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Peace & Security

Hundreds of extremists quit Boko Haram and surrender to the military

12 August 2021
Reading time: 4 minutes

The death of Abubakar Shekau – the former long-time pugnacious leader of the Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’way Wa’l-Jihād (JAS), more commonly referred to Boko Haram – a lack of weapons, little insider information, no money or food, as well as increased security in the northeast, have forced hundreds of insurgents from the extremist group to surrender to Nigeria’s military.

So said Abba Gana Wakil Mahamadou, a security analyst from Niamey in the Republic of Niger.

Shekau died on May 19 during a clash with the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). He reportedly detonated his suicide vest, killing himself instantly. He had said he would rather die than accept ISWAP’s ideology.

His death resulted in a significant setback for the JAS. Its members lacked coordination and direction, including insider knowledge and information of where and how to attack.

In the 12 years since the insurgency began, JAS – and later its splinter group ISWAP as well – killed thousands and displaced millions of people across the region. They raped and pillaged their way through northeast Nigeria and into the Lake Chad Region.

Mahamadou said that since Shekau’s death there had been a marked decrease in the number of attacks not only in Nigeria, but also in the neighbouring countries of Niger, Cameroon and Chad.

He said it appeared the insurgents had lost much of their power.

Disagreements about ideology had divided JAS and ISWAP, he said, and misunderstandings and power struggles had reduced and weakened support for the two groups.

This, Mahamadou said, had played a major role in the decision of hundreds of mostly JAS, but also ISWAP, members surrendering to the military.

Mahamadou said what had helped to decrease the danger of these extremists was that the military in Chad had received modern weaponry and had been able to quash many extremist attacks in the region.

The fact that Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad were working together to restore peace in their countries and the region was  beginning to show results in that displaced people were starting to return to their countries or regions of origin, he said.

Nigeria’s military and other security agencies had bombarded the extremists with artillery and infantry firepower and informants had revealed insurgents’ hideouts and also their strategies.

Some reports indicated that about 300 insurgents, including some of their commanders, had already surrendered to the military. Others said as many as 800 had surrendered. An unknown number had surrendered after suffering casualties during sustained air and artillery bombardments.

Mahamadou said the Nigerian government had approached insurgents in the bush to give themselves up and embrace peace.

He said what was of utmost importance was that the government should focus on halting the importation of weapons from Libya.

It was likely that the surrendered extremists would be kept in barracks to begin with and later undergo rehabilitation as part of the government’s initiative, Operation Safe Corridor, so that they could be reintegrated into society.

The issue of returning the surrendered insurgents back into society was not just the responsibility of the government. Civil society organisations and traditional and religious leaders needed to create awareness among communities of the return of extremists and should do whatever was possible to ensure everyone lived in peace, Mahamadou said.

  • Operation Safe Corridor was established by the Nigerian government in 2016 to receive voluntary defectors from extremist groups. The government realised that it would not be able to defeat the extremists, which it had been battling since 2009, by military means alone. However, the International Crisis Group said in a report, it was widely regarded that the authorities had failed to demonstrate the programme could guide internees to graduation and reintegrate them back into society safely and securely. To date, it said, Operation Safe Corridor had fallen short of being able to offer those kinds of assurances with sufficient credibility. Many people in northeast Nigeria hold deep-seated emotions, doubts and resentment about so-called “repentant”insurgents, as well as those who had surrendered, being reintegrated into their communities and questioned whether they could be truly rehabilitated and deradicalised. They expressed doubt about whether it would be safe living among them. One resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said it was hard for communities to imagine living peacefully with the very people who had traumatised them and changed their lives forever.

About the author

Amina Abbagana