Nigerians are once again embroiled in another divisive debate of whether to pardon repentant insurgents or not. Many are likely experiencing a feeling of déjà vu; a feeling that these discussions and scenarios have once played. Security experts and analysts alike have argued and countered the move, with many warning the Federal Government to tread with caution. The debate started last year or so, after some repentant insurgents were pardoned. Senator Ali Ndume had then criticised the Federal Government’s amnesty programme. He spoke again of a repentant insurgent, who was integrated into the community, killed his father, stole his wealth and disappeared.
Ndume, who represents Borno South in the Senate, questioned the justification for spending the nation’s funds to rehabilitate insurgents. The discussions began again this year after 3000 insurgents’ surrendered their arms, insisting that they had repented. After being pardoned, they’ll be reintegrated into their former communities. According to Reuters, the UN Development Program had stated that Nigeria’s 12 years conflict with insurgents in the northeast has claimed almost 350,000 lives by the end of 2020, a death toll said to be 10 times higher than previous estimates.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), stated that at least 2.4 million people have been displaced in the Lake Chad Basin. The group has also kidnapped, raped and married many under aged schoolgirls, leading to massive out-of-school children in the northeast.
There have been intense arguments from security experts and analysts that forgiving repentant insurgents could lead to Nigerians witnessing the fall of the country, with terrorists taking over the mantle of leadership, like seen in the Afghanistan drama.
It’s no longer a secret that the insurgents in Nigeria are better equipped than the Nigerian Troop. Aside having enough sophisticated equipment at their disposals, the insurgents appears to be fighting for their very existentiality, while the tired, rag-tag Nigerian Troop have consistently complained of being sent on suicide missions.
The troop seems to be losing the war, due to no fault of theirs. Many security watchers have fingered corrupt military top officers for the failure to bring the war to an end and death of soldiers. Part of the corruption is the allegation of soldiers being short paid, leading to low morale. Also, senior officers have been accused of profiteering from the insurgency. A good number of Nigerians are not happy with the argument that repented insurgents should be pardoned, seeing it as spitting on the graves of their victims.
They stated these on different social media platforms, stressing that insurgents should be arraigned, charged with treason, murder and rape. It has also been argued that seeing these insurgents pardoned, rehabilitated and reintegrated into communities, could cause mental health issues for families of murdered victims. One thing is very clear; the debate appears to be between those in the helm of affairs of Nigeria and ‘the masses.’
Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State, speaking on the issue, said that repentant insurgents should be welcomed because most of them were conscripted into the war, not out of their own volition. Zulum, whose state is the worst hit since the beginning of the insurgency, said at least 100,000 people in the state had been killed since the insurgency began.
He reminded Nigerians that he had been attacked by the same insurgents about 50 times. He said: “In the last 12 years, thousands of lives had been lost and sources of livelihood lost. We have a total number of over 50,000 orphans and widows and these are official figures, the unofficial figures are more than this. The surrendering of the insurgents is a very welcomed development. Unless we want to continue with an endless war, I see no reason why we should reject those that are willing to surrender.”
Further buttressing his argument, Zulum said that among those conscripted into the insurgency were children below the ages of 11 and 12, who can handle AK-47. The Minister of Police Affairs, Maigari Dingyadi, said the Federal Government has a responsibility to reintegrate repentant insurgents into the society. Asked whether the window of amnesty was also open for bandits, the minister replied, “When you talk of amnesty, it is a relative term and what the Federal Government is trying to say is that: Let us see those who have surrendered their arms, let us listen to them, let us chronicle them, let us receive them, we cannot just throw these people away because they are all Nigerians. Of course, they are criminals, they have committed atrocities, they have committed crimes, but according to the international laws, when you surrender from a war zone, you are not killed, you are not maimed, you are allowed to have your say. We are listening to them to see how we can integrate them into the larger society.”
Different security experts, analysts and stakeholders, however, have divergent opinions on the issue. A former Deputy Director, Department of State Services (DSS), Dennis Amachree said it was absurd for people to compare crimes of the insurgents to the agitations of Niger Delta Militants. He said: “One thing that should be very clear; what happened in the Niger Delta is very different from what is happening in the northeast, with the Boko Haram Terrorist, and different from what is happening with the bandits in Zamfara, Katsina and in the northwest. “These are three different situations.
