Operation Safe Corridor And The Misplaced Investment On Terrorism - THE DAILY CRUCIBLE



Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Operation Safe Corridor And The Misplaced Investment On Terrorism


Boko Haram Islamic insurgency began in 2009 when the jihadist group started an armed rebellion against the Nigerian government. Since 2011, Boko Haram Islamic insurgency has resulted in about 37,500 deaths making it the most deadly extremist group according to the Global Terrorism Index. Attacks and casualties have been rising and in 2019 alone, insurgents caused at least 750 security force casualties. Literature suggests that the original Boko Haram Islamic insurgent group has split into different factions and at least two factions of the terrorist group have been identified. 
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the insurgency brought about the displacement of about 2.5 million people with nearly 244,000 Nigerians living as refugees. Boko Haram insurgent group causes havoc through a wave of bombings, assassinations, and abductions.

Amnesty as an option 

Significant investments have been made on the war against the insurgency in northern Nigeria. While the net investment to Boko Haram insurgency may be somewhat difficult to quantify, Nigeria’s security spending is traceable to the budget. A DATAPHYTE story in January 2020 indicated that over ₦4.61 trillion was invested in Nigeria’s security sector between 2012 and 2015. In 2019 alone, over ₦1 trillion was earmarked to the security sector. 
While the efforts to combat insurgency in Nigeria have yielded some results, analysts say the Boko Haram insurgency does not appear to be ending soon. Though the Nigerian government make claims that the insurgent group has been technically defeated, the threat posed by Boko Haram insurgents is real and persistent.
In April 2016, the Nigerian military announced an exercise whose aim is to rehabilitate repentant members of the Boko Haram extremist group. In many ways, policy analyst considers this exercise to be an amnesty alternative with considerable similarity to the Niger Delta Amnesty programme launched by the Nigerian government in 2009. The exercise which is known as Operation Safe Corridor (OPSC) involved the setting up of a special facility where repentant terrorists who surrender their arms can get rehabilitated. The camp promised to offer numerous opportunities and participants were scheduled for vocational training to ease their reintegration into the society.  
Ultimately, Operation Safe Corridor promised de-radicalization, rehabilitation, and reintegration of repentant insurgents. Considerable success has been ascribed to OPSC. For instance, 95 Ex-Boko Haram terrorists have reportedly rehabilitated and reintegrated into the society in January 2018. Also, in 2019, OPSC reportedly secured the release of 1800 insurgents for rehabilitation and also graduated a set of 15 convicted Boko Haram fighters. Similarly, the operation also secured and handed over 86 child fighters who voluntarily surrendered to the rehabilitation centre in Borno State in November 2019. 
Recently, a bill for an Act tagged “National Agency for Education, Rehabilitation, De-radicalization and Integration of Repentant Insurgents in Nigeria 2020, SB. 340” was sponsored at the National Assembly. The bill hopes to provide an avenue for rehabilitating, de-radicalizing, educating, and reintegrating the defectors, repentant, and detained members of the Boko Haram insurgent group to make them useful members of the society. It also aims at providing an avenue for reconciliation and promoting national security. Sponsors of the bill hope that this amnesty will frustrate insurgent activities and contribute to providing intelligence on the activities of the insurgent group. It is hinted that the bill will also offer repentant terrorists the privilege of enjoying foreign education.  

