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Starvation is driving thousands of surrendered insurgents to return to the fighters in the forest

16 March 2023
Reading time: 5 minutes

Very little food and clean drinking water, too few shelters and poor living conditions are driving thousands of repentant insurgents in the Dikwa Local Government Area to return to their old ways of life, rejoining fighters in the forest and attacking the innocent people who had welcomed them back into their community.

Rawa Shettima, one of the leaders of the New Arrival Camp in Dikwa said there were 1,200 repentant insurgents living in the camp. Most of them came from Maiduguri where they had surrendered, been deradicalised and rehabilitated before being allowed to return to their communities.

He said there were about 8,000 more surrendered fighters living in Dikwa town. Some were renting houses, others were living with relatives and quite a few were squatting in rooms belonging to people in the host community.

“New Arrival Camp is badly overcrowded with five or six people sharing a single room. We need many more shelters. And it is not much better for those in the town. All the repentant insurgents – inside and outside the camp – are starving. They do not have work. They do not have enough food or clean water. I know of about 60 people who have left the camp to return to the fighters in the forest. But I estimate a couple of thousand repentant insurgents have already returned to their old ways.

“They are so desperate that they go back even though they know there is a chance that the active insurgents could kill them because they surrendered and are no longer considered trustworthy. But that has not stopped them. There are many more who plan to return to their old ways because they are starving and life in the camp and even in the town is just too hard. They are barely surviving.

“The repentant insurgents pretend they are going to collect wood and then they sneak back into the forest.”

Shettima said he and other leaders of the camp had spoken to authorities about the poor living conditions and the lack of basic amenities. They had even warned the authorities that many repentant insurgents had gone back to the forest and many more were thinking about it.

“But the authorities have not taken any action to help us. No government or non-governmental organisations [NGOs] have given us any humanitarian aid.

“The last time we got food was about six months ago. Since then we have had to scrounge for food or beg in the streets for money so that we can get something in our stomachs. Our living conditions are terrible. It’s no wonder that so many penitent insurgents want to go back to their old lives.”

Mallam Abukar, a repentant insurgent, told RNI that when he was an active insurgent, he and others would spend the day farming and, when there was a fight, they participated.

“I decided to leave Mukdolo forest about a year ago. One day back then, a helicopter flew over the forest and dropped pamphlets urging fighters to surrender. They promised us that if we truly renounced violence we could return to our communities and live in peace. That’s when I and many others started planning to leave. When we left, we surrendered to the military and we were kept in a camp where we were deradicalised and rehabilitated.

“There are about 6,000 insurgents I know of who want to surrender. But they fear doing so because the fighters have threatened to kill anyone they suspect of wanting to surrender. Insurgents are not only attacking innocent people. There is fighting between the members of Boko Haram [Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’way Wa’l-Jihād – JAS] and those from the Islamic State West Africa Province [ISWAP].

“But now many of those who planned to escape and surrender have heard how bad life is on the outside and have seen how many people have returned. Now they are staying where they are.

“Life in the forest was hard but it is worse here because we are starving. Each day I hear about more repentant insurgents going back to the forest. We have a lot of challenges. We don’t have food or good drinking water. We don’t even have basic amenities.

“If the government and NGOs do not provide shelters, food, water and basic social services soon, they will be responsible for more repentant insurgents returning to the bush.”

Ya Fanna, the wife of a repentant insurgent, told RNI that she had left the bush about six months ago and was living with her children in the camp in Dikwa town.

“But instead of getting better, life has got worse here. We are starving, we don’t have enough shelters, we don’t even have healthcare services. Often I have to beg on the streets because otherwise we would starve to death.

“Now the holy month of Ramadan is approaching and we are pleading with the government and humanitarian agencies to help us by providing food and temporary tents with mattresses.”

Ali Dikwa, a repentant insurgent, said many of those who surrendered – particularly the women and children – had returned to the fighters in the forest “just because they were so hungry”.

“If the government does not want us to go back to our old ways, it must do something quickly to help us otherwise all of us will return.”


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