings uncertainty to the post-war reconstruction efforts. Fossil fuels are currently being phased out for cleaner and renewable energy. Countries in the global North, beginning from 2025 – just four years away – are looking to phase out oil-driven cars in favour of electric cars. The demand for oil was seriously tanked by the pandemic which saw the enforcement of travel restrictions as people were forced to sit at home. The pandemic does not look to be easing off anytime soon, as more deadlier variants of the virus continue to be discovered.
Calls for diversification of the Nigerian economy have risen significantly, but with GDP growing at 2.2% while population explosion (at a geometric rate) is being experienced, the effect would be felt on social safety nets and policies, such as the reintegration of ex jihadists. The effect of abandoning them to Nigeria’s teeming unemployment market (at least 33.3%) would have severe complications for our national security.
In November 2020, Ali Ndume, a senator from Borno state and one of the fiercest critics of Operation Safe Corridor alleged that a ‘repentant’ Boko Haram member was responsible for the murder of an Army Colonel, D.C. Bako. The member, he said, gave out information to the terrorists regarding the movement of the colonel. Bako was killed on September 21, 2020, in an ambush by Boko Haram, near Damboa, a town about 85 kilometres from Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. While this allegation remains to be proven, it gives one a fair idea of everything that could go wrong – from lack of social acceptance, to adding to the unemployment programme, down to constituting more threats to national security.
In these present circumstances, however, seeing that the military has been bled of its manpower and strength and that it has exposed its structural and combat weaknesses, despite draining the country’s finances via a consistent ten-year allocation of the lion’s share of the national budget, the question becomes “what would one have the military do?”
According to a report in the Punch newspaper, which cites multiple sources such as SBM Intelligence and the Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker, President Buhari’s regime has, since May 2015, has allocated approximately N5.081tn for defence, including the appropriation of N4.669tn to the Federal Ministry of Defence from 2016 to date and $1bn (N412bn) for the purchase of military equipment. Yet, the country has lost 11,420 civilians and security personnel to attacks by Boko Haram, herdsmen and bandits between Buhari’s inauguration in May 2015 and July 2021.
In everything, Nigerians must count the cost especially when their elected representatives have chosen not to, in the face of dwindling government revenues. The political cost seems taken care of, as the areas most concerned with the deradicalization appear to be firmly in the control of the ruling party. On a national scale, the larger effect is that it casts a very dark shadow on the government’s sincerity especially when it uses the carrot and stick approach for globally acclaimed terrorists in the North, while breathing fire and brimstone on secessionist agitations in the South.
The obstacles and costs are many. The reward is uncertain, and one must take the government’s insistence (on the success of the programme) with a pinch of salt because it does not look to be independently corroborated. The price of peace is the cost of war not fought, but if this is part of an “all options” approach, then several other options which may address the security crisis in the North-East without alienating important and vital parts of the society must be examined.