Perspective on Amnesty Plan for Repentant Boko Haram Insurgents 

Largely, the bill to establish the rehabilitation agency for repentant Boko Haram insurgents has been welcome with considerable public disapproval. For example, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) outrightly condemned the bill and urged the National Assembly to focus its efforts towards ensuring justice and reparation for the victims of the Boko Haram insurgency. Similarly, Senator Istifanus Gyang also condemned the bill stating that it is an insult to Nigerians. Also, the Centre for the Vulnerable and Underprivileged described the bill as “Anti-Nigerian”. To the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), the bill is simply unfortunate. Contrariwise, some Senior Advocates of Nigeria have expressed their support for the bill and have urged the government to only exercise caution in the implementation. 
A variety of reservations have been expressed on the proposed bill. One of the concerns bothers on the antecedents of the extremist group. Historically, Boko Haram insurgents are pursuing a course that his against western education with the hope to Islamize Nigeria. From a pragmatic viewpoint, offering foreign education to individuals who are opposed to education appears to be a mismatch of priority.  
Another dimension to the reservation against the bill is the issue of negotiating with terrorists. The question of justice to victims of the Boko Haram insurgency is prominent in public conversations around the proposed amnesty. Some have described the bill to be a bold attempt by the Nigerian government to incentivize terrorism particularly as the insurgent group has not declared a ceasefire. 
The relative failure of the Niger-Delta amnesty programme is another dimension to the reservation. This is because previous leniency approaches have amounted to narrow and unpopular political and financial payoffs. This leniency reportedly promoted impunity and moral hazard which created more problem for societies in Nigeria.  
Drawing from the position of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Operation Safe Corridor, the other concerns are summarized to revolve around clarifying eligibility and defining repentant insurgents, tackling (de-)radicalization, operationalizing sustainable reintegration, ensuring a gender-sensitive approach, and demobilizing and reintegrating civilian militias. 

Operational Costs for the Boko Haram Amnesty Initiative 

Although details of the intended reach of the proposed amnesty initiative are not readily available, some costs can be envisaged with respect to the initiative. Apart from the basic cost of establishing and institutionalizing rehabilitation centres, other costs such as the cost of foreign education and the monthly support can be pictured from past governmental initiatives. 
Despite the limited access to public spending in Nigeria, data sourced by DATAPHYTE may provide an insight into the estimated cost of Amnesty in Nigeria. For the Niger-Delta amnesty initiative, 30,000 militants were targeted to be reached by the intervention. Apart from the education and vocational training offered by the program, a monthly stipend of ₦65,000 was to be given to each of these ex-militants. However, as at the beginning of the program, only a little above 20,000 militants surrendered their weapons and enlisted on the amnesty initiative.  
A basic multiplication of ₦65,000 by 20,000 people amounts to ₦1.3bn monthly. In a year at least ₦15.6bn is spent on monthly remuneration under the amnesty initiative. By implication, in the over 10 years of the amnesty program, over ₦150bn must have been spent on monthly remuneration assuming the figures are held constant. Research showed the Nigerian government allocated about N127 billion between 2009 and 2011.  An online forum alluded to the fact that the amnesty programme gulped N66.17 billion in 2012, N66.28 billion in 2013 and N63.28billion in 2014. This totalled N195.8 billion in three years. 
Another dimension to the cost of the proposed Boko Haram Amnesty Initiative is the cost of foreign education. Along this line, the Open Treasury Data showed that an excess of ₦1bn was paid by the Nigerian government for 904 foreign Nigerian scholars. This figure coverts to an annual payment of about ₦1.2m per scholar. If at all the amnesty program is considered, the total costs should be determined with particular reference to Nigeria’s economic realities and its recent deficit budget history.  

Other Important Considerations 

Before proceeding with the Boko Haram Amnesty initiative, the Nigerian government should ask itself a couple of sincere questions. Apart from the cost, the duration of the intended amnesty programme should be determined in advance to avoid a repeat of the situation with the Niger-Delta Amnesty programme where beneficiaries were still agitating against delayed payments 10 years into the programme. Similar to this is determining if the country can truly afford this huge financial investment. 
Also, the government should honestly clarify the meaning of foreign education and how it intends to provide foreign education. It should attempt to provide an explanation as to which foreign government is eager to accept ‘repentant terrorists’. In line with this, caution should be exercised to ensure that the supposed repentant insurgents do not receive the supposed foreign education in an Islamic country where they may be at risk of further radicalization.  
A comprehensive risk assessment should also be conducted before attempting to reintegrate insurgents into society. A baseline should be set to evaluate behavioural change and de-radicalization. Efforts should be made to ensure that communities participate fully in the reintegration. The involvement of different stakeholders is important to drive success in any reintegration attempt.  
Another consideration for the proposed initiative is the factional nature of the Boko Haram insurgent group. Similarly, the government should examine the implication of the initiative on the other armed groups and militias in the country. It is also imperative for the government to evaluate this decision with reference to its law-abiding citizen. It should compare the incentives for terrorism with the motivation for positive social behaviour. Also, to encourage positive social behaviour, insurgents should not be offered foreign education at the expense of law-abiding citizens. 

First published March 04, 2020.

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