Commentaries are pouring in to express dismay over the ongoing release of hundreds–perhaps thousands–of so-called rehabilitated Boko Haram members/fighters into society.
The problem is that many of these commentaries miss the three factors sustaining this tragic policy despite outcry from people in the insurgency-ravaged Northeast and the rest of the country.
Here are the three factors driving a BH rehabilitation program:
1. One obvious driver is corruption. Clearly, a lot of money is being budgeted for this program and there are contractors, subcontractors, and consultants working in this program that are getting paid. There are also top defense officials, politicians, and bureaucrats that are skimming off margins from these these contracts.
2. The second factor is what Abdulrazak Ibrahim calls “clerical bullying.” Here is how he explains its workings: “It appears that the idea of the so-called amnesty is founded on the erroneous and unscientific notion that “you do not sever your hand from your body just because it has gangrene”. It would seem that government has bought into that idea, with a possible clerical bullying that ‘these are our brothers, who also practice sunna, but in an erroneous way, so let’s embrace and correct them’, as echoed by a powerful Sokoto cleric recently. You will know who else once defended them with “they are our brothers.”
3. The third driver connects to the second but I would argue that it is the precursor to it. People forget that this is not the first program to claim to “rehabilitate” Boko Horam members. During the early days of Boko Haram in 2009-2010 when the group had only carried out a few bombings and other terrorist activities in the north, Northern traditional rulers and clerics led by the Sultan of Sokoto pressured the Yar’Adua administration into releasing many arrested Boko Haram suspects under a misguided program called “Perception Management.” The rationale for the program was that rehabilitating and releasing these terrorists would help manage the perception that the North was a hotbed of terrorism, hence the name “Perception Management Program.” In other words, the clerics and traditional rulers who came up with the idea were more worried about the image of the North than they were about the risk of releasing these terrorists. Like the clerics that Abdulrazak Ibrahim describes above, this group of traditional rulers and clerics felt that the terrorists were “our brothers” and were only misguided in their practice of sunna and should be corrected and set straight instead of punished. One of the released terrorists, Kabiru Sokoto, would later lead his cell to bomb the Catholic church in Madalla, near Abuja. Another one, Habibu Bama, rose to become one of the top commanders of Boko Haram before he was reportedly killed in battle. This history is important to establish the fact that this is only the latest iteration of a long-running lucrative and potentially treasonous game being played by a group of clerical and secular leaders who have no concern for the victims of Boko Haram.