Thursday 22 September 2016

Recidivism; Unintended Consequences of ‘Amnesty’ To Boko Haram Insurgents, Militants And Chibok Girls Swop

Preamble: Lately, President Buhari and the Minister of Information – Mr. Lai Mohammed separately affirmed that the Nigerian government was in talks with Boko Haram with a view to swopping the over 200 Chibok school girls abducted by Boko Haram Islamic Sect over two years ago with detained Boko Haram members. In addition to insinuations of 800 ‘repentant’ Boko Haram insurgents purportedly granted amnesty, the Imo and Rivers State governors in recent times, granted amnesty to so-called militants, cultists and criminals in their domain. This essay aims to discuss the far-reaching implications of aforesaid events.

Aborted Prisoner Swop Deal With Boko Haram?

On Friday, September 16, 2016, Nigeria’s Minister of Information – Mr. Lai Mohammed said the Nigerian government is launching a fresh bid to rescue Chibok Girls abducted by Boko Haram after talks with the Sect failed. New York Times, NYT reports that this is the third failed negotiation between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram. NYT quotes the Nigerian government as saying, ‘’Boko Haram demanded the release of prisoners involved in “major terrorist actions” and others who were explosives experts. Mr. Buhari agreed to those difficult demands, “believing that the overall release of these girls remains paramount and sacrosanct.” It is believed that Boko Haram upped the ante, increased their demands which the government is not amenable to. Notwithstanding the botched swop deal, SaharaReporters reports that, ‘’the Nigerian Army released 566 Boko Haram family members to the Borno State government’’. While receiving families of Boko Haram members released to the Borno State government by the Nigerian Army, the State governor – Kashim Shettima reportedly said, "What is of importance we should all know, is that an average male member of the Boko Haram has one great wish and that wish is for his son or daughter to inherit his doctrine of violence. The insurgents seriously take to child bearing as a strategy of not only multiplying their numbers but also producing children they hope, will continue from where their fathers stop in violent killings as their own form of worship.’’ Continuing, the governor said, “The goal of Boko Haram fathers is that even if they are killed by our armed forces, they want to bequeath to us, a future of violence in Borno State, a future of violence in the northeast and a violent future for our country.’’
Abducted Chibok School girls

The Defence Headquarters tried but obviously failed to obfuscate goings-on. Let’s get something straightened out. You arrest a terrorist(s), no legal action was taken to try, let alone convict him or her. You tell the world such a person is a ‘’repentant terrorist’’ and unleash him/her to the society after a supposed rehabilitation programme and you don’t see that as an amnesty? If anything, the difference between an ‘’amnesty’’ and the aforesaid ‘’Operation Safe Corridor’’ is simply semantics, tantamount to the difference between six and half a dozen.

Chibok Girls-Boko Haram Prisoner Swap, Amnesty Debate

Food for thought: ‘’you cannot negotiate with people who say what's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable’’ - John F. Kennedy, former United States President

There’s a raging debate as to whether or not the government should ‘negotiate’ with Boko Haram on the release of the abducted Chibok school girls. Recall that during the President Jonathan administration, the Nigerian government was reportedly scammed $40 million on the guise of releasing the Chibok girls.  After spirited denials of not granting ‘amnesty’ to Boko Haram insurgents, Nigeria’s Defence Headquarters admitted having an initiative called “Operation Safe Corridor”, which is aimed at, ’’rehabilitating and reintegrating repentant terrorists back into normal life in the society.’’ While some recommend a deal with Boko Haram, others are opposed to it.  For instance, the Bring Back Our Girls Group, BBOG, championing a robust cause for the abducted Chibok girls, eggs President Buhari to negotiate with Boko Haram. On the other hand, Mr. Richard Barrett, a former head of counter-terrorism for MI6 and ex-Director of Global Counter Terrorism Operations for the British Secret Intelligence Service, is one of those that are wary of this purported deal. Mr. Barrett said, ‘‘The [Nigerian] government will also need to be certain that it is not releasing prisoners that will revive Boko Haram fortunes just at a time when the movement is split and the leader may be severely wounded’’. Similarly, the Coalition Against Terrorism and Extremism (CATE) warns the Nigerian government against negotiating with Boko Haram. CATE argues that, “any attempt to negotiate with terror groups in the country will rather serve as open invitation from other miscreants to hold the nation’s peace to ransom in anticipation of financial and other selfish aggrandizement.’’ Also, an activist, Mr. Philip Agbese is averse to swapping the abducted Chibok school girls with Boko Haram detainees. Mr. Agbese likened the offer for prisoners swap as ‘’a poisoned chalice’’ and went further to say, “these groups and individuals that have been canvassing a swop of Boko Haram prisoners for the abducted Chibok Girls do so without regards for the penchant for recidivism among terrorists like any other type of criminals.” In my opinion, surviving Chibok girls still under captivity are more like Boko Haram’s most prized asset as well as their Achilles heel. The girls must have been indoctrinated, subjugated to all sorts of abuse and impregnated. By reason of what they know, the abducted Chibok girls hold the key to unraveling and decapitating Boko Haram. My prognosis is that the Sect will not let go easily without a fight.

