The Federal Government recently released hundreds of arrested Boko Haram terrorists.
The move has sparked widespread criticisms nationwide.
However, in this interview with Barrister Jibrin Gunda, the Legal adviser to the Civilian Joint Task Force in Borno State, we learn that some ranking members of the terrorist organization have been executed for considering the FG’s amnesty offer, having been forced into the rebellion.
Qs: What is the philosophy behind the release of the repented Boko haram members in the north east?
Barr. Gunda: I think the issue of deradicalization and the subsequent release of repentant Boko Haram members should be seen from a different perspective. To start with it’s an idea brought by the Federal Government through its “operation safe corridor”.
Through this Operation Safe Corridor, we have been making constant appeals to the rank and files of the terrorists that they should lay down their arms, come forward and be accepted in the community. You know, not everybody in the bush is a terrorist.
Some of them were forcefully conscripted into terrorism. And most of them don’t even have the ideology and they do not subscribe to what the boko haram terrorists are doing even though they are forced to participate. That is the reason why even without the safe corridor, anytime they have opportunity, they do escape and come back. But most of those who want to leave the bush have the inherent fear that they will be killed.
So this operation safe corridor is designed to boost their morale and show them that if they lay down their arms, they can return into society and be accepted. I think this is the basic rational.
Qs: Is it true that deradicalized Boko Haram have been recruited into the Nigerian Army or CJTF?
Gunda: It’s very difficult. None of those who have been deradicalised and released have been allowed to join the Nigerian army. We are in the process of the recruitment so I am better placed to tell you. None of them have ever been offered or given the opportunity to join the Army. They are not even interested in that. All that interests them is to come back into the society and be accepted.
Many people have wrong perception. It is not everybody in the bush that is a terrorist. Not everybody in the bush is a terrorist. Most of them were forcefully taken to the bush and some have been coming out on their own. So once one or two come out and are released and de-radicalized most of them will come out.
Let me give you a clear instance. Two biological sons of Mohammed Yusuf, the original founder of boko haram, wanted to repent, to come and join the society. They have been preaching to their followers that they have been misled. But those hardliners got the information, that is the reason why they were taken out. As I speak to you, there is serious disarray among the ranks of ISWAP and most of the foreign Commanders among them were killed.
All the remnants of their commanders in the lake Chad region are local people now – those who were forced to join the Boko Haram. So this Operation Safe Corridor is giving them confidence. They are willing and ready to join and be useful members of the society. That is why people should accord them this opportunity to come out.
Qs: How many of the repentant members have been de-radicalized so far?
Gunda: I don’t know the exact figure but anytime those in detention are being released, we the leadership of the CJTF are always there to screen and make sure that yes this is from this or that place. After the profiling by the military, the CJTF will go over them, before they are taken to camps where they will be de-radicalized and those who are hardened hardliners are the ones who are taken far away to Gombe to undergo the process. But we have our camps here. Once they are cleared from Giwa barracks, they will be taken there and they will be there for about two three weeks, at times one month. We make sure that they are alright and look for their relations; and we release them to their relations and those relations will be properly documented and from time to time, they are asked to show up.
Qs: But don’t you think those who have been found wanton by the military and faces published everywhere should be prosecuted?
Gunda: Take it from me that of all those whose faces were published by the military to be captured, none of them has ever been taken to de-radicalization camps. It’s true that since the Army released those faces, we have been capturing some of them, but you know, even in the military detention, not every category of detainees are being released just like that. They are first profiled. Some will surely be prosecuted, and would be handed jail terms after the prosecution. Not everybody is being released. For you to be released, there are series of checks which you must undergo with the military and other security agencies. Everyone will be doing their own and finally the CJTF would do the last screening and we do it with proper documentation being the closest to the grassroots. After that, they can only be released to leadership of their respective communities where they come from.
They will be asked to go and come back with their relations – the most senior or the immediate leader of that clan, then they are given some time to report back. They cannot go anywhere without the permission of the community leader who is equally monitoring their progress.
Qs: How do you prevent them from relapsing into their former ways?
Gunda: I told you that even without being captured, most of them are trying to sneak out on their own and they are always praying to be accepted. Even animals in the wild prefer good shelters. Take it from me, most of the actual originators of the Boko Haram are not alive anymore. Most of these people captured are not real Boko Haram and the insurgents know this. Many died in one way or the other, maybe by staying in the bush and being bitten by dangerous reptiles, and there are incidences where they die…like the recent report we heard, where they were trying to fortify their positions with IEDS and these do explode and when it does, it kills a lot of them. They are sometimes the cause of their own predicament but once they are captured, they will be kept in detention. I am not aware of cases of relapse after the completion of the de-radicalization process. This is a program with good intention.
