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Time to end criminalisation of minor offences

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Time to end criminalisation of minor offences

PRAWA, short for Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action, has brought to the fore the alarming disproportionate injustice meted to the less privileged and vulnerable in Nigeria by criminalizing minor offences. Dr Uju Agomoh, the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of PRAWA in seeking the collaboration of the media in creating awareness, recently carried the advocacy to Umuahia where she interacted with journalists on the issue of decriminalisation and declassification of petty offences. IGBEAKU ORJi was there and reports…

 

 

The issue of decriminalisation of petty offences should be a matter of serious national concern. The startling revelation by the Abia State Controller of Prisons, Mr Julius Ezeugo, that of the over 1,600 inmates in the state over 1000 are awaiting trial is instructive.

 

He told the Chief Judge if the state, Justice Onuoha Ogwe, during a recent visit that the Prison Service needs assistance from the state government. Stakeholders should interrogate the issue exhaustively. Someone can be dumped in detention for as minor offence as not taking part in environmental sanitation or traffic infraction.

 

Dr. Agomoh spoke passionately about the development that has cast a shadow on the country’s human rights record and called for a change of attitude among the primary stakeholders including the courts, the prisons and the police and other security agencies. The Chief Executive Officer of PRAWA expressed worry over delays in criminal justice administration in the country and decried what she referred to as lack of investigative policing and forensic evidence.

 

She also condemned the practice of depending on mere confessional statements by suspected criminals to detain them in prisons describing it as unjust. She stressed that unnecessary delays in criminal prosecution were partly responsible for prisons congestion.

 

According to her: “There ought to be alternative ways to handle petty offenses instead of sending them to prison as this could be counter productive. Mixing such petty offenders with hardened criminals in prison custody could harden them.” The doctor tasked media practitioners to, as the conscience and watchdog of society, put government on its toes to give adequate attention to the criminal justice system administration. The workshop became apt because of the widespread criminalization and punishment by detention of petty offences in Nigeria.

 

The attitude of our security agencies towards minor offenders is largely reprehensible. The worrisome trend has lead in most cases to arbitrary arrests and detention of especially poor and vulnerable citizens thus encouraging the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Aside the social outrage of detention of minor offenders she also outlined the economic implications on the victims and the government. For instance, some of those arbitrarily arrested are in most cases in their economic engagement.

 

Those arrested for loitering and hawking have their businesses disrupted in the process, thus cutting their contributions to the national economy. Not only that, when such people are detained government is under obligation to feed them, thus spending money that should have been used for development to feed those who have no reason to be in detention. The petty offences include, environmental and traffic offences, hawking, loitering, among others, but most common among the less privileged Nigerians.

 

“In most cases, the affluent and powerful members of society can approach a police station and request the arrest and detention of a particular individual for trumped up charges and the police without proper investigation will simply carry out the instruction.

 

“In our prisons, awaiting trial inmates outnumber the convicts. Besides, the minor offenders are clamped in detention together with hardened and convicted criminals. At the end of the day they come out hardened and ready to do more havoc to the society for treating them unfairly, denying them access to justice and fairness and cutting short their dreams,” she said.

 

Speaking further she said: “It is therefore time for synergy among the stakeholders. The laws are due for a review. The legislators at all levels should take a second look at the laws that criminalise minor offences. The colonial masters that made the laws are no more here and the punishment is on our people. Why is it that you hardly arrest someone for loitering in highbrow and GRAs.

 

“The criminal justice system in Nigeria seem targeted at the weak, poor and vulnerable citizens. There is therefore need for political will, strong partnership and commitment as well as adequate administrative support to protect the vulnerable group. The existing penal codes as is presently the case reinforces the segregation and discrimination against the poor.

 

The situation rather than curb crime tends to increase it.” According to the baseline report Decriminalisation and Declassification of Petty Offences, the average rate of arrest and detention across the project locations for traffic offenders was analysed at 13.2%. “While for prostitution, common nuisance, alms begging and environmental offences, the average detention rates were 25%, 35.6%, 3.6% and 22.6% respectively.”

 

Also speaking, the Public Relations Officer, Nigeria Prisons, Abia State, Mr Ikpe Linus Kalu, corroborated the position of Agomoh saying that feeding Nigeria’s present prisons inmates nationwide three times daily costs the country not less than N33,878,700 as at April, 2019. Kalu added that the prisoners are fed at the rate of N450 per meal. He, however, debunked insinuations in some quarters that prison staff feed fat on the food meant for inmates.

 

The prison Public Relations officer put the present number of prisons inmates nationwide to about 73,786 comprising of 72,286 males and 1,500 females. According to him, the major challenge of prisons in the country is congestion.

 

He, however, added that the situation had started improving since the advent of the present administration. Kalu also disclosed that prisons within Abia State Command has 1,600 inmates comprising 990 in Umuahia , 546 in Aba and 54 in Arochukwu.

 

He said: “Some prison yards had witnessed major facelift since 2016 courtesy of the current administration. 219 escort vehicles have been distributed to prisons for conveying inmates to and from courts while the female cell in Aba Abia State prison had been renovated with the facilities upgraded.” He urged that discharged prisoners should not be stigmatized so as to facilitate their re-integration with the society and thus prevent their return to crime if they are stigmatized as pariahs. The Abia State Police Public Relations Officer, SP, Geoffrey Ogbonna was also there. He explained that the police are guided by the law in carrying out their duties.

 

Notwithstanding there are many cases of unlawful arrest and detention carried out by the police. Recently, a trader in second hand materials was arrested on his way to the Ngwa Road Market in Aba and slammed with the allegation of taking part in the killing of a policeman.

 

He was first taken to a police cell from where he was paraded and then detained without trial. Such human rights’ infractions involving the police abound. Everywhere, the prisons in Nigeria are overcrowded but of greater concern is that most of the inmates are petty offenders and those awaiting trial. Some people have been picked during raids and taken to police cells and subsequently incarcerated on frivolous charges when no one comes for them. Ironically in most cases the relations are not even aware of their whereabouts.

 

Often it is only during jail delivery exercises that state law officers discover that some awaiting trial inmates have spent more years in detention than they would have if they had been convicted. Yet the system is allowed to continue as part of our penal code.

 

Also, other resource persons including, Lois Obinna and Mercedes Alfa, wondered how minor offenses could attract criminal charges. What law for instance, criminalises prostitution, yet sex workers are apprehended, detained and prosecuted. This is at the root of inequality, injustice and unfair treatment of equal citizens in deference to obsolete colonial laws. It is time for review.

 

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Features

Ex-Boko Haram fighters face their hardest battle: Reintegration

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Ex-Boko Haram fighters face their hardest battle: Reintegration

After living with armed group, runaways, including wives and children, struggle for social acceptance in Nigeria.

A ring with a big red glass stone sits on Mohammed Adamu’s middle finger. It is all that is left of the small jewellery business that he tried to set up.

“It reminds me that I need to push much harder to be able to get out of here,” he said.

Adamu, 30, is a former Boko Haram fighter who now lives in a refugee camp.

He claims he was captured by the group and joined in 2014, along with his wife and four children.

“In the beginning, I liked their ideology, everything happening in God’s name,” he said. “But soon, I realised that it was all about killing people. They just murdered without reason. So, I decided to run away.”

They lived with Boko Haram, but one year into their “captivity”, fighters killed his family members, he said.

In 2017, he managed to flee.

But reintegrating back into society has been near impossible.

After leaving, ex-fighters must complete a government-led rehabilitation programme, which lasts up to one year.

At the end, they receive N45,000 (about $125), a sum aimed at helping them kickstart their new life.

When Adamu arrived back in Gwoza, a northeastern town near Cameroon of almost 400,000 people – mostly Muslims, local elders had already decided not to accept back anyone who had lived with Boko Haram.

In an instant, Adamu was an outcast.

He moved into a refugee shelter in Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern state of Borno, living alongside displaced people, many of whom had lost loved ones to Boko Haram attacks.

Former fighters were not welcome guests.

“If I had known that I would be so rejected here, I would have stayed in the bush,” he said.

He used the last of his savings to buy jewellery to trade in the suburbs, but this brought little income.

Now, Adamu sees no way out of the refugee camp.

Boko Haram has been active since 2009. Over the past 10 years, the armed group has killed thousands of people, taken hundreds of young women captive to be fighters’ “wives”, kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls, and forcibly recruited huge numbers of boys and men to join the battlefield.

