March 24and, about 7,000 Boko Haram soldiers and members of the Islamic State West Africa Province have moved into northeast Nigeria. Boko Haram was originally centered in Maiduguri, but in 2014 the terror group was eventually expelled from 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 took place between March 19and and 25and, 2022, with violence ranging from kidnapping for ransom to murder. Still, the mass surrender may be a sign that the conflict is waning.
“This [slowdown] is evident as thousands of insurgents comprising combatants, non-combatants, infantry alongside their families, have continued to lay down their arms in different parts of Borno to accept peace,” said Major General Christopher Musa at the Nigeria News Agency.
The General added that those who surrendered will be profiled by the Nigerian Army and other stakeholders before undergoing a de-radicalization rehabilitation process.
Boko Haram was created in Nigeria in 2002 by Mohammed Yusuf as a way to purify the Islamic religion. The American Institute for Peace defined the terrorist group as “…an Islamic sect which believes that politics in northern Nigeria has been seized by a group of corrupt fake Muslims”. Since the groups began 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 of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Boko Haram uses two forms of attacks: armed attacks and suicide attacks. The group has massively devastated communities using methods such as raping women, murdering men, and kidnapping children. Radical groups also use kidnappings to gain media coverage and pressure the country into accepting high demands, such as ransom money or exchanging girls for detained terrorists. Often children who have been kidnapped are coerced into committing suicide attacks.
Unfortunately, the majority of victims of terrorist attacks are children. In February 2014, for example, 58 school children were murdered in Buni Yadi as they slept in their beds. In April 2014, 274 girls were abducted from their homes in Chibok. Only 103 of the girls escaped or were released, and the other girls are still missing. According to the United Nations Development Programme, children under five account for 324,000 deaths, of which 170 children die every day. According to OCHA, Boko Haram killed or injured nearly 881 children in 2017 alone.
A total of 1.4 million children were displaced, 1,400 schools were destroyed and 2,295 teachers were killed. If children are returned, their families are difficult to locate, as many children hide their true identities to protect loved ones. Children who can be reunited with their families are often shunned by neighbours, who fear that these children have pledged allegiance to Boko Haram.
After its takeover by another jihadist group Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) in 2016, Boko Haram split into two groups, with a fraction of the troops pledging allegiance to the Islamic State or at ISWAP According to the American Institute for Peace, the tactics the Nigerian government has employed to handle the shrapnel have been violent. Humanitarian groups have criticized the Nigerian military for failing to take impartial action against detainees, saying no discernment is made between prisoners who are and are not responsible for war crimes. Their conditions of detention are also inhumane. Amnesty International reported that between 2012 and 2014 around 7,000 prisoners died of thirst, disease, torture or medical problems. Those detained often do not have access to a lawyer, a formal charge or time in court. In 2014, the Nigerian army killed an estimated 640 men and boys after fleeing the military-run Giwa Barracks detention center described as a terror war zone.
The government army relies heavily on extrajudicial executions. Without recourse beyond death, Boko Haram has no valid reason not to fight.
According to Obi Anyadike of the New Humanitarian, however, the Nigerian government has created a secret program called the sulhu, working to drive high-ranking jihadists from power by encouraging senior leaders of armed groups to defect in exchange for leniency and benefits. The defectors are enrolled in a six-month deradicalization program in the northeastern state of Gombe. After being found safe, former leaders receive a certificate of completion signed by a High Court judge. An estimated 150 former jihadists have signed up for the program so far.
More openly, state-run rehabilitation programs such as Operation Safe Corridor (OSC) were created in 2015 and aim to induce combatants to rehabilitate and surrender. OSC is supposed to target low-risk veterans; however, reports from the International Crisis Group suggest that up to 75% of participants are villagers caught up in military raids.
Those participating in these rehabilitation programs do not enjoy full immunity, but neither have they been held accountable for the brutal war crimes they have committed. Yet Nigeria and neighboring countries that have borne the brunt of Boko Haram’s attacks desperately need peace. These countries have suffered great devastation, from kidnappings to bombings and murders. Hopefully the rehabilitation will help slow down terrorist attacks.