On Thursday last week, a bill that purports to de-radicalize and re-integrate ‘repentant’ Boko Haram terrorists into the society passed its first reading in the Senate. The bill was sponsored by the APC Senator representing Yobe East Senatorial District, Ibrahim Gaidam. According to Gaidam, the proposed agency would provide rehabilitative education and social re-integration for Boko Haram members who renounce terrorism.
For even a casual observer, it is obvious this bill’s agenda is a shoddy imitation of the Umaru Yar’Adua era’s amnesty programme given to Niger Delta militants, and its culmination in the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. While folks are still stunned by Gaidam’s audacity, on Tuesday, he doubled down on his position in a press conference saying his ultimate goal is for Boko Haram members to “enter mainstream politics, religion, and society.”
If Gaidam missed it somewhere, we should quickly point the way to him so he can stop wasting everyone’s time. There is an existing Nigerian agency that is operationally equipped to rehabilitate Boko Haram members. They call it “prison.”
Terrorists, whether repentant or not, should be sent to prison where whatever de-radicalization and rehabilitation they need would be afforded them alongside their jingoistic criminal enablers. Until Boko Haram surrenders or is eventually decimated, there should be no talk about anything beyond recompense to the society they have wronged.
On this spurious bill, we should be asking Gaidam, “How dare you?” How dare you propose a soft landing for terrorists who have deferred Nigeria’s future by at least another 50 years? The unquantifiable magnitude of harm Boko Haram has done to the country will still be unfolding in the decades to come, and it will take a lot of work for Nigeria to ever recover fully. But here we are already, a Senator of the “Federal Republic of Nigeria” demanding a country bludgeoned by terrorists to compensate them further.
There are several problems with Gaidam’s thinking.
Number one is a hangover from our military days, and it is a general Nigerian administrative malaise. We have always had administrations that attempt to solve complex problems in two ways: either issue a ban or throw money at it. We have not trained ourselves in the complex and more sustainable processes of social re-engineering. Creating a bureaucracy to manage terrorists is akin to myopia that drove Minister of Information, Lai Muhammed, to claim that if afforded a $500m, even decrepit NTA will compete with a media conglomerate like CNN.
Gaidam’s number two problem is a more specific malaise, and it is the cultivated attitude of entitlement of northern politicians who have schooled themselves to imagine they have a divine right to the endless appropriation of resources for their many cultural issues. The rest of the country’s urgent need be damned!
What Gaidam proposes is not new. In 2018, Major General (rtd.) Buhari also suggested amnesty—rehabilitation and re-integration—for repentant Boko Haram members. When we speak of “amnesty” in Nigeria, it is, of course, evocative of the resolution of the problem of Niger Delta militancy. Except that when the likes of Buhari and Gaidam dredge up it up as a solution to Boko Haram terrorism too, their relativization of both insurgencies deliberately misses the glaring point. Nigeria does not owe Boko Haram fanatics social justice and rehabilitation the same way it did Niger Delta militant. Unlike the latter too, Boko Haram’s actions are ruled by different imperatives, and that makes talks of amnesty preposterous.
Like Gaidam, Buhari also offered Boko Haram an unsolicited prize, but they are yet to step out to collect it. Two years ago, Lai Muhammed, ever willing to spin a tale, claimed that “unknown to many, we have been in wider cessation-of-hostility talks with the insurgents for some time now.” Yet, the hostilities have not ceased. Does that not suggest that we are dealing with an intractable people? Why bend over backward to appease them?
Buhari and Gaidam’s obtuseness is not because they are unintelligent folks who innocently think of amnesty as a nostrum. No, such offer is an expression of their nurtured notions of entitlement, the years of Nigeria indulging their whims. When Gaidam came up with the idea of an agency for Boko Haram, he was not looking at the long-term implications of such an arrangement. His political astuteness has long been trained to see only the benefits for northern political elites like him, not even for the impoverished masses whose lives have been decimated by those Islamic fundamentalists.
Gaidam’s agency will require appointments where, thanks to a quota system and a nebulous federal character misnomer, he can fill the place with mediocre members of his clan who could not even muster the will to complete secondary school education. Contracts will be awarded to cronies and kickbacks will ensure everyone smiles to the bank. All at the expense of people who generate the bulk of the money Nigeria has to spend.
Just last year, Nigeria created the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, to manage some of the fallouts from the Boko Haram crisis. Gaidam could not have forgotten this so quickly. It is just that in Gaidam’s small mind, no aspiration is higher than to “enter mainstream politics.” That is how they know to thrive. That is how they have been able to plug themselves in places where they can advocate for an endless expansion of bureaucracy for the benefit of their unambitious clan members. Setting up such an agency means a permanent extension of the Boko Haram crisis. If the crisis ever ends, what will Gaidam’s cronies who will run the place be doing for a living afterward?
At some point, we should ask the likes of Gaidam, Buhari, and like-minded fellows on whose side why they belong. Why are they so invested in “settling” Boko Haram members with education and rehabilitation even though those ones have never hidden their disdain for education? Nigerian soldiers are still at the battlefront fighting Boko Haram and making the ultimate sacrifice; the displaced victims of Boko Haram still live in makeshift tents where they are subjected to the caprices of nature elements and human vices, yet the Gaidam wants Boko Haram fighters to “enter mainstream politics.”
There is a high probability that Gaidam and his fellow travellers see themselves in Boko Haram. That probably explains why Buhari once said that an attack on Boko Haram is an attack on the north. Their anxieties about the comfort of the terrorists at all costs show they share a similar sense of entitlement with Boko Haram. When they talk about Boko Haram and its fallout, they do not talk about accountability. They are more invested in the allocation of resources, most of which ends up in their pockets. It was not for nothing that Buhari urged the World Bank to concentrate development efforts on northeast Nigeria. It has always been about “us” at the expense of “them.” It is not for nothing that they set up a rehabilitation mill called “Operation Safe Corridor” that has been rather hasty in pushing so-called reformed terrorists back into the society.
Gaidam talks about re-integrating terrorists but barely spares a thought for their victims. What urgent contribution do these Boko Haram members have to the public that he cannot wait to see them in mainstream politics? This proposal is no longer about ending Boko Haram, but an attitude of privilege to public resources and the frivolous ways political actors come up with to access them.
Finally, Gaidam and his fellow travellers have been displaying various irritating attitudes, and we cannot tell them off loudly enough. In this instance, we should tell Gaidam where he ought to shove his proposed bill and do so without equivocation or political correctness. Nigeria is suffering today because of the problems they created, and they cannot expect us to carry on without them taking some responsibility for the harm they have done. They have to first demonstrate good faith by acting accountable to the rest of Nigeria and committing themselves to massive reforms of their devastated region.