Speaking to Al Jazeera in Bakassi refugee camp in Maiduguri, Audu Ali said he has been trying to get on his feet for three years, but the stigma weighs heavily.

He claims that he was forced to join Boko Haram after fighters attacked his town in 2014, and that he never killed anyone.

But his neighbours don’t trust him.

Ali lived with Boko Haram for one year, together with his wife and five children, in a town called Naona.

At first, he found the ideology appealing – all the talk about fighting in the name of God.

“But after realising the cruel side of their preaching, I started to doubt the ideology because of the massive killings.”

The longer he stayed, the less he could bear it.

“They kept telling us that the Nigerian army would kill us immediately if they caught us. So, even those of us who thought about running away, stayed hiding in the bush,” he said.

One day, he decided he couldn’t face it any longer – even if that meant risking death and losing his family, who he left behind. He had feared his wife or children may tell someone else about his desire to leave, increasing the likelihood of them all being killed.

When he reached a military post in Gwoza, not far from where he had been living with the armed group, Ali discovered that he would not be killed by Nigerian troops – that the Boko Haram fighters had spun him a tale.

But he soon realised that society would not accept him back either. He often spends his time with former fighters, who, like Adamu, claimed were the only people who understood him.

Today, at 35 and having not heard from his family in three years, Ali has lost hope. His dream of running a convenience store is a distant dream.

According to a government official, who requested anonymity, the state-led rehabilitation programme, launched in 2016, is a successful project.

She explained that earlier this year, the programme started to work closely with local communities, adding that more than 1,000 former Boko Haram fighters have been rehabilitated so far.

But outside the corridors of power, the picture is different.

“Boko Haram killed my husband and father, we cannot simply forgive and forget,” said 20-year-old Laraba Mohammed, who cannot imagine living side by side with former fighters.

After her family members were killed, she joined the Civilian JTF, a militia formed in Maiduguri that fights Boko Haram.

To prepare the ex-fighters for verbal assaults, one of the key lessons of the rehabilitation programme is to keep quiet. Peace education, the government calls it.

“People always talk bad behind my back. I do my best to ignore them,” said Ali.

Adamu said being ostracised was “humiliating”.

“It is painful,” he said.

Dr Anthony Ali Mshelia, Head of the Department of Mental Health at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Maiduguri, treats former fighters and warned that their post-Boko Haram experiences could lead to substance abuse and depression.

“And wherever they go, people will be sceptical if they were really only there in captivity,” he said.

Anyone associated with the group is most often rejected by the community, he said.

The most common problem among his patients is drug abuse, especially tramadol – a narcotic-like pain reliever.

Ex-fighters, IDPs and the unemployed are among the groups who use the drug.

The drug is also allegedly popular within Boko Haram. For some, tramadol numbs a sense of fear, fuelling risk-taking on the battlefield.

Adamu said he was part of Boko Haram’s drug business; his main task was to get drugs to supply his fellow fighters.

Stigma sticks to family members

In addition to former fighters, some ex-wives of Boko Haram members say they are outcast from society and that finding a new husband can be difficult.

Zarah Bunu (not her real name) lives in Bakassi camp in Maiduguri, and spends her time with other women in her predicament.

Originally from Marte, she was already married when she suddenly discovered that her husband had joined the group. They moved into a Boko Haram village – she stayed for a year.

“I tried to run away four times. When they caught me the third time, they brought me to my husband. My husband threatened he would order to kill me immediately, should I even try to escape again. But four days after my son was born, we ran again,” the 20-year-old said.

That time, with her only child in her arms, she got away successfully.

That was two years ago. Since then, she has always been labelled “a wife of Boko Haram,” she said.

She gets particularly upset when people call the children of fighters, including hers, “Boko Haram bastards”.

Because of the heavy stigma, some decide to leave Borno State.

They create fake identities and start over, said Umar Lawal Yusuf, a researcher at the University of Maiduguri.

Adamu has considered this exit plan, but was not yet ready to leave the area that raised him, where he has roots.

He points to a small gold ring that he wears next to the big red one.

“My father gave it to me,” he said. “He wanted me to remember our traditions here in the northeast.”

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Features

Ex-Boko Haram fighters face their hardest battle: Reintegration

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on

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Ex-Boko Haram fighters face their hardest battle: Reintegration

After living with armed group, runaways, including wives and children, struggle for social acceptance in Nigeria.

A ring with a big red glass stone sits on Mohammed Adamu’s middle finger. It is all that is left of the small jewellery business that he tried to set up.

“It reminds me that I need to push much harder to be able to get out of here,” he said.

Adamu, 30, is a former Boko Haram fighter who now lives in a refugee camp.

He claims he was captured by the group and joined in 2014, along with his wife and four children.

“In the beginning, I liked their ideology, everything happening in God’s name,” he said. “But soon, I realised that it was all about killing people. They just murdered without reason. So, I decided to run away.”

They lived with Boko Haram, but one year into their “captivity”, fighters killed his family members, he said.

In 2017, he managed to flee.

But reintegrating back into society has been near impossible.

After leaving, ex-fighters must complete a government-led rehabilitation programme, which lasts up to one year.

At the end, they receive N45,000 (about $125), a sum aimed at helping them kickstart their new life.

When Adamu arrived back in Gwoza, a northeastern town near Cameroon of almost 400,000 people – mostly Muslims, local elders had already decided not to accept back anyone who had lived with Boko Haram.

In an instant, Adamu was an outcast.

He moved into a refugee shelter in Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern state of Borno, living alongside displaced people, many of whom had lost loved ones to Boko Haram attacks.

Former fighters were not welcome guests.

“If I had known that I would be so rejected here, I would have stayed in the bush,” he said.

He used the last of his savings to buy jewellery to trade in the suburbs, but this brought little income.

Now, Adamu sees no way out of the refugee camp.

Boko Haram has been active since 2009. Over the past 10 years, the armed group has killed thousands of people, taken hundreds of young women captive to be fighters’ “wives”, kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls, and forcibly recruited huge numbers of boys and men to join the battlefield.

Speaking to Al Jazeera in Bakassi refugee camp in Maiduguri, Audu Ali said he has been trying to get on his feet for three years, but the stigma weighs heavily.

He claims that he was forced to join Boko Haram after fighters attacked his town in 2014, and that he never killed anyone.

But his neighbours don’t trust him.

Ali lived with Boko Haram for one year, together with his wife and five children, in a town called Naona.

At first, he found the ideology appealing – all the talk about fighting in the name of God.

“But after realising the cruel side of their preaching, I started to doubt the ideology because of the massive killings.”

The longer he stayed, the less he could bear it.

“They kept telling us that the Nigerian army would kill us immediately if they caught us. So, even those of us who thought about running away, stayed hiding in the bush,” he said.

One day, he decided he couldn’t face it any longer – even if that meant risking death and losing his family, who he left behind. He had feared his wife or children may tell someone else about his desire to leave, increasing the likelihood of them all being killed.

When he reached a military post in Gwoza, not far from where he had been living with the armed group, Ali discovered that he would not be killed by Nigerian troops – that the Boko Haram fighters had spun him a tale.

But he soon realised that society would not accept him back either. He often spends his time with former fighters, who, like Adamu, claimed were the only people who understood him.

Today, at 35 and having not heard from his family in three years, Ali has lost hope. His dream of running a convenience store is a distant dream.

According to a government official, who requested anonymity, the state-led rehabilitation programme, launched in 2016, is a successful project.

She explained that earlier this year, the programme started to work closely with local communities, adding that more than 1,000 former Boko Haram fighters have been rehabilitated so far.

But outside the corridors of power, the picture is different.

“Boko Haram killed my husband and father, we cannot simply forgive and forget,” said 20-year-old Laraba Mohammed, who cannot imagine living side by side with former fighters.

After her family members were killed, she joined the Civilian JTF, a militia formed in Maiduguri that fights Boko Haram.

To prepare the ex-fighters for verbal assaults, one of the key lessons of the rehabilitation programme is to keep quiet. Peace education, the government calls it.

“People always talk bad behind my back. I do my best to ignore them,” said Ali.

Adamu said being ostracised was “humiliating”.

“It is painful,” he said.