Prisoner Exchange or Swap Deals, A Brief History

A prisoner exchange or prisoner swap is defined as, ‘’a deal between opposing sides in a conflict to release prisoners. These may be prisoners of war, spies, hostages, etc. Sometimes dead bodies are involved in an exchange.’’ Article 109-117 of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949 extensively addressed Prisoner swap deal. Proponents of Boko-Haram-Chibok-girls swap deal with the Nigerian government argue that prisoner exchange is a legitimate global principle. They inter alia cite the United States, Israel amongst others as proponents. Granted that, contrary to the mantra of ‘no negotiations with terrorists’, when push comes to shove, aforesaid countries, in line with the time-honoured philosophy of ‘leave no one or soldier behind’, go to extraordinary lengths and risks to rescue or negotiate the release of its citizens, usually through back channels. One thing is sure, apart from prisoner of war (POW) swap deals during the US Civil war, plausibly all the prisoner swap deals that the US entered into, involve American citizens held outside the shores of the United States. It is preposterous to think that the United States will be so disadvantaged and helpless to succumb to a prisoner swap deal with terrorists domiciled WITHIN its territory. What are the FBIs, CIAs, Rangers, and Navy SEALs there for.

Can A Factionalized Boko Haram With Warped Religious Ideology Be Trusted?

A while ago, Boko Haram dwarfed the bloodletting spree of ISIS and was named the world’s deadliest terror group. The sect is inter alia, said to be responsible for about 20, 000 deaths since 2009; over 2 million internally displaced people, IDPs, acute starvation and famine, destruction of properties worth $9 billion in six northern Nigerian states since 2011 and kidnapping of thousands of people. And just recently, Boko Haram became factionalized. On August 3, the Islamic state proclaimed Mamman Nur-aligned Abu Musab al-Barnawi (son of Boko Haram’s founder, Muhammed Yusuf) as the new “wali” of ISWAP while the de facto leader – Abubakar Shekau has now reportedly reverted to his earlier position as “imam” of Jamaatu ahlis Sunna li’Dawati wal Jihad (JAS, the original name of the surviving followers of Muhammed Yusuf). Can a factionalized sect, enmeshed in serious in-fighting, that deploys under-age children as suicide bombers, spares neither Christians nor Muslims, calls fellow Muslims infidels, attacks soft targets - churches, mosques, markets, Internally Displaced People camps and hard targets such as military establishments amongst others be trusted to keep its words? Given that Boko Haram has trialled the efficacy of kidnapping, holding scores of people hostage and using them as a bargaining chip, there is no guarantee they won't do it again.

‘Amnesty’ To Boko Haram Insurgents: The Kabiru Sokoto Release Brouhaha

Before the failed prisoner swap deal with Boko Haram, there was widespread hypothesis that the Nigerian government granted amnesty to ‘repentant’ Boko Haram insurgents. Notwithstanding denials by Nigeria’s Defence Headquarters, it is increasingly apparent that the claim is not unfounded after all. A SaharaReporters publication of September 17, 2016, headlined: ‘’IDPs in Maiduguri debate ex-Boko Haram integration into communities’’ seem to substantiate inference of ‘amnesty’ to Boko Haram members. SaharaReporters report reads; ‘’Residents in the internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, have expressed concerns over plans by the Federal Government to grant amnesty to certain repentant Boko Haram insurgents. Some issued warnings that such policies may be dangerous to displaced people returning to the area.’’ These sentiments were issued during a workshop at the Nigeria Labour Congress secretariat complex in Maiduguri titled: “Sensitization of Religious and Traditional Leaders, De-radicalization, and Counter-Terrorism in the Northeast.”

