The Nigerian Senate made the first move, during the week, to grant amnesty to repentant Boko Haram foot soldiers, giving them an opportunity to become normal members of the society again. The move is in the form of a bill introduced by a senator, aimed at setting up a national body to “educate, rehabilitate, de-radicalize and integrate” former insurgents. The sponsor is Senator Ibrahim Gaidam, a former governor of Yobe State, one of the states in thick of the insurgency. The bill ”National Agency for the Education, Rehabilitation, De- radicalization and Integration of repentant Insurgents in Nigeria (Est, etc) Bill, 2020 (SB.340)” was read for the first time lastThursday.
The bill seeks a legal framework for amnesty for defected and defecting Book Haram fighters. According to Gaidam, the proposed agency would be a platform for promoting reconciliation and national security. It also would be “an open door” for half heated fighters of Boko Haram to abandon the group. He believes the agency will be in a position to gather intelligence on the “inner workings” of the group, intelligence that is vital for winning this asymmetrical war. Besides, it would be able to wane active insurgents away from Boko Haram’s poisonous ideology and give them a chance to reenter mainstream society.
As expected, opinions are divided on the notion of amnesty for Boko Haram fighters ready to abandon the group. This divide is regional – north against south. Opponents reject any comparison with the amnesty granted to former Niger Delta resource control militants or the “no victor no vanquished” declaration by the federal government at the end of the Civil War in 1967. Against this background, getting the Boko Haram amnesty bill passed in the National Assembly will be difficult, if not impossible.
This is why supporters of the bill must try to reach out to the other side of the divide with a message that is both convincing and reassuring. The message should start by arguing that there is an ongoing armed conflict that is consuming a lot of lives and resources. Development has been halted. Secondly, all of us want peace but what are the options available to us?
Yes, the military option is the one that immediately comes to mind. It is true that the nation’s military has been doing its very best to end this 11-year-old insurgency. Boko Haram is no longer the all powerful military monolith it used to be. However, its head has not been entirely scorched. In this unconventional or asymmetric warfare, it is impossible to pin the enemy down at one place and finish him off. Defeat him here and he resurfaces there.
This is why we now need a working combination of what the military term as kinetic and non-kinetic approaches in the campaign. The military itself has proved that this combo is working. It recently announced that it had trained and rehabilitated 1400 repentant insurgents at one of its centres in Gombe State. Neighboring Borno government has also confirmed that 1000 former Boko Haram elements have been released into the society. There have been no reports that some of those former insurgents have found their way back into Boko Haram fold.
An amnesty, no doubt, will be the icing on the cake. But it should not be blanket amnesty. Beneficiaries should be foot soldiers who show remorse and submit to debriefing. The high command is definitely out of it. It is the head of the snake that must be cut off from the rest of the body.