Dr Anthony Ali Mshelia, Head of the Department of Mental Health at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Maiduguri, treats former fighters and warned that their post-Boko Haram experiences could lead to substance abuse and depression.

“And wherever they go, people will be sceptical if they were really only there in captivity,” he said.

Anyone associated with the group is most often rejected by the community, he said.

The most common problem among his patients is drug abuse, especially tramadol – a narcotic-like pain reliever.

Ex-fighters, IDPs and the unemployed are among the groups who use the drug.

The drug is also allegedly popular within Boko Haram. For some, tramadol numbs a sense of fear, fuelling risk-taking on the battlefield.

Adamu said he was part of Boko Haram’s drug business; his main task was to get drugs to supply his fellow fighters.

Stigma sticks to family members

In addition to former fighters, some ex-wives of Boko Haram members say they are outcast from society and that finding a new husband can be difficult.

Zarah Bunu (not her real name) lives in Bakassi camp in Maiduguri, and spends her time with other women in her predicament.

Originally from Marte, she was already married when she suddenly discovered that her husband had joined the group. They moved into a Boko Haram village – she stayed for a year.

“I tried to run away four times. When they caught me the third time, they brought me to my husband. My husband threatened he would order to kill me immediately, should I even try to escape again. But four days after my son was born, we ran again,” the 20-year-old said.

That time, with her only child in her arms, she got away successfully.

That was two years ago. Since then, she has always been labelled “a wife of Boko Haram,” she said.

She gets particularly upset when people call the children of fighters, including hers, “Boko Haram bastards”.

Because of the heavy stigma, some decide to leave Borno State.

They create fake identities and start over, said Umar Lawal Yusuf, a researcher at the University of Maiduguri.

Adamu has considered this exit plan, but was not yet ready to leave the area that raised him, where he has roots.

He points to a small gold ring that he wears next to the big red one.

“My father gave it to me,” he said. “He wanted me to remember our traditions here in the northeast.”

Continue Reading

Features

Ex-Boko Haram fighters face their hardest battle: Reintegration

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on

By

Ex-Boko Haram fighters face their hardest battle: Reintegration

After living with armed group, runaways, including wives and children, struggle for social acceptance in Nigeria.

A ring with a big red glass stone sits on Mohammed Adamu’s middle finger. It is all that is left of the small jewellery business that he tried to set up.

“It reminds me that I need to push much harder to be able to get out of here,” he said.

Adamu, 30, is a former Boko Haram fighter who now lives in a refugee camp.

He claims he was captured by the group and joined in 2014, along with his wife and four children.

“In the beginning, I liked their ideology, everything happening in God’s name,” he said. “But soon, I realised that it was all about killing people. They just murdered without reason. So, I decided to run away.”

They lived with Boko Haram, but one year into their “captivity”, fighters killed his family members, he said.

In 2017, he managed to flee.

But reintegrating back into society has been near impossible.

After leaving, ex-fighters must complete a government-led rehabilitation programme, which lasts up to one year.

At the end, they receive N45,000 (about $125), a sum aimed at helping them kickstart their new life.

When Adamu arrived back in Gwoza, a northeastern town near Cameroon of almost 400,000 people – mostly Muslims, local elders had already decided not to accept back anyone who had lived with Boko Haram.

In an instant, Adamu was an outcast.

He moved into a refugee shelter in Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern state of Borno, living alongside displaced people, many of whom had lost loved ones to Boko Haram attacks.

Former fighters were not welcome guests.

“If I had known that I would be so rejected here, I would have stayed in the bush,” he said.

He used the last of his savings to buy jewellery to trade in the suburbs, but this brought little income.

Now, Adamu sees no way out of the refugee camp.

Boko Haram has been active since 2009. Over the past 10 years, the armed group has killed thousands of people, taken hundreds of young women captive to be fighters’ “wives”, kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls, and forcibly recruited huge numbers of boys and men to join the battlefield.

Speaking to Al Jazeera in Bakassi refugee camp in Maiduguri, Audu Ali said he has been trying to get on his feet for three years, but the stigma weighs heavily.

He claims that he was forced to join Boko Haram after fighters attacked his town in 2014, and that he never killed anyone.

But his neighbours don’t trust him.

Ali lived with Boko Haram for one year, together with his wife and five children, in a town called Naona.

At first, he found the ideology appealing – all the talk about fighting in the name of God.

“But after realising the cruel side of their preaching, I started to doubt the ideology because of the massive killings.”

The longer he stayed, the less he could bear it.

“They kept telling us that the Nigerian army would kill us immediately if they caught us. So, even those of us who thought about running away, stayed hiding in the bush,” he said.

One day, he decided he couldn’t face it any longer – even if that meant risking death and losing his family, who he left behind. He had feared his wife or children may tell someone else about his desire to leave, increasing the likelihood of them all being killed.

When he reached a military post in Gwoza, not far from where he had been living with the armed group, Ali discovered that he would not be killed by Nigerian troops – that the Boko Haram fighters had spun him a tale.

But he soon realised that society would not accept him back either. He often spends his time with former fighters, who, like Adamu, claimed were the only people who understood him.

Today, at 35 and having not heard from his family in three years, Ali has lost hope. His dream of running a convenience store is a distant dream.

According to a government official, who requested anonymity, the state-led rehabilitation programme, launched in 2016, is a successful project.

She explained that earlier this year, the programme started to work closely with local communities, adding that more than 1,000 former Boko Haram fighters have been rehabilitated so far.

But outside the corridors of power, the picture is different.

“Boko Haram killed my husband and father, we cannot simply forgive and forget,” said 20-year-old Laraba Mohammed, who cannot imagine living side by side with former fighters.

After her family members were killed, she joined the Civilian JTF, a militia formed in Maiduguri that fights Boko Haram.

To prepare the ex-fighters for verbal assaults, one of the key lessons of the rehabilitation programme is to keep quiet. Peace education, the government calls it.

“People always talk bad behind my back. I do my best to ignore them,” said Ali.

Adamu said being ostracised was “humiliating”.

“It is painful,” he said.

Dr Anthony Ali Mshelia, Head of the Department of Mental Health at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Maiduguri, treats former fighters and warned that their post-Boko Haram experiences could lead to substance abuse and depression.

“And wherever they go, people will be sceptical if they were really only there in captivity,” he said.

Anyone associated with the group is most often rejected by the community, he said.

The most common problem among his patients is drug abuse, especially tramadol – a narcotic-like pain reliever.

Ex-fighters, IDPs and the unemployed are among the groups who use the drug.

The drug is also allegedly popular within Boko Haram. For some, tramadol numbs a sense of fear, fuelling risk-taking on the battlefield.

Adamu said he was part of Boko Haram’s drug business; his main task was to get drugs to supply his fellow fighters.

Stigma sticks to family members

In addition to former fighters, some ex-wives of Boko Haram members say they are outcast from society and that finding a new husband can be difficult.

Zarah Bunu (not her real name) lives in Bakassi camp in Maiduguri, and spends her time with other women in her predicament.

Originally from Marte, she was already married when she suddenly discovered that her husband had joined the group. They moved into a Boko Haram village – she stayed for a year.

“I tried to run away four times. When they caught me the third time, they brought me to my husband. My husband threatened he would order to kill me immediately, should I even try to escape again. But four days after my son was born, we ran again,” the 20-year-old said.

That time, with her only child in her arms, she got away successfully.

That was two years ago. Since then, she has always been labelled “a wife of Boko Haram,” she said.

She gets particularly upset when people call the children of fighters, including hers, “Boko Haram bastards”.

Because of the heavy stigma, some decide to leave Borno State.

They create fake identities and start over, said Umar Lawal Yusuf, a researcher at the University of Maiduguri.

Adamu has considered this exit plan, but was not yet ready to leave the area that raised him, where he has roots.

He points to a small gold ring that he wears next to the big red one.

“My father gave it to me,” he said. “He wanted me to remember our traditions here in the northeast.”

Continue Reading

Features

Ex-Boko Haram fighters face their hardest battle: Reintegration

Published

on

By

Ex-Boko Haram fighters face their hardest battle: Reintegration

After living with armed group, runaways, including wives and children, struggle for social acceptance in Nigeria.

A ring with a big red glass stone sits on Mohammed Adamu’s middle finger. It is all that is left of the small jewellery business that he tried to set up.

“It reminds me that I need to push much harder to be able to get out of here,” he said.