In the Niger Delta, there was an agitation over the exploitation of the Niger Delta oil, which feeds Nigeria and it was being taken away. The area where this oil was coming from was being allowed to rot, so that the people from there couldn’t get clean water to drink. The people at that area decided to take up arms against the Federal Government.” The former intelligence officer said that when government saw what happened, it occurred to them that it was a bad thing and they went and engaged the militants in conversation and negotiation. Amachree explained: “They agreed that there will be amnesty, so it was like a win-win situation for both sides.
They will have to stop the hostilities against crude oil exploitation because that was the target. However, in this particular case in the North West, we have bandits who are thieves, going around to burn villages, killing innocent people, and burning mosques and churches. It’s not a religious thing; they are just criminals who do not have a leader. “Also, nobody is talking to them from the government. For instance, we have had people like Sheikh Gumi going to talk to them and most of the discussions were mainly on how to deliver money to them. They kidnap people for ransom and these bandits are criminals.”
Amachree suggested that repentant insurgents should be quarantined and profiled properly. He advised that the FG should go through their background and make sure they had truly given up arms, and wouldn’t go back to their old ways of killing and looting. He said: “For example, America did the same for the people they arrested in Afghanistan by profiling them properly.
They didn’t just give them amnesty immediately. If they are asked to go back, you’ll find out that there are soldiers that they had killed and people who they had displaced who are still in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. “All this set of people cannot just be forgiven, and accepted immediately into the society, because the people they have messed up are still in the IDP camps. There are people who are still mourning their children who were killed.
How can we juxtapose that? I mean, is it not the same society they are still going to go back to live? The end result should be that banditry is not a good thing, and there are other ways it can be stopped.” A security consultant and the Managing Director of Hakes and Partners, Colonel Hassan Stan-Labo (Rtd), said: “If we look at the scenario playing out in Afghanistan right now, if we are not careful, that same scenario will play out in Nigeria in another five or 10 years’ time to come. You may ask what the scenario is playing out in Afghanistan. The U.S went into Afghanistan, granted amnesty to the leadership of the Taliban and some of their soldiers.
Some of their soldiers were even absorbed or allowed to be reintegrated into the society, and even absorbed some of them into the military. And then 20 years later, all those absorbed have grown in ranks, positions, and today 20 years later, they have armed forces about 400,000 in strength.” Reflecting back on the Nigerian situation, Stan-Labo said: “Here, it’s about bandits, Boko Haram and so on. We’re saying we want to grant them amnesty, we’re inserting them into society, and there’s even talk of them being reabsorbed into the military. The same mistake, which played out in Afghanistan 20 years back, is what will play out here in Nigeria. “What business do we have with granting amnesty to insurgents and bandits? The only business our army has with them is to hasten their departure from earth, to meet with their God, for judgement. We’re not reverend fathers and we are not soldiers.
These people wanted a war, why not give them the war? When they had the upper hand, why didn’t they say they were resigning and surrendering? It’s now that the firepower is overwhelming them that they’re now saying they are surrendering.” The retired colonel further noted: “Irrespective of any international protocol Nigeria has signed, irrespective of war crimes or what have you, I don’t think it’s in the national interest of this country for us to grant amnesty to these insurgents and bandits.
You’re granting them amnesty, where are the resources to take care of them? Where are the resources to keep them? Where are the resources to encamp them and where are the resources to provide them with the necessary training that will transform them into normal human beings? “That is the process now from being an insurgent into being a responsible citizen. Have they taken good care of the victims of these insurgents and bandits? The victims created by these people are in IDP camps and cannot eat three square meals. But here we are, giving insurgents three square meals in the name of amnesty and repentance. Here we are, clothing them in new dresses when children in IDP camps are dying of kwashiorkor. I think we need to get our national priorities right. We have a problem of leadership.
If the leadership lacks or they have gone out of ideas, then let them get people that can think for them.” The Executive Director of Rule of Law Accountability Advocacy Center (RULAAC), Mr. Okechukwu Nwanguma, also has something to say on the issue. He noted: “It’s an issue of concern, because when a combatant decides to surrender, international law states the person should not be subjected to further attacks. But again, how are we sure these bandits truly repent as being portrayed by the FG? The same FG has been doing business with these bandits.
I mean, speaking on behalf of these bandits, we’ve heard some people say these bandits are not criminals; they are even the ones saying give them amnesty. “We’ve heard about plans for them to reintegrate them. I mean, are there procedures laid down to ensure these people are really screened and are genuinely repentant? We have seen situations where people are forgiven and they have repented and given money, suddenly they returned to their former ways. “Government needs to be careful, they don’t just have to judge them by their words.