Qs: How do you react to critics who believe that Borno is recycling Boko Haram as a business?
Gunda: It’s not true. Everyone is eager for peace. We all need peace. Look at the way the Governor is performing wonderfully, all with the aim of achieving peace. See the one-day fasting he called for. Everybody, all religions were involved. So nobody will deliberately sabotage peace in the state. Our Governor is a man of peace. I believe everybody should assist to make peace return to the State.
Qs: How will you respond to those who accuse government of releasing their husbands killers?
Gunda: Let me tell you, if somebody should be crying, it should be the Airforce, Navy and the army and those in the security and support services. In the CJTF alone, we have lost over a thousand members. As I speak to you, there are families that have no where to stay. Their kids cannot attend schools. They cannot afford even to pay their rents. Nobody pays CJTF apart from the token the government gives to them. But despite all these, we are still willing and ready to fight on and defend the land. And those who are criticizing, should realize that not everybody who is released is a killer. Even by the law of nature, lets assume it is not terrorism, you cannot just kill a human being and expect to get over it. I am assuring you such a person cannot last. God’s own law of justice will catch up with such a person.
I was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1985 and I have been practicing till date. When we started our practice, the criminality we had as of then, was armed robbery, theft in houses, burglary…even the robbers will tell you that they do warn themselves when going out, “don’t even attempt to kill anybody.” We have interviewed many of them in the prison and they know that once you make that mistake, I am assuring you, give them one two months all of them will be fished out and would be eliminated in one way or the other. That is why I told you that those who started this conflict have been taken care of by nature. Over ninety percent of them are not alive anymore.
Qs: With all this wastage of human lives, can this war end soon?
Gunda: Why not? It’s circumstance that is dealing with the military but I have a hundred percent confidence that this war will soon come to an end. Our security services are putting up their best. So we should be encouraging them all the time and give them words of comfort. We should encourage instead instead of discourage them. Anything that will bring peace is good. Nothing will be ruled out at all because as a Muslim, negotiation, being is the best form of dispute resolution. If negotiation will bring this war to an end so be it.
Qs: Any difference between the CJTF and the Borno youth empowerment scheme BOYES?
When we came on board, no government policy set up the CJTF. We came up on our own to help the society. Nobody was paying civilian JTF as a group then so when we started our operation, I noticed some of our boys in the streets begging and I said this would not augur well for us. I remember I complained to the former governor that at least we should find a way of stopping these boys from begging because it may become a big problem in the future.
This is within us, we pick our boys specifically to be trained and the idea would be that it would be a continuous process. So at the moment, over a thousand eight hundred have been trained in the BOYES programe. They are still part and parcel of the CJTF program. They are not different, they are civilian JTF. The intention of government is to train everyone of them in the scheme to have a revenue generating trade. It is expected that once you are trained, you will be performing your role as CJTF and making extra cash for yourself.
Then along the line, resources became a bit difficult and the program was suspended. Then again, when peace started returning and shop breaking started, we came out with Neighborhood Watch which started about a year ago. In every locality, some boys were picked, and are given a token allowances at the end of the month and their duty is to pay attention to their immediate neighborhood. You are not expected to be seen somewhere because you don’t know that area.
Qs: How do you think the fracas between the military and the government on the closure of the Damaturu-Maduguri road by 5pm can be sorted out sir?
Gunda: This is an issue of understanding and if you see the way the Governor is going about it, all that he is worried about is to ensure that everyone is safe in the state. The issue of security is everyone’s business. All the governor is saying is that we should do all we can to make everyone safe. Look at what happened in Auno. If the people were allowed to even trek across if they cannot take their vehicles, those killed and taken away may not have been there.I see this as an issue in which parties should sit down to solve. i don’t think it is a game blaming matter. We should understand each other. our governor is always disturbed to see that not a single life is lost under his administration. That is very disturbing to him. i don’t think he does not appreciate what the military is doing. That’s far from it. It’s just that he is the Chief Security officer in the State and any opportunity he has is a duty to try and have dialogue with every security organization to make sure that there is peace in the State.