Adamu, 30, is a former Boko Haram fighter who now lives in a refugee camp.

He claims he was captured by the group and joined in 2014, along with his wife and four children.

“In the beginning, I liked their ideology, everything happening in God’s name,” he said. “But soon, I realised that it was all about killing people. They just murdered without reason. So, I decided to run away.”

They lived with Boko Haram, but one year into their “captivity”, fighters killed his family members, he said.

In 2017, he managed to flee.

But reintegrating back into society has been near impossible.

After leaving, ex-fighters must complete a government-led rehabilitation programme, which lasts up to one year.

At the end, they receive N45,000 (about $125), a sum aimed at helping them kickstart their new life.

When Adamu arrived back in Gwoza, a northeastern town near Cameroon of almost 400,000 people – mostly Muslims, local elders had already decided not to accept back anyone who had lived with Boko Haram.

In an instant, Adamu was an outcast.

He moved into a refugee shelter in Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern state of Borno, living alongside displaced people, many of whom had lost loved ones to Boko Haram attacks.

Former fighters were not welcome guests.

“If I had known that I would be so rejected here, I would have stayed in the bush,” he said.

He used the last of his savings to buy jewellery to trade in the suburbs, but this brought little income.

Now, Adamu sees no way out of the refugee camp.

Boko Haram has been active since 2009. Over the past 10 years, the armed group has killed thousands of people, taken hundreds of young women captive to be fighters’ “wives”, kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls, and forcibly recruited huge numbers of boys and men to join the battlefield.

Speaking to Al Jazeera in Bakassi refugee camp in Maiduguri, Audu Ali said he has been trying to get on his feet for three years, but the stigma weighs heavily.

He claims that he was forced to join Boko Haram after fighters attacked his town in 2014, and that he never killed anyone.

But his neighbours don’t trust him.

Ali lived with Boko Haram for one year, together with his wife and five children, in a town called Naona.

At first, he found the ideology appealing – all the talk about fighting in the name of God.

“But after realising the cruel side of their preaching, I started to doubt the ideology because of the massive killings.”

The longer he stayed, the less he could bear it.

“They kept telling us that the Nigerian army would kill us immediately if they caught us. So, even those of us who thought about running away, stayed hiding in the bush,” he said.

One day, he decided he couldn’t face it any longer – even if that meant risking death and losing his family, who he left behind. He had feared his wife or children may tell someone else about his desire to leave, increasing the likelihood of them all being killed.

When he reached a military post in Gwoza, not far from where he had been living with the armed group, Ali discovered that he would not be killed by Nigerian troops – that the Boko Haram fighters had spun him a tale.

But he soon realised that society would not accept him back either. He often spends his time with former fighters, who, like Adamu, claimed were the only people who understood him.

Today, at 35 and having not heard from his family in three years, Ali has lost hope. His dream of running a convenience store is a distant dream.

According to a government official, who requested anonymity, the state-led rehabilitation programme, launched in 2016, is a successful project.

She explained that earlier this year, the programme started to work closely with local communities, adding that more than 1,000 former Boko Haram fighters have been rehabilitated so far.

But outside the corridors of power, the picture is different.

“Boko Haram killed my husband and father, we cannot simply forgive and forget,” said 20-year-old Laraba Mohammed, who cannot imagine living side by side with former fighters.

After her family members were killed, she joined the Civilian JTF, a militia formed in Maiduguri that fights Boko Haram.

To prepare the ex-fighters for verbal assaults, one of the key lessons of the rehabilitation programme is to keep quiet. Peace education, the government calls it.

“People always talk bad behind my back. I do my best to ignore them,” said Ali.

Adamu said being ostracised was “humiliating”.

“It is painful,” he said.

Dr Anthony Ali Mshelia, Head of the Department of Mental Health at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Maiduguri, treats former fighters and warned that their post-Boko Haram experiences could lead to substance abuse and depression.

“And wherever they go, people will be sceptical if they were really only there in captivity,” he said.

Anyone associated with the group is most often rejected by the community, he said.

The most common problem among his patients is drug abuse, especially tramadol – a narcotic-like pain reliever.

Ex-fighters, IDPs and the unemployed are among the groups who use the drug.

The drug is also allegedly popular within Boko Haram. For some, tramadol numbs a sense of fear, fuelling risk-taking on the battlefield.

Adamu said he was part of Boko Haram’s drug business; his main task was to get drugs to supply his fellow fighters.

Stigma sticks to family members

In addition to former fighters, some ex-wives of Boko Haram members say they are outcast from society and that finding a new husband can be difficult.

Zarah Bunu (not her real name) lives in Bakassi camp in Maiduguri, and spends her time with other women in her predicament.

Originally from Marte, she was already married when she suddenly discovered that her husband had joined the group. They moved into a Boko Haram village – she stayed for a year.

“I tried to run away four times. When they caught me the third time, they brought me to my husband. My husband threatened he would order to kill me immediately, should I even try to escape again. But four days after my son was born, we ran again,” the 20-year-old said.

That time, with her only child in her arms, she got away successfully.

That was two years ago. Since then, she has always been labelled “a wife of Boko Haram,” she said.

She gets particularly upset when people call the children of fighters, including hers, “Boko Haram bastards”.

Because of the heavy stigma, some decide to leave Borno State.

They create fake identities and start over, said Umar Lawal Yusuf, a researcher at the University of Maiduguri.

Adamu has considered this exit plan, but was not yet ready to leave the area that raised him, where he has roots.

He points to a small gold ring that he wears next to the big red one.

“My father gave it to me,” he said. “He wanted me to remember our traditions here in the northeast.”

Continue Reading

Features

Ex-Boko Haram fighters face their hardest battle: Reintegration

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on

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Ex-Boko Haram fighters face their hardest battle: Reintegration

After living with armed group, runaways, including wives and children, struggle for social acceptance in Nigeria.

A ring with a big red glass stone sits on Mohammed Adamu’s middle finger. It is all that is left of the small jewellery business that he tried to set up.

“It reminds me that I need to push much harder to be able to get out of here,” he said.

Adamu, 30, is a former Boko Haram fighter who now lives in a refugee camp.

He claims he was captured by the group and joined in 2014, along with his wife and four children.

“In the beginning, I liked their ideology, everything happening in God’s name,” he said. “But soon, I realised that it was all about killing people. They just murdered without reason. So, I decided to run away.”

They lived with Boko Haram, but one year into their “captivity”, fighters killed his family members, he said.

In 2017, he managed to flee.

But reintegrating back into society has been near impossible.

After leaving, ex-fighters must complete a government-led rehabilitation programme, which lasts up to one year.

At the end, they receive N45,000 (about $125), a sum aimed at helping them kickstart their new life.

When Adamu arrived back in Gwoza, a northeastern town near Cameroon of almost 400,000 people – mostly Muslims, local elders had already decided not to accept back anyone who had lived with Boko Haram.

In an instant, Adamu was an outcast.

He moved into a refugee shelter in Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern state of Borno, living alongside displaced people, many of whom had lost loved ones to Boko Haram attacks.

Former fighters were not welcome guests.

“If I had known that I would be so rejected here, I would have stayed in the bush,” he said.

He used the last of his savings to buy jewellery to trade in the suburbs, but this brought little income.

Now, Adamu sees no way out of the refugee camp.

Boko Haram has been active since 2009. Over the past 10 years, the armed group has killed thousands of people, taken hundreds of young women captive to be fighters’ “wives”, kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls, and forcibly recruited huge numbers of boys and men to join the battlefield.

Speaking to Al Jazeera in Bakassi refugee camp in Maiduguri, Audu Ali said he has been trying to get on his feet for three years, but the stigma weighs heavily.

He claims that he was forced to join Boko Haram after fighters attacked his town in 2014, and that he never killed anyone.

But his neighbours don’t trust him.

Ali lived with Boko Haram for one year, together with his wife and five children, in a town called Naona.

At first, he found the ideology appealing – all the talk about fighting in the name of God.

“But after realising the cruel side of their preaching, I started to doubt the ideology because of the massive killings.”

The longer he stayed, the less he could bear it.

“They kept telling us that the Nigerian army would kill us immediately if they caught us. So, even those of us who thought about running away, stayed hiding in the bush,” he said.

One day, he decided he couldn’t face it any longer – even if that meant risking death and losing his family, who he left behind. He had feared his wife or children may tell someone else about his desire to leave, increasing the likelihood of them all being killed.

