Days after losing their major stronghold, Sambisa Forest, in Nigeria’s north-east to the country’s forces, dozens of Boko Haram fighters have surrendered to authorities in neighbouring Niger Republic.
The Niger Interior Minister on Wednesday said dozens of Boko Haram fighters gave themselves up to authorities in southern Niger.
Minister Mohamed Bazoum said that 31 young people from Diffa, who were enrolled a few years ago in Boko Haram, decided to surrender.
The fighters arrived in the remote desert town of Diffa in groups and were being held by local authorities.
“I learned that the first who surrendered were not arrested, and I surrendered.
“We expect a pardon from the government so that we can participate in the development of the country and help us get rid of the trauma,’’ a former Boko Haram combatant told journalists.
In June, tens of thousands of people fled Diffa as Boko Haram swept the region.
However five Niger soldiers were killed by the militants near Diffa in September.
It was not clear what would become of the ex-Boko Haram fighters, but authorities said there was the possibility of reintegrating them back into society.
A security source told Reuters that a meeting was planned for Wednesday in Diffa to discuss “the conditions of surrender.” The source did not provide further details.
Boko Haram has killed over 20,000 people and displaced over 2 million since 2009 in an insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic state in Northern Nigeria.
In recent years its attacks have spilled into neighbouring Niger, Cameroon and Chad.
Hundreds of Boko Haram fighters surrendered in Chad in October and November as the group ceded territory.
The group controlled an area about the size of Belgium in early 2015 but has since been pushed back by international forces including troops from Niger.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Saturday said Nigeria’s army captured its last enclave in the vast Sambisa forest on Friday.
The Nigerian Army has since said it recovered a Quran and a flag belonging to the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, in Sambisa.
Lucky Irabor, a major general, said Mr. Shekau escaped when authorities took over the forest.
The Army has also said it would turn the vast area of the forest to a military training ground.
Mr. Irabor also said on Wednesday that the Nigerian Army said arrested about 1,240 suspected Boko Haram terrorists during a mop-up operation by troops inside the Sambisa forest.
Mr. Irabor, the Theatre Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, disclosed this while giving update to journalists on Operation Rescue Final at the Maimalari Cantonment, Maiduguri.
He said that 413 of the suspects were adults, 323 were female adults, 251 male children, while 253 were female children.
He said that the suspects were apprehended during a mop-up operation against the sect members in the forest.
“We are interrogating them to know whether they are Boko Haram members, because there is no way somebody that is not their member would live inside Sambisa forest.
“We are still on the trail of the terrorists and I want to assure you that all escape routes have been blocked.
The commander also confirmed the surrender of some insurgents to Niger authorities.
“Within this period, also, about 30 fleeing suspected Boko Haram members have surrendered to the Niger Multinational Troops on the shores of the lake Chad and we learnt that they were taken to Diffa in the Niger Republic.
“The suspects include 24 males and six females.
“We would like to use this opportunity to encourage the terrorists to give up the fight because the window is still open,” the commander said.