Similarly, Nigeria’s public space was awash with allusions that the current administration may have surreptitiously released - one Kabiru Dikko, a.k.a Kabiru Sokoto, the fellow convicted for masterminding the 2011 Christmas Day bombing of St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla, near Abuja. Recall that 40 people were killed in the aforesaid attack which Boko haram claimed responsibility for. The hoopla generated by the purported release of Kabiru Sokoto is not unwarranted given the way things pan out in Nigeria. Thankfully the spokesman of the Nigerian Prison Service, NPS, Mr. Biyi Jeje belatedly refuted the suggestion that Kabiru Sokoto was freed. Mr. Jeje said, “Please disregard the rumour. He’s still in prisons custody.”

Prerogative of Mercy As Alibi For Pardoning Terrorists, Criminals?

While it is established that Sections 175(1) & (2) and 212(1) of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution for the President and the Governor, respectively vests prerogative of mercy on the President and State governors but this privilege must not be an excuse for indiscriminately freeing terrorists, criminals et al. Mr. Inibehe Effiong, a Legal Practitioner and Convener of the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (COHRD), says, ‘’…it is unthinkable for a convicted terrorist who facilitated the murder of innocent Nigerians to be granted state pardon. What will be the motivation for such offensive pardon? ‘’If members of the violent sect were to be swapped for the Chibok girls, I do not believe Kabiru Sokoto will be considered. That will amount to legitimizing the insane and beastly ideology of Boko Haram.

Terrorist Deradicalization, Disengagement And Recidivism: The Numbers

While the efficacy of efficiently de-radicalizing, disengaging violent extremists or terrorists is debatable, what is certain is that it is probable for criminals, terrorists to recidivate or fall back to crime, violent extremism. We are not talking of pick-pockets here. How do you effectively wean a terrorist of his bloodletting streak, and his warped ideology? This means Abubakar Shekau too can be de-radicalized? How inviolable is this deradicalization concept? Do we have statistics of recidivism in Nigeria? Due to paucity of records, there is no credible statistics of recidivism in Nigeria hence I will cite outcomes outside Nigeria. According to a study on Radicalization Research, terrorist incidents such as the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, the Sydney siege, and the murder of Lee Rigby in London, appears to substantiate terrorist recidivism. Two prominent researchers involved in the above study posit: “it has been practically impossible to ascertain what is implied by or expected from programs that claim to be able to de-radicalize terrorists”. A former Guantanamo detainee, Ibrahim Qosi, also known as Sheikh Khubayb al Sudani said to be Osama bin Laden’s former cook and driver, released to Sudan in July 2012 by the President Obama administration reportedly rejoined al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP. Out of the 653 Guantanamo detainees released by the US government, about 196 (18%) are either confirmed or suspected recidivists (30%). Ibrahim Qosi popped up in an AQAP propaganda video promoting jihad in West Africa. Reports also surfaced that, ‘’one of 'Taliban Five' members (Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Noori, Mohammed Nabi, Khairullah Khairkhwa and Abdul Haq Wasiq) controversially freed by the US in the Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl swap deal allegedly relapsed to terrorist activity. A 60-page report in the United States tagged – ‘’Recidivism Among Federal Offenders: A Comprehensive Overview’’ which analyzed more than 25,400 former inmates who were either released outright from federal prisons or placed on probation in 2005, found almost half (49.3%) had, within the next eight years, been arrested again, whether for a new offense or for violating conditions of their parole or release. Among the offenders released or paroled in 2005, during the same period nearly a third (31.7%) had been re-convicted, with 24.7% of them also re-incarcerated.

Somewhat akin to the pull-factor of recidivism and reminiscent of the Stockholm Syndrome; one of the escaped Chibok girls Amina Ali Nkeki says she misses her Boko Haram fighter husband and still thinks about him three months after escaping the terrorists’ camp. What this means is that there is still an affinity between Amina Ali Nkeki and her so-called Boko Haram husband and if given a choice, she will welcome an opportunity to rejoin him.