When he reached a military post in Gwoza, not far from where he had been living with the armed group, Ali discovered that he would not be killed by Nigerian troops – that the Boko Haram fighters had spun him a tale.

But he soon realised that society would not accept him back either. He often spends his time with former fighters, who, like Adamu, claimed were the only people who understood him.

Today, at 35 and having not heard from his family in three years, Ali has lost hope. His dream of running a convenience store is a distant dream.

According to a government official, who requested anonymity, the state-led rehabilitation programme, launched in 2016, is a successful project.

She explained that earlier this year, the programme started to work closely with local communities, adding that more than 1,000 former Boko Haram fighters have been rehabilitated so far.

But outside the corridors of power, the picture is different.

“Boko Haram killed my husband and father, we cannot simply forgive and forget,” said 20-year-old Laraba Mohammed, who cannot imagine living side by side with former fighters.

After her family members were killed, she joined the Civilian JTF, a militia formed in Maiduguri that fights Boko Haram.

To prepare the ex-fighters for verbal assaults, one of the key lessons of the rehabilitation programme is to keep quiet. Peace education, the government calls it.

“People always talk bad behind my back. I do my best to ignore them,” said Ali.

Adamu said being ostracised was “humiliating”.

“It is painful,” he said.

Dr Anthony Ali Mshelia, Head of the Department of Mental Health at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Maiduguri, treats former fighters and warned that their post-Boko Haram experiences could lead to substance abuse and depression.

“And wherever they go, people will be sceptical if they were really only there in captivity,” he said.

Anyone associated with the group is most often rejected by the community, he said.

The most common problem among his patients is drug abuse, especially tramadol – a narcotic-like pain reliever.

Ex-fighters, IDPs and the unemployed are among the groups who use the drug.

The drug is also allegedly popular within Boko Haram. For some, tramadol numbs a sense of fear, fuelling risk-taking on the battlefield.

Adamu said he was part of Boko Haram’s drug business; his main task was to get drugs to supply his fellow fighters.

Stigma sticks to family members

In addition to former fighters, some ex-wives of Boko Haram members say they are outcast from society and that finding a new husband can be difficult.

Zarah Bunu (not her real name) lives in Bakassi camp in Maiduguri, and spends her time with other women in her predicament.

Originally from Marte, she was already married when she suddenly discovered that her husband had joined the group. They moved into a Boko Haram village – she stayed for a year.

“I tried to run away four times. When they caught me the third time, they brought me to my husband. My husband threatened he would order to kill me immediately, should I even try to escape again. But four days after my son was born, we ran again,” the 20-year-old said.

That time, with her only child in her arms, she got away successfully.

That was two years ago. Since then, she has always been labelled “a wife of Boko Haram,” she said.

She gets particularly upset when people call the children of fighters, including hers, “Boko Haram bastards”.

Because of the heavy stigma, some decide to leave Borno State.

They create fake identities and start over, said Umar Lawal Yusuf, a researcher at the University of Maiduguri.

Adamu has considered this exit plan, but was not yet ready to leave the area that raised him, where he has roots.

He points to a small gold ring that he wears next to the big red one.

“My father gave it to me,” he said. “He wanted me to remember our traditions here in the northeast.”

Continue Reading

Features

Ex-Boko Haram fighters face their hardest battle: Reintegration

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on

By

Ex-Boko Haram fighters face their hardest battle: Reintegration

After living with armed group, runaways, including wives and children, struggle for social acceptance in Nigeria.

A ring with a big red glass stone sits on Mohammed Adamu’s middle finger. It is all that is left of the small jewellery business that he tried to set up.

“It reminds me that I need to push much harder to be able to get out of here,” he said.

Adamu, 30, is a former Boko Haram fighter who now lives in a refugee camp.

He claims he was captured by the group and joined in 2014, along with his wife and four children.

“In the beginning, I liked their ideology, everything happening in God’s name,” he said. “But soon, I realised that it was all about killing people. They just murdered without reason. So, I decided to run away.”

They lived with Boko Haram, but one year into their “captivity”, fighters killed his family members, he said.

In 2017, he managed to flee.

But reintegrating back into society has been near impossible.

After leaving, ex-fighters must complete a government-led rehabilitation programme, which lasts up to one year.

At the end, they receive N45,000 (about $125), a sum aimed at helping them kickstart their new life.

When Adamu arrived back in Gwoza, a northeastern town near Cameroon of almost 400,000 people – mostly Muslims, local elders had already decided not to accept back anyone who had lived with Boko Haram.

In an instant, Adamu was an outcast.

He moved into a refugee shelter in Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern state of Borno, living alongside displaced people, many of whom had lost loved ones to Boko Haram attacks.

Former fighters were not welcome guests.

“If I had known that I would be so rejected here, I would have stayed in the bush,” he said.

He used the last of his savings to buy jewellery to trade in the suburbs, but this brought little income.

Now, Adamu sees no way out of the refugee camp.

Boko Haram has been active since 2009. Over the past 10 years, the armed group has killed thousands of people, taken hundreds of young women captive to be fighters’ “wives”, kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls, and forcibly recruited huge numbers of boys and men to join the battlefield.

Speaking to Al Jazeera in Bakassi refugee camp in Maiduguri, Audu Ali said he has been trying to get on his feet for three years, but the stigma weighs heavily.

He claims that he was forced to join Boko Haram after fighters attacked his town in 2014, and that he never killed anyone.

But his neighbours don’t trust him.

Ali lived with Boko Haram for one year, together with his wife and five children, in a town called Naona.

At first, he found the ideology appealing – all the talk about fighting in the name of God.

“But after realising the cruel side of their preaching, I started to doubt the ideology because of the massive killings.”

The longer he stayed, the less he could bear it.

“They kept telling us that the Nigerian army would kill us immediately if they caught us. So, even those of us who thought about running away, stayed hiding in the bush,” he said.

One day, he decided he couldn’t face it any longer – even if that meant risking death and losing his family, who he left behind. He had feared his wife or children may tell someone else about his desire to leave, increasing the likelihood of them all being killed.

When he reached a military post in Gwoza, not far from where he had been living with the armed group, Ali discovered that he would not be killed by Nigerian troops – that the Boko Haram fighters had spun him a tale.

But he soon realised that society would not accept him back either. He often spends his time with former fighters, who, like Adamu, claimed were the only people who understood him.

Today, at 35 and having not heard from his family in three years, Ali has lost hope. His dream of running a convenience store is a distant dream.

According to a government official, who requested anonymity, the state-led rehabilitation programme, launched in 2016, is a successful project.

She explained that earlier this year, the programme started to work closely with local communities, adding that more than 1,000 former Boko Haram fighters have been rehabilitated so far.

But outside the corridors of power, the picture is different.

“Boko Haram killed my husband and father, we cannot simply forgive and forget,” said 20-year-old Laraba Mohammed, who cannot imagine living side by side with former fighters.

After her family members were killed, she joined the Civilian JTF, a militia formed in Maiduguri that fights Boko Haram.

To prepare the ex-fighters for verbal assaults, one of the key lessons of the rehabilitation programme is to keep quiet. Peace education, the government calls it.

“People always talk bad behind my back. I do my best to ignore them,” said Ali.

Adamu said being ostracised was “humiliating”.

“It is painful,” he said.

Dr Anthony Ali Mshelia, Head of the Department of Mental Health at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Maiduguri, treats former fighters and warned that their post-Boko Haram experiences could lead to substance abuse and depression.

“And wherever they go, people will be sceptical if they were really only there in captivity,” he said.

Anyone associated with the group is most often rejected by the community, he said.

The most common problem among his patients is drug abuse, especially tramadol – a narcotic-like pain reliever.

Ex-fighters, IDPs and the unemployed are among the groups who use the drug.

The drug is also allegedly popular within Boko Haram. For some, tramadol numbs a sense of fear, fuelling risk-taking on the battlefield.

Adamu said he was part of Boko Haram’s drug business; his main task was to get drugs to supply his fellow fighters.

Stigma sticks to family members

In addition to former fighters, some ex-wives of Boko Haram members say they are outcast from society and that finding a new husband can be difficult.

Zarah Bunu (not her real name) lives in Bakassi camp in Maiduguri, and spends her time with other women in her predicament.

