Nigeria`s increasingly close brush with terrorism has thrown up a couple of dilemmas, some more pressing than the others. For those who have survived at the tip of its spear, the dilemma has often involved how to move on after their loved ones have been killed, livelihoods destroyed and houses razed. Crammed into filthy refugee camps dripping with squalor, they usually have enough time to compare and comprehend wounds.
A country that continues to experience the constant trauma that terrorism engenders must also now count the cost of continuously being in the eye the storm. It is always one issue or the other with the conversation often veering wildly between the serious and the ridiculous. There have been conversations on whether IDP camps should be closed, the treatment that should be accorded those who have previously taken up arms against the Nigerian state but are now supposedly repentant of their heinous crimes.
Conversations along that line are often heated and engrossing. Recently, two men who govern two of Nigeria`s most volatile states had their take on the vexed issue of repentant terrorists.
First to go was the much-maligned Mr. Nasir El-rufai, the Kaduna State Governor. Dishing out truly horrifying figures on the security challenges facing his state as compiled by Samuel Aruwan, the Commissioner of Internal Security and Home Affairs, Mr. El-rufai lamented that Kaduna State lost 1,192 residents to bandit attacks across the state in 2021, while 3,348 citizens were kidnapped.
Mr. El-rufai soon took leave of his lamentation to launch a scathing attack on the whole idea of ‘repentant terrorists’ which many have been too eager to push recently. He said, “We continue to emphasize that as a state, we do not believe that there is any phenomenon like `repentant bandits’. Any person that makes a conscious decision to secure arms, challenge the authority of the Nigerian state, and threatens the lives and property of Nigerians does not deserve to live or be granted any concession by the society,”
Across from Mr. El-rufai to Borno State which has since become one of terrorism`s chief theatre of operations, Mr. Babagana Zulum the Borno State Governor had a different view. Expressing confidence that 90 % of repentant terrorists are genuine, the governor said he was in no doubt that the majority of the terrorists who surrendered to the Nigerian military are truly repentant.
According to Mr. Zulum: “I am 100 percent confident. Yes. While no process is perfect in the entire world, so far, so good. The process has yielded positive results; I believe over 90 percent of those that have surrendered; are doing well and have given the government the necessary support. They are also calling their colleagues in the bush to come out and join the process of peacebuilding.”
To come out from where and return to what exactly? The divergence of opinions between two Nigerian governors whose states that have lived firsthand the devastating menace that terrorism is approximates what many Nigerians make of `repentant terrorists.’
On the one hand is the Nigerian Army which has enthusiastically pushed `Operation Safe Corridor’ as a solution by which it seeks to lure terrorists out of their lairs, deradicalize them all with the broader aim of defanging terrorist groups and ultimately defeating terrorism.
However, when sometime in 2021, the internet was flooded with pictures of supposedly repentant terrorists enjoying a soccer match amid raucous laughter and cheers in an NYSC orientation camp in Gombe state, many Nigerians balked at the chilling cruelty of irony.
It hit a sore spot that while Nigerian children sacked from their communities cannot go back to school and are stuck in squalid IDP camps with their equally grounded families, those responsible are offered a new lease of life with the tax payer`s money. Amid the squalor that sticks like super glue, child victims of bone-jarring terrorist activities do not know what fun tastes like having lost their childhood.
If Nigeria is to ever attain true justice which is the foundational nucleus of any society that wants to know genuine advancement, those who have caused others so much death and suffering deserve stinging lashes of the cane across their backs and not casual slaps on their wrists with carrots.
When the supposedly repentant terrorists complete their deradicalization, to which communities will they then be reintegrated into? Nigerians are a forgiving lot and this laudable trait comes from a place of deep religion. However, to ask them to embrace those who once shared kinship with the killers who caused them so much suffering is to ask for too much while cruelly and unjustly mocking their pain. There can be no doubt that justice is best served when people go in for what they have done especially when their actions have made life a living death for others
To pervert this kind of justice under any guise is not only appalling and atrocious, but abominable. The authorities can huff and puff all they want but Nigerians know that the whole idea of `repentant terrorists’ is one grand illusion, pushed to serve parochial interests.
The rustiness of such repentance is as rotten as the ruse of those who advertise and advance same. The merchandise they market is not just expired and extortionate, it is egregious.