The final ceremony that turns a “repentant” Boko Haram terrorist into a responsible member of the Nigerian society is surprisingly glossy. Hundreds of men, dressed in uniform green and white attire, place their hands on the Holy Quran and promise to stop being bad boys. A bunch of people dressed in fancy clothes clap for them. Everybody goes home happy.
This ceremony is the final component of Operation Safe Corridor (OSC).
Safe corridor for who?
In President Buhari’s wisdom, he set up a rehabilitation programme for Boko Haram in 2016. You may remember them as the terrorists that killed over 30,000 people in northern Nigeria from 2009 to 2021.
The goal of Operation Safe Corridor is simple — provide incentives for terrorists to encourage them to stop killing people. The icing on that reward system is forgiveness for their past sins and freedom to return to the communities they used to terrorise.
How does it work?
As a terrorist tired of the bloodlust, all you have to do is surrender to the military. Then you’re screened and enrolled into the OSC programme that promises “de-radicalisation, rehabilitation, and reintegration” (DRR). You then undergo a series of medical screenings, psychological counselling, drug abuse counselling and vocational training, because an idle hand is the devil’s workshop.
Also, the military pumps you full of the western education juice that Boko Haram hates and fights against.
The repentant terrorists are also called “clients” for some reason.
ALSO READ: How Does “Operation Safe Corridor” Work?
What’s the latest?
The Nigerian military rolled out a new batch of graduates of Operation Safe Corridor on March 13th, 2022. 559 clients took the oath to never do terrorist stuff ever again and were dispatched to communities where they’ll be reintegrated. The latest batch increases the number of OSC graduates to 1,629 since the programme launched.
The pipeline of clients is expected to swell over the coming years, as over 5,000 terrorists reportedly surrendered to the military between May 2021 and January 2022 alone.
The government has been loud about the fact that only “low-risk” fighters are admitted into the programme. These low-risk fighters are those that were captured and forced to bear arms for Boko Haram. The government has also denied many claims that the former terrorists are recruited into the Nigerian military.
Who’s not happy with Operation Safe Corridor?
There’s a lot of public hostility towards Operation Safe Corridor. It’d take all day to list the many types of people that are not on board with the programme, but the most important group is the communities expected to accept the repentant terrorists (for obvious reasons). Many of them don’t believe that OSC graduates have changed just because of a few nice words.
What’s worse is, some of these communities are still terrorised by the activities of Boko Haram. Many displaced victims have also not been resettled. These communities don’t understand why they are expected to live happily ever after with their tormentors when the war is still active.
Is Operation Safe Corridor working?
The effectiveness of OSC has been called into question many times. The government points to the volume of people that have surrendered as a success story. But critics don’t think that’s enough.
Thousands of fighters surrendered in 2021 only after the death of longtime Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau. His death left his group weak against the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) that has been fighting Boko Haram for territorial control. So, it’s plausible that these men and their families surrendered for survival and not because they’re truly repentant.
It’s difficult to determine how repentant these terrorists are, but the government is not slowing down in graduating them.