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What life means now to the reintegrated repentant former fighters

29 May 2023
Reading time: 6 minutes

The Nigerian government claims that at least 93,000 members of the Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’way Wa’l-Jihād (JAS), better known as Boko Haram, including their families, have surrendered to the military in the past two years.

All surrendered to the military in Borno or one of the other states in the northeast. And all were sent to the Hajj Camp in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, to be rehabilitated and deradicalised so that they would be able to reintegrate into society again.

In an exclusive interview with RNI, Zuwaira Gambo, the Borno State commissioner of women affairs and social development, said that of the 93,000 insurgents, after screening it was discovered that about 42,000 of them had not been real fighters but were farmers who belonged to the JAS and grew produce or bred livestock to feed the insurgents.

She said that once surrendered, all former fighters are housed at Hajj Camp in Maiduguri to undergo a series of “designed deradicalisation and rehabilitation programmes” for months under what the Borno State government calls the “Borno Model” before they are reintegrated into society.

Little is known about the Borno Model – a non-kinetic (non-lethal) approach designed to deradicalise and persuade fighters to drop their arms and embrace a normal social life – because independent journalists do not get access to the facility.

Gambo told RNI that at least 4,780 penitent former fighters had been reintegrated into various communities in Borno State. The others are still undergoing rehabilitation and many more are expected to rejoin their communities soon.

Although there has been an improvement recently, previous reports show that the reintegrated former fighters constantly face rejection from people in the communities. Some residents cannot come to terms with the former fighters – the very people who had killed, maimed, kidnapped and raped their loved ones – living in their communities again.

Apart from the community resistance, many of the former fighters are finding it hard to get jobs and rely largely on fluctuating aid from the government. They describe life after reintegration as being “extremely tough”.

Gudusu (not his real name), is a former JAS fighter who surrendered to the military 13 months ago. After spending seven months at Hajj Camp, Gudusu and his family are now living in Shokwari, a community in Maiduguri.

Gudusu said: “Life after Hajj Camp has not been easy. It’s full of challenges and we are doing what we can to overcome them. I have two wives and a daughter. My rent expired one month ago and I am under constant pressure from the landlord to renew or vacate the house.”

Mohammed Mustapha, also a rehabilitated former fighter, surrendered to the military 10 months ago and is now living in Maiduguri with his four wives and 13 children.

He told RNI about his “new life” back in society.

“Life in Maiduguri is very expensive. I have four wives and 13 children and we are all living together. I cannot afford to rent a house so my uncle resettled us on his land. But we are living without a roof over our heads.

“I make local caps, which I sew with a needle and thread, but my earnings are not stable. I make between ₦800 to ₦2000 daily but it’s not enough to take care of our needs. I have a big family to feed.

“I wanted to enrol my children into a Western school, but I can’t afford to do so. I need financial assistance. I don’t like seeing my kids roaming the streets. I understand why it’s important for them to be in school, especially the girls. If girls are not in school, they are married off at an early age. That’s why they must go to school. If we wait too long, they will be too old to go to school and will be married off. Often girls of between 14 and 18 are married off. But now all my children are attending an Islamic school.”

The challenges are not peculiar only to the two former fighters interviewed. On March 16, RNI reported that starvation was driving thousands of surrendered insurgents to return to the fighters in the forest.

Responding to that report and other concerns expressed by the surrendered insurgents, Gambo said the women affairs and social development ministry was in charge of the welfare of the surrendered insurgents and their families.

“I just want to clarify a few things in the [March] report and the statements that some so-called surrendered insurgents have made. After leaving Hajj Camp in Maiduguri, many repentent insurgents were taken to Dikwa. They are still living there because there are many camps in Dikwa. These surrendered insurgents were originally from surrounding communities, such as Gamboru-Ngala, Kala-Balge and Bama.”

In the March report a leader at the New Arrival Camp in Dikwa said the surrendered repentant insurgents had very little food and clean drinking water, too few shelters and that their living conditions were poor.

“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,” Rawa Shettima told RNI.

Gambo said all surrendered insurgents received mental health and psychosocial support when they were at the Hajj Camp and they were given skills training so that they would be able to start a business and make a living once they were reintegrated into society.

“On the day of departure, they are given food for at least six months and some money to enable them to establish their own businesses. But some of them spent all their money on other things and some of them even sold the foodstuff that was given to them. They started moving from one camp to another begging for money, giving the impression that they were not fully reintegrated.”



About the author

Mamman Mahmood