Nigerian Military personnel working together with civil society and North-East region community members during a session at the dialogue
The Centre for Democracy and Development organized a on day dialogue in Maiduguri, Borno State to provide an interface between the military and non-state actor’s, especially civil society organisations and communities in the North East to effectively engage the Military and put forward their views and opinions on conflict dynamics and Operation Safe Corridor. The military informed participants on what the initiative was and their intention for listening to the views and opinions of community members, particularly those who will reside with the ex-Boko Haram members.
This dialogue became necessary as the conflict in the North East region begins to wane and following the Nigerian military’s commencement of the “Operation Safe Corridor Initiative” meant to rehabilitate and reintegrate repentant Boko Haram members back into their communities. The Operation Safe Corridor will initially be driven by the Nigerian military given how delicate the conflict remains in the region. The military intends to eventually hand over the process to more civilian agencies.
Under the Access Nigeria project, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) is leading a locally-driven dialogue process that brings all relevant stakeholders together to discuss the issues of reintegration for government/military to take into consideration when designing and implementing the Operation Safe Corridor.. The process will involve the repentant Boko Haram members going through a de-radicalisation process that conforms to the highest international standards. They will also be trained to acquire various skills of their choice to empower them and make them productive when eventually they return to their communities.
To ensure the space for citizens and non-military to voice their perspectives on the Operation Safe Corridor initiative, CDD held a one day stakeholders dialogue in Borno on government approaches to managing surrendering violent extremists. Participants at the dialogue included: The Nigerian Military, Civil Joint Task Force, civil society organisations, traditional rulers, government agencies, and academics. The dialogue provided the opportunity for participants and Nigerian Military to effectively dialogue on government approaches to rehabilitating and reintegrating violent extremists.
During opening remarks, facilitators Terfa Hemen and Napoleon Enayaba of the Centre for Democracy and Development called on the participants to actively engage the Chair of the Operation Safe Corridor, Brigadier General Bamidele Shafa, and other members present to directly listen to them.
Brigadier-General MB Shafa emphasized that the ex-Boko Haram members who had given themselves up had earned another opportunity within society in view of their repentance. The programme which is in infancy would involve various government agencies including the Ministry of Health, National Human Rights Commission, National Directorate of Employment, National Youth Service Corp and many others. At the moment there are many international organisations and other countries willing to partner with the government through the Safe Corridor Initiative to enhance its success.
Brigadier-General MB Shafa shared that the reintegration process would run for an initial period of 12 weeks after which an assessment would be done to certify if the individuals are fully de-radicalised or need to go through the process again. There will be a simultaneous training and various skill acquisition programmes to empower the repentant violent extremists members and make them more productive when they eventually return to their communities. Further, he noted that those in rehab will be assessed on regular basis and where they are found to be questionable in their conduct, they will be made to go through the rehab process over again as much time as possible. However, he mentioned that there will be a simultaneous training and various skill acquisition programmes to empower the repentant Boko Haram.
The participants present were all in unison that the initiative was a welcome development and was a necessary intervention in the bid to achieve wholesome peace in the North East region. They were elated that the military—which many are quite critical of—was engaging them and seeking their opinions. The gesture would go a long way to strengthen military-civilian relations and enhance the success of initiative and eventual return of peace in the region.
During the dialogue participants mentioned that poverty, corruption, poor leadership and absence of good governance constitute some of the cause of the conflict. Others factors includes; non-regulation and control of religious preaching, non-cooperation among security forces, the neglect of traditional institutions in affairs of society. The loss of societal values and ethics within, parental care and control of children especially the male were also identified as factors that led to the emergence of the Boko Haram insurgence. According to the participants addressing these issues was the only way that a resurgence of a similar nature can be avoided in the future. Nonetheless, some participants at the dialogue called for caution in the drive to implement Operation Safe Corridor. They noted that the conditions in most of the communities within the northeast regions where most of the repentant Boko Haram members come from were not yet conducive for them to be reintegrated back into the communities: many of the affected people are still grieving from their losses and the memories of the atrocities committed by some of the repentant Boko Haram members were still in the minds of people. According to them more time will be needed for aggrieved residents to heal before ex-Boko Haram members can be brought back into the communities. For some community members, the fact that many Boko Haram victims were still suffering in the Internally Displaced Peoples camps (IDPs) and having to know that the people responsible for their woes were in better conditions has only increased their detest for the repentant Boko Haram members.
It was recommended that the Nigerian government intensify the process of re-building destroyed communities and improve conditions for the IDPs so as to gradually soften their mindsets on the ex-Boko Haram members. The participants also highlighted the need for the government to intensify outreach and education on what the Safe Corridor Initiative entails in more communities. The success of the programme is entirely dependent on the opportunity of community members to enhance their understanding of what it is and the eventual acceptance of the Boko Haram members they intend to reintegrate back into the communities.
Many of the participants found the dialogue very useful and advised government and the CDD to continue the process and sensitization on the Operation Safe Corridor initiative. However, they cautioned that CDD and Operation Safe Corridor should be cautious with the framing of the dialogue especially in sensitive community where communities sees violent extremist as an effort by Muslims to annihilate them. They advised that the well-tailored dialogues should be taken to sensitive communities who are already seeing the conflict as inter-religious warfare. Among other recommendations already highlighted, CDD was asked to conduct a similar dialogue with clerics across the affected states to determine what role they can play both in engaging the people at community level and in bringing the insurgents to the table. A broad stakeholders dialogue was also recommended to determine what roles stakeholders can play in resolving and preventing violent extremism and determine the action plan for the actualization of the roles.