Some serving and past senators have kicked against the bill that seeks to establish an agency for the rehabilitation of repentant Boko Haram members.
The lawmakers described the bill as needless, waste of resources and misplaced priority. This is even as they questioned the nationality of the insurgents.
The introduction of the bill comes amidst outrage about repentant Boko Haram members being made to undergo rehabilitation.
The repentant insurgents were said to have been exposed to formal literacy classes, skills acquisition and Islamic Religious Knowledge (IRK) as well as drug and psycho-therapy during their training.
A group of Borno elders, led by ex-governor Kashim Shettima, last year, frowned at the initiative, saying the military’s operation was not well thought out. Many individuals and civic groups have also argued that the bill if passed, will breed more insurgents.
They fear that releasing the purported repentant Boko Haram militants into civilian population could be counterproductive as hardened fighters would return to the terror group to commit more atrocities.
The bill titled, ‘‘National Agency for the Education, Rehabilitation, De-radicalisation and Integration of Repentant Insurgents in Nigeria’ was introduced in the Senate on Thursday.
It is sponsored by Ibrahim Geidam (APC, Yobe East), a former governor of the state.
Having been read for the first time, the details are expected to be discussed on another legislative day.
Although details of the bill have not been made public, part of the bill seen by PREMIUM TIMES shows that the agency will help “gain a greater understanding of both the immediate needs for combating Boko Haram as well as (be a) tool for counter-radicalisation in the future.”
Some major aims of the bill as contained in it include:
* Provide avenue for rehabilitating, de-radicalising, educating and reintegrating the defectors, repentant and detained members of the insurgent group Boko Haram to make them useful members of the society.
* Provide avenue for reconciliation and promote national security.
* Provide an-open-door and encouragement for other members of the group who are still engaged in the insurgency to abandon the group especially in the face of the military pressure.
* Gives the government an opportunity to derive insider-information about the insurgence group for greater understanding of the group and its inner workings.
* Gaining greater understanding of the insurgents will enable government to address the immediate concerns of violence and study the needs of de-radicalization effort to improve the process of de-radicalisation.
* Help disintegrate the violent and poisonous ideology that the group spreads as the programme will enable some convicted or suspected terrorists to express remorse over their actions, repent and recant their violent ideology and re-enter mainstream politics, religion and society.
According to the document, the agency will create vocational rehabilitation for the members – which will give the detainees opportunities to learn carpentry, clay shaping, pottery, use of art through drawings, among others.
Lawmakers condemn the bill
Many senators who were present at the plenary during the first reading of the bill could not hide their surprise when it was mentioned. Others seemed amazed at the bill itself.
Some past and serving senators who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES also condemned the bill.
The senator representing Ondo Central, Ayo Akinyelure, said there is no justification for the bill and questioned the real nationality of the insurgents.
“These are criminals to whom life means nothing. So what type of rehabilitation are we going to give them? Do you even know if they are Nigerians? Most of them are not Nigerians. They are from Niger Republic and other neighbouring countries. They just believe that terrorising us and taking our resources is what is their major concerns.
“When you now say you want to establish an agency, then you are now harbouring terrorists in your country and you are giving recognition that you’re keeping them by opening an agency.
“Before you know it, they will resettle around Nigeria and attack and take over. Doesn’t make sense. The best thing is for them to go back to their countries and if they want to repent, they repent and surrender. That’s all,” he said.
While he said the insurgents cannot be rehabilitated, the lawmaker advised that funds should be used to correct infrastructural decay.
“There is no justification for the creation of such agency. How can an enemy be rehabilitated? These are people who have done Nigeria so much harm – killing people that they cannot create, and you want to establish…so what are we budgeting trillions yearly for our security agencies?
“We have a lot of infrastructural decay all over the country. Our roads are bad. Average Nigerian cannot enjoy good roads, electricity, water supply both in the city and villages and you want to use the little resource available to rehabilitate your enemies.
