The huge number of “repentant” insurgents who have surrendered to the Nigerian Army has overwhelmed both the Borno State and Federal governments and has highlighted how underprepared they are to deal with them – so much so that, out of sheer hunger, many of the Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’way Wa’l-Jihād (JAS) insurgents have escaped and returned to the forests to re-join their former combatants.
The exact numbers of repentant JAS, better known as Boko Haram, insurgents who have surrendered – and the numbers who have returned to their fighting ways – have not been released, with some reports saying that more than 60,000, including their family members, have surrendered.
On Saturday, June 25, 314 more insurgents surrendered to the Nigerian Army in the Bama Local Government Area of Borno State.
RNI reporter Nana Hadiza Mustapha spoke to two residents in Bama who would share their views only on condition of anonymity.
Resident One said: “It is a good thing that the terrorists have decided to repent and come back to live with us in our communities. But one of the main problems is that they often return to the bushes claiming there is hunger in the town and they are not getting enough food so they decide to go back to the forests and the combatants where they have enough to eat.
“When they go back to the bushes, they still sometimes return to the community and we feel threatened because we know they cannot be trusted. If they repent, then they should mean what they are saying and be sincere about it. But they keep complaining that there is not enough food and tell us that’s why they have chosen to return to Boko Haram.”
Resident One said that if the authorities gave them and the whole community more food the surrendered ex-combatants would not try to re-join the insurgents. He said it was obvious that the government had not been nearly prepared for the large number of insurgents who had surrendered themselves.
Resident Two said: “We used to see the insurgents coming into the town and we suspected that they had come from the bushes. After they surrendered, the Nigerian troops kept them inside Bama Prison but they kept complaining that they were not getting enough to eat and believed they could starve to death.”
Olatunji Omirin, an expert on public affairs issues, told RNI that the Nigerian government had still not confirmed the exact number of insurgents who had surrendered.
“At first when the government made the call for the insurgents to surrender, it underestimated the number, assuming that about 1,000 to 2,000 would do so. But it is now thought the number is more likely to be close to 70,000 and more insurgents are surrendering every day. The government was just not prepared for this. The high number has proved to be a huge burden for the government and the communities.”
Omirin claimed the government had not made any advanced or adequate preparations to deal with the number of ex-combatants and it was overwhelmed.
He said there had been many insurgents who had surrendered recently in the Bama and Konduga local government areas. “Not even the public is aware of how many insurgents are living with them.”
The Borno State government had been appealing to authorities to help and support internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in Maiduguri, forwarding appeals to the North East Development Commission (NEDC) and other partnerships.
“But now, along with the increase in the number of IDPs, the government also has to deal with all the ex-combatants who keep surrendering. The authorities are overwhelmed and are not coping with the increasing numbers of people they have to feed and look after. They did not anticipate the huge and ever-increasing numbers.”
Omirin said it was time for the Borno State and Federal governments to sit down together to come with an alternative and workable solution. One of the main issues should be to help ordinary people to accept the “repentant” insurgents back into their communities. It was very difficult for communities to have the very people who had wounded, killed and abducted their loved ones living in close proximity and they were rightfully suspicious and lacked trust that the ex-combatants would not go back to their evil ways.
“Both the state and Federal governments should be putting more money into handling the repentant insurgents, who should be under the control of the authorities so that they can be screened and evaluated before they are allowed back into society. Before, when the government first decided to welcome back repentant insurgents, it had said they would have to undergo rehabilitation to ensure it was safe for them to return and be reintegrated into their communities.”
Omirin said because of the misconception about the numbers of surrendered insurgents, authorities were so overwhelmed that they were in no way prepared to deal with so many of them. Both the repentant insurgents and the public needed guidance. They also needed enough food and other amenities so that the surrendered insurgents would not want to return to their former allies.
AISHA SD JAMAL