Recurring Amnesty To Criminals, Cultists And Kidnappers

Not to be outdone, the Imo State governor – Chief Rochas Okorocha and his Rivers State counterpart – Chief Nyesom Wike recently granted amnesty to some notorious militants and cultists in their domain. To this end, two militant groups – ‘’Red Scorpion’ and another with over 1,000 militants were reportedly granted amnesty in Imo State in a showy ceremony. The militants were said to have surrendered their wobbly arms, ‘’comprising Ak-47 riffles, rocket launchers, pistols, charms, machetes, knives, axes and other dangerous weapons’’ and were forthwith pardoned by the Imo State Governor - Rochas Okorocha. A similar scenario played out in River State where the State Governor – Nyesom Wike, ‘’reiterated his offer of amnesty to cultists and kidnappers, who would submit their arms to the state security agencies and commit themselves to honest living.’’ Consequently ONELGA Militant group led by one Don Wanny heeded Governor Wike’s overture, signed a peace agreement and relinquished obviously, some of their arms comprising, ‘’hundreds of AK-47 rifles, Pump action guns, British pistols, thousands of magazines, locally made guns.’’ Still on Recidivism, when President Yar Adua 'settled' Niger Delta Militants with amnesty largesse in 2009, there were about 4 or 5 Militant Groups. Fast forward to 2016, there are about 23 Militant Groups in the Niger Delta and counting holding the government by the jugular. Who knows, in the next few years, there could be 100 militant groups in the Niger Delta and variants in parts of Nigeria?

Niger Delta Militants

Whither Nigerian Laws?

In 2013, Nasarawa State-based Ombatse cult reportedly slaughtered about 100 Nigerian security operatives – comprising policemen and State Security Service (SSS) or DSS personnel and waltz. Till date nobody was tried let alone convicted for this heinous crime. Rather, the then Director General of the SSS – Mr. Ita Ekpenyong startled Nigerians by saying that the DSS has forgiven Ombatse members for killing its personnel. Writing on Guardian Africa Network, Salisu Suleiman says, ‘’Only in Nigeria could 103 people – officers of the police, state security service and mobile police – be killed in the line of duty, without as much as a formal investigation to find out what happened: who gave what orders, whether the officers were prepared for the mission and who was responsible for the brutal massacre that took place. The conspiracy of silence is indicative of fundamental malfunctions in the country's security structure. No other country in the world would tolerate this level of disregard for the lives of security personnel.’’

In a news report titled, ‘’Why we can’t Execute Boko Haram convicts’’, Nigeria’s Attorney General, AG, – Abubarka Malami shocked the nation when he asserted through one Mr. Sylvester Imahanobe that, ‘’convicted members of the Boko Haram sect in Nigeria could not be executed because the laws under which they were tried did not prescribe death sentence.’’ It is apparent that the Attorney General’s assertion clearly disputes Nigeria’s Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2011 as (amended) in 2013, Part 1, sub section 4 which states: ‘’(2) without prejudice to sub-section (20 of this section, where death results from any terrorist act, the penalty shall be death sentence.’’ The statement credited to the current AG obviously contradicts that of his predecessor – Mr. Mohammed Adoke who said, ‘’considerable achievements had been made in terms of containing terrorism through the prosecution of members of the sect under the Terrorism Prevention Act, 2011 as amended in 2013.’’ There is no better time for a functional judiciary in Nigeria than now otherwise our laws will remain mere paper-tigers!

By the way, does NACTEST, Nigeria’s National Counter-terrorism strategy prescribe negotiating with terrorists, militants, bandits or granting them amnesty? 

Newton’s third law of motion says, ‘’to every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Setting a precedent, especially a bad one, engenders a vicious cycle. My father - Ochiriozuo reiterates this Igbo proverb - "ekpee ofu ikpe, ekpela ibe ya". Translated - 'when one case is treated, precedence is set for future reference'. While it is expedient to absolve, counsel and reintegrate innocent family members of Boko Haram insurgents into the society, it is very risky to release so-called Boko Haram commanders, explosives experts and their ilks. It behoves relevant Nigerian agencies and the President Buhari administration to critically weigh the far-reaching consequences of granting amnesty to convicted or detained Boko Haram terrorists, and other so-called militants under whatever guise. An Igbo proverb says, ‘’aru gbaa afo, oburu omenala’’ – meaning – when a crime persists for a while, it becomes a standard culture. Having entrenched such precedents, Nigeria should brace up to democratize amnesty, its variants because like a vicious cycle, this won't be the last time terrorists, armed militias will force Nigeria to the negotiating table. 

Written by:
© Don Okereke
(Security/Analyst/Consultant, Ex-serviceman, Writer)
Follow me on Twitter: @donokereke
September, 2016

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