Five days ago, the Governor of Borno State, Babagana Zulum, was ambushed by Boko Haram fighters in the middle of a trip to Monguno and Baga towns to visit with and provide food for the internally displaced persons camping in those towns. Zulum was making this trip as part of a heavily armed convoy, as is customary for a high ranking government official in a region with extreme unrest. In spite of his preparation and the security precautions, the convoy was still attacked and the Governor escaped with his life, but only barely. This event underscores the severity of the Boko Haram crisis in North Eastern Nigeria, which has raged for 11 years and claimed thousands of lives, displacing hundreds of thousands of others. It also highlights the disconnect between the realities on ground and the official stance of the Nigerian executive, which has declared several times over the last five years, that a terrorist group capable of successfully ambushing an armed governor convoy is functionally defeated.
The absurdity of the events happening in Northern Nigeria are emphasized by the ‘graduation’, just a week before, of 600 ‘repentant’ Boko Haram fighters who were inducted into rehabilitation camps, funded by the government with tax payers moneys and their reintroduction into the larger society. The government has pledged its support for the newly ‘reformed’ terrorists and promised to help them find jobs, a promise that is yet to be fulfilled for the displaced persons in Monguno and Baga towns who were forcefully uprooted from their homelands and forced to flee as a way to escape the forced kidnappings and indoctrination that became common place at the height of the Boko Haram invasion of Northern Nigeria. These 600 reformed fighters will be allowed to reintegrate into society while the displaced victims of the conflict they helped foster remain disenfranchised and unable to return home.
This begs the question; where exactly are we on the fight against Boko Haram?
What confidence do we have that these 600 reformed terrorists will face the law for their actions against innocent people, or that they have seen the error of their ways and are willing to work to correct them. What guarantee that reintegration, not accountability for their actions will reverse the tide, while ignoring that Boko Haram continues to move against the Nigerian government and the average Nigerian, threatening our lives and livelihoods.
How do you rehabilitate fighters in a war that is still very much active, especially reports have suggested many fighters in the battle for Boko Haram territories are young people, disillusioned by the status and seeking to change things in whatever way they can? What failsafe measures have you put in place so the process is not co-opted and that true change happens. This is the question Governor Zulum, on behalf of millions of disilluioned Nigerians are asking.
Edwin Okolo is an author and journalist who has worked with YNaija, TheNativemag and the Naked Convos.