“Enemy can never be rehabilitated. We have been on this thing since the time of Jonathan. The president said when we vote for them, they will eradicate Boko Haram but Boko Haram has been on the increase since then and this is almost six years now. They are not making significant impact.”
He also called for improved funding for the army, the police and other security agencies as well as proper equipment to fight the insurgents.
Kaduna South senator, Danjuma Laah, who was absent when the bill was introduced, said he is “seriously against it.”
“I could remember I was the first person that raised the motion when I was talking to the IG when he came to the floor of the senate, he was asking about that bill.
“I remember most Boko Haram that were arrested and these ‘suicide bombers’ with all these terrorists, most of them were caught on this act, retreated to IDP, they kept them there, trained them, feed them, overfed them, within the shortest time at their disposal, within three months, they call them out of the IDP, they absorb them in the army.
“I asked that question, why should that be possible. Are they saying that those people are better off than the intelligent staff that they have or what did they see or foresee in them that they were absorbing them in all the military operations. He could not answer.”
He said the police chief, Mohammad Adamu, assured him that he would not allow it to happen in the Nigeria police.
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“That it is only the army, Air force or navy that does that. But I see no reason why such people should be absorbed into the army system, knowing fully well that they are offenders and you are looking forward for them to repent,” he said.
“What kind of repent? No matter what, once you are a thief, you are a thief. Anytime anything misses in your room or house, they will always suspect you. So I am not just comfortable with that bill,” he added.
The army has since denied the rumour that it is employing ex-Boko Haram members.
For Shehu Sani, an ex-Kaduna senator, the situation in the North-east has been properly taken care of with the establishment of the North East Development Commission (NEDC).
That commission should be well-funded and well-equipped to tackle all these socio-economic matters that affect the North East, he told PREMIUM TIMES.
He said establishing an agency for repentant Boko Haram members is needless and a complete waste of resources.
“Also, if we start any agency in the name Boko Haram, either that agency will become a breeding ground for more terrorists or it is going to be a target of the terrorist.
“We cannot start diverting resources that supposed to be used to bring an end to the violence and the killings and fund NEDC in the name of setting up an agency. As far as I’m concerned, that repentant Boko Haram agency is going to be a factory for producing more suicide bombers and more killers.”
While he noted that some countries have deradicalisation programmes like this, he explained that Nigeria is currently at war with the insurgents – hence the need to discard the idea of rehabilitation for the members.
“…the situation now is that the country is at war with insurgents. Deradicalisation can only come after the leadership and the group has been defeated. But doing this is putting the cart before the horse.”
Isa Misau, an ex-Bauchi senator, said he is against the bill as it is not the right time for Nigeria to start such.
“So after rehabilitation, who is going to monitor them? Do we have the manpower to monitor their activities after that because, I think even the sponsor of the bill, I don’t know, I don’t think he has made serious research before bringing that bill. There are some senators already who are against the bill.
“I will also not support it especially this time when we cannot even monitor a lot of things. We are lacking a lot of things when it comes to intelligence gathering. Even the ordinary and physical things, we cannot contain them. How do you know he has repented?”
Mr Misau argued that leaders of Boko Haram could sponsor members to pretend they have repented so they can gather more intelligence.
“You cannot compare it to amnesty given to Niger Delta because they have people that are known. Everybody knows their leaders and the reasons for their agitation. But Boko Haram, nobody knows the reason why they are killing people or this is the reason why they are doing what they are doing because you can see there is a lot of difference.
“You cannot just come and tell me that you are killing people in the name of religion whereby you are killing both Muslims and Christians so which means which religion are you talking about. I don’t support that bill because even if we are going to do anything concerning repentant Boko Haram, it is not where we will put a commission for it, for now. We don’t know how tomorrow will be but for now, it is not a good idea.”
The former chief whip, Olusola Adeyeye, simply said “quite frankly, I strongly disagree with the need for such an agency. Rather than solve any problem, the metastasis of needless bureaucracy has always created more problems!”