By Jude Obuseh
A couple of weeks ago, the Nigerian Military High Command announced that several commanders and members of Islamist insurgent group, Boko Haram and one of its rival factions, the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) had surrendered in the last four months. Adamu Rugurugu, a former top commander of Boko Haram, was among those who reportedly surrendered. Included in this list were those who dropped their arms under the watch of the late Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Ibrahim Attahiru, and his successor, Faruk Yahaya.
The surrender of the insurgents came in the wake of sustained military assaults following the purported demise of Abubakar Shekau. But heartwarming as the news of the surrender of these insurgents is, this writer calls for caution on the path of the political and military authorities as well as the general public as this is not the first instance insurgents have surrendered to the authorities. It’s definitely not yet Uhuru!
BH has proved over the years how tactically suave it can be when the tide of battle seems to be titling against it. Its well-known dexterity and creativity on the battle field are reasons why it has continued to survive and evolve despite all the salvos that have been fired at it; like a phoenix, it keeps resurrecting from the ashes of defeat to up the ante in its bloody war of attrition with Nigerian security forces.
This writer calls for an eclectic analysis of the latest development to get a broader picture of the emerging realities in the country’s anti-terror war. A look at some possible scenarios would help in properly appraising the genuineness of the purported surrender of BH and ISWAP insurgents, especially in view of moves by the authorities to supposedly rehabilitate and reintegrate them into the society.
Firstly, the new development could be viewed as an outcome of the purported death of BH’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, which, if true, could have seriously weakened the group’s tactical cohesion and fighting ability as it no longer has an arrowhead to coordinate and drive its bloody campaigns. There is probably low morale in the camp of BH, necessitating the recent wave of capitulations by some of its foot soldiers.
The sustained pounding of BH and ISWAP positions by the Nigerian military, which has recorded some impressive gains of late, could have also weakened the fighting capability of some of the insurgents and convinced them of the need to surrender to the authorities to avoid annihilation.
Again, the purported sensitization campaigns carried out by the military in collaboration with Islamic scholars and family members of the insurgents, in kanuri and Hausa languages, must have been very effective in convincing them of the genuine intentions of the authorities to grant them amnesty and welcome them back into the society if they gave up their arms.
However, viewed from a counterfactual angle, the mass surrender of the insurgents could actually be a gambit artfully contrived by BH and ISWAP to convince Nigerian security forces and doubting segments of the public that Shekau is truly dead as widely reported, with a view to lulling them into a false sense of security, thereby creating openings for more deadly offensives on both hard and soft targets; a maneuver that has become a key feature of their stratagems. It could be part of a wider tactical move by the insurgents to bid for time due to battle fatigue. There is every possibility that Shekau is not truly dead and that the stories surrounding his death were cooked up to throw the security forces off his scent.
Nobody should rule out the possibility of a grand alliance among the factions of the parent group that is meant to misdirect the public and the security forces and gain a strategic advantage in the ongoing war. Concocting and selling the ruse of Shekau’s death alongside the mass surrender of BH and ISWAP members would suffice as a propaganda masterstroke that could change the course of the war if successfully impressed upon the authorities and the public. That ISWAP claimed responsibility for killing Shekau is not enough reason to swallow the story hook, line and sinker.
Whichever of the foregoing scenarios turns out to be correct, however, there is need to avoid hasty conclusions, especially in the wake of moves by the authorities to grant blanket amnesty to the capitulating insurgents. This writer, who has some reservations about the genuineness of the recent mass surrender of Boko Haram and ISWAP elements, calls on Nigerian authorities to adopt a cautious approach in dealing with these rash of capitulations.
Firstly, while military operations against remnants of Boko Haram and ISWAP should continue in earnest, the firearms and other offensive weapons used by their surrendering counterparts’ should be retrieved from them, alongside thorough profiling, to ensure that dangerous elements are not released back into civilized society to cause more havoc.
Again, for proper profiling of the repentant insurgents, the deradicalization mechanism of Operation Safe Corridor, which would involve their parents, families, Ulamas, traditional/community leaders and the media, should be strengthened, while the public should be periodically briefed by the authorities on the activities of these ex-insurgents.
In all, Nigerian authorities are urged to handle the issue of the repentant insurgents with utmost care and within the ambit of both national and international laws to avoid worst-case scenarios.
Jude Obuseh is a peace researcher, practitioner and public affairs analyst. He writes in from Benin City. Syncado2006@yahoo.com