Two Nigerian boys, photographed against a gray sky. One wears a striped polo with green sun- and flower-printed fabric draped over his shoulders. The other wears a sports jersey and a red hat and carries wood over his head.
On March 24th, approximately 7,000 Boko Haram troops and Islamic State West Africa Province members surrendered in Northeastern Nigeria. Boko Haram was originally centered in Maiduguri, but in 2014, the terrorist group was eventually pushed out of the city by the Civilian Joint Task Force and relocated to the countryside. Despite the moderate slowdown, violence is still common in Nigeria. According to weekly updates from the Council on Foreign Relations’ Boko Haram Security tracker, approximately 18 attacks occurred between March 19th and 25th, 2022, with violence ranging from kidnapping for ransom and murder. Still, the mass surrender may be a sign that the conflict is diminishing.
“This [slowdown] is evident as thousands of the insurgents comprising combatants, non-combatants, foot soldiers alongside their families, continued to lay down their arms in different parts of Borno to accept peace,” Major General Christopher Musa told the News Agency of Nigeria.
The general added that the individuals who surrendered will be profiled by the Nigerian army and other stakeholders before undergoing a de-radicalization rehabilitation process.
Boko Haram was established in Nigeria in 2002 by Mohammed Yusuf as a way to purify the Islamic religion. The United States Institute of Peace defined the terrorist group as “…an Islamic sect that believes politics in Northern Nigeria has been seized by a group of corrupt, false Muslims.” Since the groups’ incipience in 2009, the United Nations estimates that 350,000 civilians, police, and armed forces have been killed.
According to Shola Lawal, a member of the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs (O.C.H.A.), Boko Haram uses two forms of attacks: armed assault and suicide bombing. The group has enacted mass devastation on communities using methods such as raping women, killing men, and kidnapping children. Radical groups also use kidnapping to gain media coverage and pressure the country to agree to high demands, such as ransom money or exchanging girls for detained terrorists. Oftentimes, children who have been kidnapped are forced into suicide bombing practices.
Sadly, the majority of the terrorist attacks’ victims are children. In February 2014, for example, 58 schoolboys were murdered in Buni Yadi while sleeping in their beds. In April of 2014, 274 girls were abducted from their hostels in Chibok. Only 103 of the girls escaped or were freed, and the rest of the girls are still missing. According to the UN Development Programme, children under the age of five make up 324,000 deaths, with 170 children dying daily. According to O.C.H.A., Boko Haram killed or harmed nearly 881 children in 2017 alone.
Overall, 1.4 million children have been displaced, as 1,400 schools have been destroyed and 2,295 teachers have been killed. If children are returned, their families are difficult to locate, since many children conceal their true identities to protect loved ones. Children who are able to reunite with their families are often shunned by neighbours, who fear that these children have pledged allegiance to Boko Haram.
Following its takeover by fellow jihadist group Islamic State West Africa Province (I.S.W.A.P) in 2016, Boko Haram split into two groups, with a fraction of troops pledging allegiance to ISIS or I.S.W.A.P. According to the United States Institute of Peace, the tactics the Nigerian government has employed to handle the splinters have been violent. Humanitarian groups have criticized the Nigerian Army for failing to conduct impartial measures against detainees, saying that no discernment is made between the prisoners who are and are not responsible for war crimes. Their prison conditions are also inhumane. Amnesty International reported that between 2012 and 2014, approximately 7,000 prisoners have died from thirst, disease, torture or medical issues. Individuals detained often do not have access to a lawyer, a formal charge, or time in court. In 2014, the Nigerian Army killed approximately 640 men and boys after they fled the army-run Giwa Barracks detention facility, described as a warzone of terror.
The government military relies heavily on extrajudicial execution. With no recourse beyond death, Boko Haram has no significant reason not to fight.
According to Obi Anyadike from the New Humanitarian, however, Nigeria’s government has created a secret program called the sulhu, working to remove high-ranking jihadists from power by encouraging the senior leaders of armed groups to defect in exchange for clemency and benefits. Defectors are enrolled in a six-month de-radicalization program in the Northeastern Gombe State. After being deemed safe, former leaders are issued a graduation certificate signed by a high court judge. An estimated 150 former jihadists have enrolled in the programme so far.
More openly, state-run rehabilitation programs such as Operation Safe Corridor (O.S.C.) were established in 2015 and are aimed toward tempting fighters to rehabilitate and turn themselves in. The O.S.C. is supposedly aimed at low-risk former combatants; however, reports from the International Crisis Group suggest that as many as 75% of participants are villagers snagged up in military raids.
Individuals in these rehabilitation programmes are not granted complete immunity, but have also not been held accountable for the brutal war crimes they committed. Still, Nigeria and the surrounding countries who have borne the brunt of Boko Haram’s attacks desperately need peace. These countries have suffered great devastation, from kidnapping cases to bombings and murder. Hopefully rehabilitation will help to slow down the terrorist attacks.