Originally from Marte, she was already married when she suddenly discovered that her husband had joined the group. They moved into a Boko Haram village – she stayed for a year.

“I tried to run away four times. When they caught me the third time, they brought me to my husband. My husband threatened he would order to kill me immediately, should I even try to escape again. But four days after my son was born, we ran again,” the 20-year-old said.

That time, with her only child in her arms, she got away successfully.

That was two years ago. Since then, she has always been labelled “a wife of Boko Haram,” she said.

She gets particularly upset when people call the children of fighters, including hers, “Boko Haram bastards”.

Because of the heavy stigma, some decide to leave Borno State.

They create fake identities and start over, said Umar Lawal Yusuf, a researcher at the University of Maiduguri.

Adamu has considered this exit plan, but was not yet ready to leave the area that raised him, where he has roots.

He points to a small gold ring that he wears next to the big red one.

“My father gave it to me,” he said. “He wanted me to remember our traditions here in the northeast.”

Continue Reading

Features

Ex-Boko Haram fighters face their hardest battle: Reintegration

Published

on

By

Ex-Boko Haram fighters face their hardest battle: Reintegration

After living with armed group, runaways, including wives and children, struggle for social acceptance in Nigeria.

A ring with a big red glass stone sits on Mohammed Adamu’s middle finger. It is all that is left of the small jewellery business that he tried to set up.

“It reminds me that I need to push much harder to be able to get out of here,” he said.

Adamu, 30, is a former Boko Haram fighter who now lives in a refugee camp.

He claims he was captured by the group and joined in 2014, along with his wife and four children.

“In the beginning, I liked their ideology, everything happening in God’s name,” he said. “But soon, I realised that it was all about killing people. They just murdered without reason. So, I decided to run away.”

They lived with Boko Haram, but one year into their “captivity”, fighters killed his family members, he said.

In 2017, he managed to flee.

But reintegrating back into society has been near impossible.

After leaving, ex-fighters must complete a government-led rehabilitation programme, which lasts up to one year.

At the end, they receive N45,000 (about $125), a sum aimed at helping them kickstart their new life.

When Adamu arrived back in Gwoza, a northeastern town near Cameroon of almost 400,000 people – mostly Muslims, local elders had already decided not to accept back anyone who had lived with Boko Haram.

In an instant, Adamu was an outcast.

He moved into a refugee shelter in Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern state of Borno, living alongside displaced people, many of whom had lost loved ones to Boko Haram attacks.

Former fighters were not welcome guests.

“If I had known that I would be so rejected here, I would have stayed in the bush,” he said.

He used the last of his savings to buy jewellery to trade in the suburbs, but this brought little income.

Now, Adamu sees no way out of the refugee camp.

Boko Haram has been active since 2009. Over the past 10 years, the armed group has killed thousands of people, taken hundreds of young women captive to be fighters’ “wives”, kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls, and forcibly recruited huge numbers of boys and men to join the battlefield.

Speaking to Al Jazeera in Bakassi refugee camp in Maiduguri, Audu Ali said he has been trying to get on his feet for three years, but the stigma weighs heavily.

He claims that he was forced to join Boko Haram after fighters attacked his town in 2014, and that he never killed anyone.

But his neighbours don’t trust him.

Ali lived with Boko Haram for one year, together with his wife and five children, in a town called Naona.

At first, he found the ideology appealing – all the talk about fighting in the name of God.

“But after realising the cruel side of their preaching, I started to doubt the ideology because of the massive killings.”

The longer he stayed, the less he could bear it.

“They kept telling us that the Nigerian army would kill us immediately if they caught us. So, even those of us who thought about running away, stayed hiding in the bush,” he said.

One day, he decided he couldn’t face it any longer – even if that meant risking death and losing his family, who he left behind. He had feared his wife or children may tell someone else about his desire to leave, increasing the likelihood of them all being killed.

When he reached a military post in Gwoza, not far from where he had been living with the armed group, Ali discovered that he would not be killed by Nigerian troops – that the Boko Haram fighters had spun him a tale.

But he soon realised that society would not accept him back either. He often spends his time with former fighters, who, like Adamu, claimed were the only people who understood him.

Today, at 35 and having not heard from his family in three years, Ali has lost hope. His dream of running a convenience store is a distant dream.

According to a government official, who requested anonymity, the state-led rehabilitation programme, launched in 2016, is a successful project.

She explained that earlier this year, the programme started to work closely with local communities, adding that more than 1,000 former Boko Haram fighters have been rehabilitated so far.

But outside the corridors of power, the picture is different.

“Boko Haram killed my husband and father, we cannot simply forgive and forget,” said 20-year-old Laraba Mohammed, who cannot imagine living side by side with former fighters.

After her family members were killed, she joined the Civilian JTF, a militia formed in Maiduguri that fights Boko Haram.

To prepare the ex-fighters for verbal assaults, one of the key lessons of the rehabilitation programme is to keep quiet. Peace education, the government calls it.

“People always talk bad behind my back. I do my best to ignore them,” said Ali.

Adamu said being ostracised was “humiliating”.

“It is painful,” he said.

Dr Anthony Ali Mshelia, Head of the Department of Mental Health at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Maiduguri, treats former fighters and warned that their post-Boko Haram experiences could lead to substance abuse and depression.

“And wherever they go, people will be sceptical if they were really only there in captivity,” he said.

Anyone associated with the group is most often rejected by the community, he said.

The most common problem among his patients is drug abuse, especially tramadol – a narcotic-like pain reliever.

Ex-fighters, IDPs and the unemployed are among the groups who use the drug.

The drug is also allegedly popular within Boko Haram. For some, tramadol numbs a sense of fear, fuelling risk-taking on the battlefield.

Adamu said he was part of Boko Haram’s drug business; his main task was to get drugs to supply his fellow fighters.

Stigma sticks to family members

In addition to former fighters, some ex-wives of Boko Haram members say they are outcast from society and that finding a new husband can be difficult.

Zarah Bunu (not her real name) lives in Bakassi camp in Maiduguri, and spends her time with other women in her predicament.

Originally from Marte, she was already married when she suddenly discovered that her husband had joined the group. They moved into a Boko Haram village – she stayed for a year.

“I tried to run away four times. When they caught me the third time, they brought me to my husband. My husband threatened he would order to kill me immediately, should I even try to escape again. But four days after my son was born, we ran again,” the 20-year-old said.

That time, with her only child in her arms, she got away successfully.

That was two years ago. Since then, she has always been labelled “a wife of Boko Haram,” she said.

She gets particularly upset when people call the children of fighters, including hers, “Boko Haram bastards”.

Because of the heavy stigma, some decide to leave Borno State.

They create fake identities and start over, said Umar Lawal Yusuf, a researcher at the University of Maiduguri.

Adamu has considered this exit plan, but was not yet ready to leave the area that raised him, where he has roots.

He points to a small gold ring that he wears next to the big red one.

“My father gave it to me,” he said. “He wanted me to remember our traditions here in the northeast.”

Continue Reading

Features

Ex-Boko Haram fighters face their hardest battle: Reintegration

Published

on

By

Ex-Boko Haram fighters face their hardest battle: Reintegration

After living with armed group, runaways, including wives and children, struggle for social acceptance in Nigeria.

A ring with a big red glass stone sits on Mohammed Adamu’s middle finger. It is all that is left of the small jewellery business that he tried to set up.

“It reminds me that I need to push much harder to be able to get out of here,” he said.

Adamu, 30, is a former Boko Haram fighter who now lives in a refugee camp.

He claims he was captured by the group and joined in 2014, along with his wife and four children.

“In the beginning, I liked their ideology, everything happening in God’s name,” he said. “But soon, I realised that it was all about killing people. They just murdered without reason. So, I decided to run away.”

They lived with Boko Haram, but one year into their “captivity”, fighters killed his family members, he said.

In 2017, he managed to flee.

But reintegrating back into society has been near impossible.

After leaving, ex-fighters must complete a government-led rehabilitation programme, which lasts up to one year.

At the end, they receive N45,000 (about $125), a sum aimed at helping them kickstart their new life.

When Adamu arrived back in Gwoza, a northeastern town near Cameroon of almost 400,000 people – mostly Muslims, local elders had already decided not to accept back anyone who had lived with Boko Haram.

In an instant, Adamu was an outcast.

