ABUJA, Nigeria – Boko Haram members who surrender to the Nigerian military and repent of their terrorism will be offered rehabilitation, life skills and reintegration into society through government training camps, a Nigerian Defense Headquarters (DHQ) spokesman told the BBC.
The DHQ plans to open two or three camps within the next few months, Brigadier General Rabe Abubakar told the BBC, “to rehabilitate them to become good members of society … Since they have shown remorse and come on board, I think it is our duty to ensure that we help them to become very productive members of this great country.”
As of April 7, about 800 Boko Haram militants had surrendered, suffering hunger, according to the DHQ.
A Baptist leader in the region, General Secretary Duro Ayanrinola of the All Africa Baptist Fellowship, told Baptist Press the program is commendable, and might open doors for former fighters to hear the gospel.
“I think the program will succeed if it is well coordinated and if the government will keep the repented ones from other insurgents,” Ayanrinola said. “In my opinion, the Nigerian government has done what a good government should do in a situation like ours.”
While the program does not call for spiritual repentance, Ayanrinola said, the power of the gospel can truly transform lives.
“Fighting Boko Haram is a spiritual matter; it is a problem of the heart and indoctrination,” Ayanrinola noted. “Only Jesus can give a new heart through His Sprit and make sincere repentance possible.”
The question is whether the government will allow the gospel to be introduced at the camps, he said.
“It is, therefore, up to Christians to take the advantage of the ‘open door’ to present the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit if the government will allow Christians to enter the camp,” he said. “Looking at it from the perspective of the gospel, what the government has done has created ministry opportunities for the Nigerian church to minister in words and deeds in Jesus’ name to the repentant ones.”
The details of the program, termed Operation Safe Corridor, have not been released, but Boko Haram members would have to denounce their membership in the Islamic State-aligned group to participate in the program. It is not clear whether those who are rehabilitated would receive complete amnesty, but Abubakar said the details would need to be taken “pace by pace.”
Financial compensation for those who participate in the program has not been ruled out.
“I believe the government will definitely ask the relevant agencies to do what is needful,” Abubakar told the BBC regarding compensation.
The Nigerian military has rescued 11,595 civilian hostages in attacks on Boko Haram camps and villages in northeastern Nigeria since Feb. 26, Abubakar told the Associated Press. But more than 200 school girls captured in April 2014 from a boarding school in Chibok remain missing. About 2.8 million refugees forced from their homes by Boko Haram attacks have not been able to return home, the AP reported, because they fear the areas are still threatened by the terrorists.
Boko Haram attacks continue. Among its most horrendous attacks of late, the fighters killed more than 100 people in firebombs, shootings and suicide bombings in northeast Nigeria at the end of January. One survivor told the Associated Press he heard the cries of children burning alive inside their homes.
Boko Haram has killed perhaps 17,000 to 20,000 people in northeast Nigeria since 2009, according to official estimates, and continues suicide bombings in Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon despite the defense of a special multinational military force. Boko Haram, intent on establishing strict Sharia law across Nigeria, originally targeted Christians, but has also killed moderate Muslims and military members.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said in December 2015 that Boko Haram has been “technically defeated,” pointing to evidence that the group has largely resorted to suicide bombings, as opposed to raids on villages where the jihadists had established caliphates – monolithic governments of strict Sharia law – before Buhari was elected. Suicide bombings will be much more difficult to prevent, Buhari has said, and are not an indication that Boko Haram will have any success in establishing caliphates.
The 2015 Global Terrorism Index (GTI) ranks Boko Haram as the deadliest terrorist group in the world, exceeding the Islamic State. The GTI attributed more than 6,644 deaths to Boko Haram in 2014, with most attacks occurring in northeast Nigeria. The Islamic State killed 6,073 in terrorist attacks in the same year, according to the report.
Terrorism in Nigeria also is fueled by a militant group of Fulani herdsmen, which the GTI blamed for 1,229 deaths in 2014. The herdsmen were blamed for 63 deaths in 2013, the GTI said. Among the latest attacks by herdsmen is the killing of more than 300 Christian farmers in Benue state in late February.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor.)