Since 2009, Boko-Haram’s violent activities have ravaged Nigeria’s north-east – primarily Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states – leading to the death of over 30,000 civilians and the forceful recruitment of youths, women, young girls, and school children among other human rights violations.
These events have destroyed affected communities’ social fabrics, traditional institutions and impacted on the regions socio-economic reality. In response in 2016, the Nigerian government launched two initiatives to address the challenges of the victims and perpetrators. The North East Regional Initiatives (PCNI), which became the North East Development Commission (NEDC) in 2019 and the Operation Safe Corridor Programme (OPSC), a key part of its counter-terrorism and peacebuilding strategy.
It was designed to “encourage defection within the ranks of Boko Haram Islamic State of West Africa Province through the corridor of the opportunity offered by the DRR Program as part of the Federal Government of Nigeria’s overall efforts to end the insurgency in the North East’”. OPSC is a joint multi-stakeholder/multi-agency operation that includes Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the state, the Armed Forces of Nigeria and security agencies. Coordination of its activities is provided by the Office of Chief
of Defense Staff (CDS) with technical and some funding support from the non-state actors like the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD). The program was mandated to facilitate the deradicalization, rehabilitation and reintegration (DRR) of repentant ex-combatants. A timely initiative that from inception required the trust, acceptance and participation of local actors including victims, the wider members of affected communities and religious leaders.
In November 2016, CDD supported and facilitated the first Community Dialogue and Strategy Session in Maiduguri, Borno State. This provided the initial opportunity for the state and OPSC to engage with local actors on the approach and their participation in the DRR Program. At this session, the local actors outrightly rejected the intervention, and in some extreme responses mentioned that the ex-combatants should be murdered or moved to North Korea as they are not in any way welcome back in the communities. They first wanted peace to return and for victims to recover from their socio-economic status before DRR of ex-combatants commenced. While the findings and outcome of this initial community dialogue and strategy session were not encouraging, it laid the necessary foundation towards understanding the views, and dynamics of the challenges to be addressed in the design of the DRR program.