He moved into a refugee shelter in Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern state of Borno, living alongside displaced people, many of whom had lost loved ones to Boko Haram attacks.

Former fighters were not welcome guests.

“If I had known that I would be so rejected here, I would have stayed in the bush,” he said.

He used the last of his savings to buy jewellery to trade in the suburbs, but this brought little income.

Now, Adamu sees no way out of the refugee camp.

Boko Haram has been active since 2009. Over the past 10 years, the armed group has killed thousands of people, taken hundreds of young women captive to be fighters’ “wives”, kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls, and forcibly recruited huge numbers of boys and men to join the battlefield.

Speaking to Al Jazeera in Bakassi refugee camp in Maiduguri, Audu Ali said he has been trying to get on his feet for three years, but the stigma weighs heavily.

He claims that he was forced to join Boko Haram after fighters attacked his town in 2014, and that he never killed anyone.

But his neighbours don’t trust him.

Ali lived with Boko Haram for one year, together with his wife and five children, in a town called Naona.

At first, he found the ideology appealing – all the talk about fighting in the name of God.

“But after realising the cruel side of their preaching, I started to doubt the ideology because of the massive killings.”

The longer he stayed, the less he could bear it.

“They kept telling us that the Nigerian army would kill us immediately if they caught us. So, even those of us who thought about running away, stayed hiding in the bush,” he said.

One day, he decided he couldn’t face it any longer – even if that meant risking death and losing his family, who he left behind. He had feared his wife or children may tell someone else about his desire to leave, increasing the likelihood of them all being killed.

When he reached a military post in Gwoza, not far from where he had been living with the armed group, Ali discovered that he would not be killed by Nigerian troops – that the Boko Haram fighters had spun him a tale.

But he soon realised that society would not accept him back either. He often spends his time with former fighters, who, like Adamu, claimed were the only people who understood him.

Today, at 35 and having not heard from his family in three years, Ali has lost hope. His dream of running a convenience store is a distant dream.

According to a government official, who requested anonymity, the state-led rehabilitation programme, launched in 2016, is a successful project.

She explained that earlier this year, the programme started to work closely with local communities, adding that more than 1,000 former Boko Haram fighters have been rehabilitated so far.

But outside the corridors of power, the picture is different.

“Boko Haram killed my husband and father, we cannot simply forgive and forget,” said 20-year-old Laraba Mohammed, who cannot imagine living side by side with former fighters.

After her family members were killed, she joined the Civilian JTF, a militia formed in Maiduguri that fights Boko Haram.

To prepare the ex-fighters for verbal assaults, one of the key lessons of the rehabilitation programme is to keep quiet. Peace education, the government calls it.

“People always talk bad behind my back. I do my best to ignore them,” said Ali.

Adamu said being ostracised was “humiliating”.

“It is painful,” he said.

Dr Anthony Ali Mshelia, Head of the Department of Mental Health at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Maiduguri, treats former fighters and warned that their post-Boko Haram experiences could lead to substance abuse and depression.

“And wherever they go, people will be sceptical if they were really only there in captivity,” he said.

Anyone associated with the group is most often rejected by the community, he said.

The most common problem among his patients is drug abuse, especially tramadol – a narcotic-like pain reliever.

Ex-fighters, IDPs and the unemployed are among the groups who use the drug.

The drug is also allegedly popular within Boko Haram. For some, tramadol numbs a sense of fear, fuelling risk-taking on the battlefield.

Adamu said he was part of Boko Haram’s drug business; his main task was to get drugs to supply his fellow fighters.

Stigma sticks to family members

In addition to former fighters, some ex-wives of Boko Haram members say they are outcast from society and that finding a new husband can be difficult.

Zarah Bunu (not her real name) lives in Bakassi camp in Maiduguri, and spends her time with other women in her predicament.

Originally from Marte, she was already married when she suddenly discovered that her husband had joined the group. They moved into a Boko Haram village – she stayed for a year.

“I tried to run away four times. When they caught me the third time, they brought me to my husband. My husband threatened he would order to kill me immediately, should I even try to escape again. But four days after my son was born, we ran again,” the 20-year-old said.

That time, with her only child in her arms, she got away successfully.

That was two years ago. Since then, she has always been labelled “a wife of Boko Haram,” she said.

She gets particularly upset when people call the children of fighters, including hers, “Boko Haram bastards”.

Because of the heavy stigma, some decide to leave Borno State.

They create fake identities and start over, said Umar Lawal Yusuf, a researcher at the University of Maiduguri.

Adamu has considered this exit plan, but was not yet ready to leave the area that raised him, where he has roots.

He points to a small gold ring that he wears next to the big red one.

“My father gave it to me,” he said. “He wanted me to remember our traditions here in the northeast.”

Continue Reading

Features

Ex-Boko Haram fighters face their hardest battle: Reintegration

Published

on

By

Ex-Boko Haram fighters face their hardest battle: Reintegration

After living with armed group, runaways, including wives and children, struggle for social acceptance in Nigeria.

A ring with a big red glass stone sits on Mohammed Adamu’s middle finger. It is all that is left of the small jewellery business that he tried to set up.

“It reminds me that I need to push much harder to be able to get out of here,” he said.

Adamu, 30, is a former Boko Haram fighter who now lives in a refugee camp.

He claims he was captured by the group and joined in 2014, along with his wife and four children.

“In the beginning, I liked their ideology, everything happening in God’s name,” he said. “But soon, I realised that it was all about killing people. They just murdered without reason. So, I decided to run away.”

They lived with Boko Haram, but one year into their “captivity”, fighters killed his family members, he said.

In 2017, he managed to flee.

But reintegrating back into society has been near impossible.

After leaving, ex-fighters must complete a government-led rehabilitation programme, which lasts up to one year.

At the end, they receive N45,000 (about $125), a sum aimed at helping them kickstart their new life.

When Adamu arrived back in Gwoza, a northeastern town near Cameroon of almost 400,000 people – mostly Muslims, local elders had already decided not to accept back anyone who had lived with Boko Haram.

In an instant, Adamu was an outcast.

He moved into a refugee shelter in Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern state of Borno, living alongside displaced people, many of whom had lost loved ones to Boko Haram attacks.

Former fighters were not welcome guests.

“If I had known that I would be so rejected here, I would have stayed in the bush,” he said.

He used the last of his savings to buy jewellery to trade in the suburbs, but this brought little income.

Now, Adamu sees no way out of the refugee camp.

Boko Haram has been active since 2009. Over the past 10 years, the armed group has killed thousands of people, taken hundreds of young women captive to be fighters’ “wives”, kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls, and forcibly recruited huge numbers of boys and men to join the battlefield.

Speaking to Al Jazeera in Bakassi refugee camp in Maiduguri, Audu Ali said he has been trying to get on his feet for three years, but the stigma weighs heavily.

He claims that he was forced to join Boko Haram after fighters attacked his town in 2014, and that he never killed anyone.

But his neighbours don’t trust him.

Ali lived with Boko Haram for one year, together with his wife and five children, in a town called Naona.

At first, he found the ideology appealing – all the talk about fighting in the name of God.

“But after realising the cruel side of their preaching, I started to doubt the ideology because of the massive killings.”

The longer he stayed, the less he could bear it.

“They kept telling us that the Nigerian army would kill us immediately if they caught us. So, even those of us who thought about running away, stayed hiding in the bush,” he said.

One day, he decided he couldn’t face it any longer – even if that meant risking death and losing his family, who he left behind. He had feared his wife or children may tell someone else about his desire to leave, increasing the likelihood of them all being killed.

When he reached a military post in Gwoza, not far from where he had been living with the armed group, Ali discovered that he would not be killed by Nigerian troops – that the Boko Haram fighters had spun him a tale.

But he soon realised that society would not accept him back either. He often spends his time with former fighters, who, like Adamu, claimed were the only people who understood him.

Today, at 35 and having not heard from his family in three years, Ali has lost hope. His dream of running a convenience store is a distant dream.

According to a government official, who requested anonymity, the state-led rehabilitation programme, launched in 2016, is a successful project.

She explained that earlier this year, the programme started to work closely with local communities, adding that more than 1,000 former Boko Haram fighters have been rehabilitated so far.

But outside the corridors of power, the picture is different.

“Boko Haram killed my husband and father, we cannot simply forgive and forget,” said 20-year-old Laraba Mohammed, who cannot imagine living side by side with former fighters.