If these people say they have repented fine, they need to be placed on strict observance so they do not go back to their former ways and recruit more people and find their ways into our security system, and become a source of information to criminals.” A seasoned security expert, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “Bandits are murderers! Why should we give them amnesty? If a man kills, he will be killed. A bandit is a criminal, so if a criminal commits an offence, he should be punished. The case of Afghanistan is totally different.
It should not be compared with Nigeria. The government of Nigeria has not given up. The government of Afghanistan handed their country over to the Taliban, but our soldiers have not given up. For me, the laws of the land are clear on crime and anybody who commits crime should be punished. “You see, people are trying to equate the amnesty granted to the Niger Delta with the bandits. They are two different sceneries. The Niger Delta boys didn’t kill anybody. All they did was to stop oil from flowing because they were not getting enough share of the government riches.
The government granted them amnesty because of economic reasons and the government wanted the economy to grow. But what are we going to benefit from granting bandits amnesty? What economic value is there? Is it to please the people who have lost their parents or their children, their lives, their mothers? These insurgents and bandits should pay for their sins! They should be tried, and those found guilty for killing people should face the music. I don’t think it is best to grant anyone amnesty.”
A seasoned crime editor, who is also publisher of the Chief Detective Magazine, Mr. Dipo Kehinde said: “We look at it from the technical point of view that God doesn’t want the death of sinners, but once they have repented and want to start playing by the rules and change their ways, I can’t see any reason why the nation cannot grant them amnesty. Amnesty means we are all working towards enduring peace in the nation.
As a nation, if we can achieve peace, then there is nothing wrong with amnesty. “As for the families who have been affected, it’s not that I’m totally in support, but if you look at it, some of these guys are sincere with their actions. When you look at the wounds they have inflicted on the people, it will take a very long time for the wound to heal.
But it’s like a war situation, that we are in now, and if we now decide to put an end to it, unless we have the power to conquer and eliminate them out of town, then that will be good. But we have been at this for quite a long time and our military is really exhausted because of where they will send them to. “As long as we are finding it very difficult to defeat them, and there is this window of opportunity to bring them in and make them change their ways, just like during the Niger Delta time.
During that crisis, a lot of people suffered a lot of casualties and death. I can even remember a bank robbery that this militant embarked upon around Ketu area; when they got into the bank, there was a lady who tried to raise the alarm and she was killed instantly.
As long as those people are sincere enough to drop their arms, we as a nation just have to let it go.” Kehinde further said: “But the victims of the crimes we always neglect and allow them to bear their pains, which is very wrong. Some years back, there was this form of senseless killings in the North, I think Kaduna or so, when these bandits went into some houses and killed some youth corps members, and one of them called the mother and told her what was going on, and how the insurgents were at their gate. The bandits got into the house and killed the lady, and then picked up the phone to tell the mother that her child was dead.
“Imagine an individual going to serve the nation for a year, and even after that one year, it is not certain they will have a job, but they still have to serve the nation and then the life of that individual was wasted. I’m sure till date that nothing has been done for those families who lost their children.” A security analyst, Mr. Folorunsho Attah said: “It’s only in a country like this that you’ll grant amnesty to a criminal of the highest order.
A bandit is a criminal of the highest order, and as a patron of my country, and fellow human being, I won’t subscribe to it, that bandits should be given amnesty. It’s a way of encouraging criminals and violent crimes all over the country. People will always take it as a kind of license to engage in all criminal activities. That Yar’Adua granted militants amnesty is different from this because the cost of bandits is different from militants.” A psychologist, Dr. Gabriel Akin, said: “Nobody wants to face their worst fears twice in one lifetime, but that is what will happen when the government finally grants amnesty to the repentant bandits.
The victims will feel anxious, sad and angry. “The experience will be like traumatising them all over again, as most of them had not even gotten over the first trauma to begin with. The victims will feel that it is a case of incomplete, unfinished or lacking a necessary part of justice.
They will have a sense of insecurity, and will continue to live with the feeling that they will have to look over their shoulders at all times. “Safest and most convenient way to integrate back the bandits is to allow the victims to play a part in it.
First, the government should make sure that the victims have healed completely from the first bout of trauma before exposing them to the second trauma that releasing the bandits into the society will surely cause. “The bandits should also not be admitted back on their confessions of repentance. The government should make sure that they are really repentant and get them psychological treatment to assess their mental health and make sure they are fit to live in a normal society without any kind of dangerous tendencies or behavioral patterns.”