Idayat Hassan, Centre for Democracy and Development & Dr. Laura Routley, Newcastle University
This report presents some preliminary findings of the de-radicalization and reintegration program, aimed at Boko Haram ex-combatant undertaken as part of the federal government of Nigeria’s Operation Safe Corridor (OSC). The research looks to explore how these processes of deradicalisation, and rehabilitation are understood to have worked by asking key questions about:
- How staff and clients of the program conceive the de-radicalization programs they are implementing/undertaking? And how successful they have been?
- What kinds of changes staff are looking to achieve and perceive they have achieved in detainees?
- What practices/program/interventions they perceive to be effective in achieving these changes?
- What they see as the constraints on their ability to reform/de-radicalize detainees?
Understanding how this program is supposed to effect change can encourage discussions about improving these processes and ways in which others can learn from the program’s successes and failures. It also provides insights into how the Nigerian government, and the other agencies involved, comprehend processes of deradicalisation and reintegration.
In the process of undertaking the research the focus shifted not only to the camp itself but to the communities that deradicalized ex-fighters were to be reintegrated. As Clubb and Tapley (2018) have highlighted it is reintegration which is both a key measure and driver of the success of these kinds of deradicalization programmes.
The findings of this report are based on interviews and focus groups conducted between July and December 2019 but are shaped by CDD’s long engagement with transitional justice in Northern Nigeria (for example see Hassan and Tyvoll 2018).
Interviews were conducted with thirty-three ex-combatants, seventeen of whom were currently in special holding and sixteen of whom had been reintegrated into their community. These interviews explored their experience of the programme and of reintegration. As well as how they thought their views and behaviours had been reshaped by the programme. Staff involved in the programme were also interviewed with five of interviews being undertaken with staff implementing the programme this included those engaged in the deradicalisation, administration and oversighting of the Initiative at the Advisory Committee level. These explored how they understood the programme to work what changes they were looking for in clients and the conditions and activities they considered would achieve these. Members of thirty communities where ex-combatants have been reintegrated were also interviewed. Through these interviews we aimed to understand further what communities considered to be necessary to consider an ex-combatant as deradicalised / reformed. All the interviews have been anonymised
In addition, six focus groups were conducted with stakeholders including members of Operation Safe Corridor Advisory Committee, community leaders (both religious and traditional) from communities where ex-combatants were being resettled, Civilian Joint Taskforce (CGTF) among others were held across the three most affected states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. These were aimed at understanding more broadly community perceptions of how the deradicalisation process takes place and the effectiveness of reintegration.
The activities of the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Wal-Jihad, popularly known as Boko Haram, have caused an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 deaths and displaced over 2.3 million people since 2009. Between 2009 and 2015, the group took control of extensive territories in north-eastern Nigeria, including the Borno state capital Maiduguri, devastated the lives of millions; and constituted a significant threat to the integrity of the Nigerian state. Boko Haram’s increasing military raids and attacks in territories of Nigeria’s neighbours led to the formation of the joint neighborhood military response force in early 2015: The Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF). Supported by the United States, France, and Britain through the provision of training, advice, and intelligence, the MNJTF came to include the military forces of Chad, Niger, Cameroon, and Benin, in addition to those of Nigeria. Boko Haram lost control of much of its territory from 2015 onwards but despite factionalism that led to a formal split and government declarations of victory, the insurgency continues to kill thousands of people yearly, with about 2,733 people killed in 2019 across the most affected communities in the Northeast, Nigeria. In the last years, the terrorist group has varied its recruitment strategies; most new members have been forcefully conscripted, abducted, or blackmailed into the group. There are also older members who left and even fled their communities when the group made its transformation from dawah (the proselytizing of Islam) to destructive jihad (the spread of Islam by unholy war).
In 2015 Muhammadu Buhari was elected president. In fulfilment of one of his campaign promises, he set up Operation Safe Corridor (OSC) in September 2015. OSC is a custodial program undertaken under a Presidential Directive, with the major aim to deradicalise, rehabilitate and reintegrate repentant ex-combatants into society. Its focus is those who surrendered during the military onslaught, those who were conscripted to the Boko Haram insurgency against their will and those who felt disenchanted with the activities of the leadership of the group.
President Buhari has publicly reiterated his government’s commitment to the scheme on several occasions. In granting amnesty to repentant Boko Haram members in April 2018 he said, “we are ready to rehabilitate and integrate such repentant members into the larger society”.4 With increased military pressure, tightened borders, diminished supply routes, internal division in the group and the desire of forcibly conscripted members to escape, the numbers of Boko Haram fighters surrendering themselves to the military has continued to increase with over 1500 ex-combatants as at December 2019. Since the onset of OSC, a total of 800 ex-combatants have passed through the program.