After her family members were killed, she joined the Civilian JTF, a militia formed in Maiduguri that fights Boko Haram.

To prepare the ex-fighters for verbal assaults, one of the key lessons of the rehabilitation programme is to keep quiet. Peace education, the government calls it.

“People always talk bad behind my back. I do my best to ignore them,” said Ali.

Adamu said being ostracised was “humiliating”.

“It is painful,” he said.

Dr Anthony Ali Mshelia, Head of the Department of Mental Health at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Maiduguri, treats former fighters and warned that their post-Boko Haram experiences could lead to substance abuse and depression.

“And wherever they go, people will be sceptical if they were really only there in captivity,” he said.

Anyone associated with the group is most often rejected by the community, he said.

The most common problem among his patients is drug abuse, especially tramadol – a narcotic-like pain reliever.

Ex-fighters, IDPs and the unemployed are among the groups who use the drug.

The drug is also allegedly popular within Boko Haram. For some, tramadol numbs a sense of fear, fuelling risk-taking on the battlefield.

Adamu said he was part of Boko Haram’s drug business; his main task was to get drugs to supply his fellow fighters.

Stigma sticks to family members

In addition to former fighters, some ex-wives of Boko Haram members say they are outcast from society and that finding a new husband can be difficult.

Zarah Bunu (not her real name) lives in Bakassi camp in Maiduguri, and spends her time with other women in her predicament.

Originally from Marte, she was already married when she suddenly discovered that her husband had joined the group. They moved into a Boko Haram village – she stayed for a year.

“I tried to run away four times. When they caught me the third time, they brought me to my husband. My husband threatened he would order to kill me immediately, should I even try to escape again. But four days after my son was born, we ran again,” the 20-year-old said.

That time, with her only child in her arms, she got away successfully.

That was two years ago. Since then, she has always been labelled “a wife of Boko Haram,” she said.

She gets particularly upset when people call the children of fighters, including hers, “Boko Haram bastards”.

Because of the heavy stigma, some decide to leave Borno State.

They create fake identities and start over, said Umar Lawal Yusuf, a researcher at the University of Maiduguri.

Adamu has considered this exit plan, but was not yet ready to leave the area that raised him, where he has roots.

He points to a small gold ring that he wears next to the big red one.

“My father gave it to me,” he said. “He wanted me to remember our traditions here in the northeast.”

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Ex-Boko Haram fighters face their hardest battle: Reintegration

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Ex-Boko Haram fighters face their hardest battle: Reintegration

After living with armed group, runaways, including wives and children, struggle for social acceptance in Nigeria.

A ring with a big red glass stone sits on Mohammed Adamu’s middle finger. It is all that is left of the small jewellery business that he tried to set up.

“It reminds me that I need to push much harder to be able to get out of here,” he said.

Adamu, 30, is a former Boko Haram fighter who now lives in a refugee camp.

He claims he was captured by the group and joined in 2014, along with his wife and four children.

“In the beginning, I liked their ideology, everything happening in God’s name,” he said. “But soon, I realised that it was all about killing people. They just murdered without reason. So, I decided to run away.”

They lived with Boko Haram, but one year into their “captivity”, fighters killed his family members, he said.

In 2017, he managed to flee.

But reintegrating back into society has been near impossible.

After leaving, ex-fighters must complete a government-led rehabilitation programme, which lasts up to one year.

At the end, they receive N45,000 (about $125), a sum aimed at helping them kickstart their new life.

When Adamu arrived back in Gwoza, a northeastern town near Cameroon of almost 400,000 people – mostly Muslims, local elders had already decided not to accept back anyone who had lived with Boko Haram.

In an instant, Adamu was an outcast.

He moved into a refugee shelter in Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern state of Borno, living alongside displaced people, many of whom had lost loved ones to Boko Haram attacks.

Former fighters were not welcome guests.

“If I had known that I would be so rejected here, I would have stayed in the bush,” he said.

He used the last of his savings to buy jewellery to trade in the suburbs, but this brought little income.

Now, Adamu sees no way out of the refugee camp.

Boko Haram has been active since 2009. Over the past 10 years, the armed group has killed thousands of people, taken hundreds of young women captive to be fighters’ “wives”, kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls, and forcibly recruited huge numbers of boys and men to join the battlefield.

Speaking to Al Jazeera in Bakassi refugee camp in Maiduguri, Audu Ali said he has been trying to get on his feet for three years, but the stigma weighs heavily.

He claims that he was forced to join Boko Haram after fighters attacked his town in 2014, and that he never killed anyone.

But his neighbours don’t trust him.

Ali lived with Boko Haram for one year, together with his wife and five children, in a town called Naona.

At first, he found the ideology appealing – all the talk about fighting in the name of God.

“But after realising the cruel side of their preaching, I started to doubt the ideology because of the massive killings.”

The longer he stayed, the less he could bear it.

“They kept telling us that the Nigerian army would kill us immediately if they caught us. So, even those of us who thought about running away, stayed hiding in the bush,” he said.

One day, he decided he couldn’t face it any longer – even if that meant risking death and losing his family, who he left behind. He had feared his wife or children may tell someone else about his desire to leave, increasing the likelihood of them all being killed.

When he reached a military post in Gwoza, not far from where he had been living with the armed group, Ali discovered that he would not be killed by Nigerian troops – that the Boko Haram fighters had spun him a tale.

But he soon realised that society would not accept him back either. He often spends his time with former fighters, who, like Adamu, claimed were the only people who understood him.

Today, at 35 and having not heard from his family in three years, Ali has lost hope. His dream of running a convenience store is a distant dream.

According to a government official, who requested anonymity, the state-led rehabilitation programme, launched in 2016, is a successful project.

She explained that earlier this year, the programme started to work closely with local communities, adding that more than 1,000 former Boko Haram fighters have been rehabilitated so far.

But outside the corridors of power, the picture is different.

“Boko Haram killed my husband and father, we cannot simply forgive and forget,” said 20-year-old Laraba Mohammed, who cannot imagine living side by side with former fighters.

After her family members were killed, she joined the Civilian JTF, a militia formed in Maiduguri that fights Boko Haram.

To prepare the ex-fighters for verbal assaults, one of the key lessons of the rehabilitation programme is to keep quiet. Peace education, the government calls it.

“People always talk bad behind my back. I do my best to ignore them,” said Ali.

Adamu said being ostracised was “humiliating”.

“It is painful,” he said.

Dr Anthony Ali Mshelia, Head of the Department of Mental Health at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Maiduguri, treats former fighters and warned that their post-Boko Haram experiences could lead to substance abuse and depression.

“And wherever they go, people will be sceptical if they were really only there in captivity,” he said.

Anyone associated with the group is most often rejected by the community, he said.

The most common problem among his patients is drug abuse, especially tramadol – a narcotic-like pain reliever.

Ex-fighters, IDPs and the unemployed are among the groups who use the drug.

The drug is also allegedly popular within Boko Haram. For some, tramadol numbs a sense of fear, fuelling risk-taking on the battlefield.

Adamu said he was part of Boko Haram’s drug business; his main task was to get drugs to supply his fellow fighters.

Stigma sticks to family members

In addition to former fighters, some ex-wives of Boko Haram members say they are outcast from society and that finding a new husband can be difficult.

Zarah Bunu (not her real name) lives in Bakassi camp in Maiduguri, and spends her time with other women in her predicament.

Originally from Marte, she was already married when she suddenly discovered that her husband had joined the group. They moved into a Boko Haram village – she stayed for a year.

“I tried to run away four times. When they caught me the third time, they brought me to my husband. My husband threatened he would order to kill me immediately, should I even try to escape again. But four days after my son was born, we ran again,” the 20-year-old said.

That time, with her only child in her arms, she got away successfully.

That was two years ago. Since then, she has always been labelled “a wife of Boko Haram,” she said.

She gets particularly upset when people call the children of fighters, including hers, “Boko Haram bastards”.

Because of the heavy stigma, some decide to leave Borno State.

They create fake identities and start over, said Umar Lawal Yusuf, a researcher at the University of Maiduguri.

Adamu has considered this exit plan, but was not yet ready to leave the area that raised him, where he has roots.

He points to a small gold ring that he wears next to the big red one.

“My father gave it to me,” he said. “He wanted me to remember our traditions here in the northeast.”

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