Thirteen years of insurgency in the North-east has left in its wake blood, tears and destruction. More than anything else, the monumental humanitarian challenge confronting stakeholders in the region appears to be a new kind of battle all together.
Kingsley Nwezeh, who was in Maiduguri, recently, reports
The sea of heads, the thousands of women and children in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps, the surge of more thousands of anxious faces of young men at the repentant terrorist camps, the lamentations of the Chibok girls, kidnapped by insurgents at ages 15 to 17 but are now mothers of one to four children at ages 24 to 26, are the signposts of a heart-breaking and true picture of the impact of terrorism in the North-east, a situation that is better seen than imagined.
In 13 years, the gruesome violence in the North-east has left in its wake blood, tears, destruction and a new humanitarian battle for the military and other stakeholders.
Although the insurgency war has ebbed with the mass surrender of the terrorists, it has thrown up questions about the nature of the stakeholder engagement in the theater of conflict and the commitment to end hostilities.
It has created a vast land of humanitarian challenges that produced an equally challenging period for stakeholders managing the crisis.
At the last count, over 82,000 insurgents and their families had surrendered to frontline troops. They have now taken up residence at the National Hajj Camp and other facilities in Maiduguri.
The New Humanitarian Battle
The military, having fought a spirited, kinetic battle to contain the insurgency for over one decade, while following in the footsteps of the federal government, to allow some level of negotiations with the insurgents, have also found itself in a second battle ground, though a non-kinetic one, aimed at reaching out to terrorists, using repentant colleagues and financial offers to urge those still fighting the state to lay down their arms, a strategy that has proved successful.
There is, for instance, N200,000 on offer for each AK-47 rifle submitted to troops while others, who are in dangerous situations or being monitored by ISWAP in Sambisa Forest, are encouraged to escape and later take troops back to where their arms are buried for mop up operations.
Frontline troops have also been engaged in receiving pregnant wives of insurgents including many Chibok girls, who either escaped from Sambisa Forest with their babies or other young girls, who came out pregnant.
Beyond the kinetic approach, frontline troops found themselves on a mission to rescue the young mothers and other pregnant girls fleeing from captivity and taking care of them to the point of aiding the delivery of their babies.
Borno State government officials told newsmen that the mass surrender of terrorists was made possible by military operations and the death of late Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau.
Shekau was said to have laid claim to the ownership of the Chibok girls after their kidnap and demanded dowry from every insurgent wishing to marry them, a directive that was complied with thus giving rise to the birth of over 4,000 children by wives of the insurgents while in captivity and afterwards.
The Theatre Commander, Operation Hadin Kai, Maj Gen Christopher Musa, said the negotiations with the insurgents was important otherwise the nation would be grappling with another generation of insurgents wrongfully indoctrinated to fight the state.
11 Chibok Girls Now Have 25 Children
During an interview with some of the Chibok girls, at the Bulukum Interim Center in Maiduguri built by the United Nations International Childrens Emergency Fund (UNICEF), it was revealed that the eleven Chibok girls recently rescued by the military now have 25 children.
Giving further details of the on surrenders, in Maiduguri, Theatre Commander, Operation Hadin Kai, Maj Gen Christopher Musa,
said 82,237 insurgents and their families have surrendered so far out of which 16,577 are active male fighters, 52,44 men, women and 96 children.
He stated that of 276 kidnapped Chibok girls, 57 escaped, 117 were released while 11 were rescued this year.
Eleven of the Chibok girls, who recently escaped captivity now have 25 children.
In all, he said 180 girls were out of captivity while 96 remained in captivity.
Joint Investigation Center: 1, 952 Combatants in Detention, 900 Suspects for Trial
Speaking to newsmen at the Joint Investigation Center, Operation Hadin Kai, Captain Adeniyi Oluwagbenga, said 1,952 combatants were in detention including 23 females and 11 children.
He affirmed that 900 Boko Haram members would go on trial in Niger State while 323 were sent to Operation Safe Corridor in Gombe State for rehabilitation.
He said the trial of the suspects was moved to Niger State following the difficulty in accessing witnesses while some lawyers refused to go to Maiduguri for the trial.
“Most suspects are awaiting prosecution. The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) has assured that by January, more than 900 of them will be moved to Niger State for prosecution.
“Some lawyers refused to come to Maiduguri for trial hence it can’t be held in Maiduguri”, he said.
Taking journalists round the Hajj Camp in Maiduguri housing 14, 804 repentant insurgents and families, Special Adviser on Security to the Borno State government, Brigd.Gen Abdulrasaq Ishaq (rtd), said of the number of repentant terrorists housed in the three camps, married males were 3,472, single males 1,773, spouses, 4,438, male children, 2,691 and female children 2,497.
He said 5000 fighters and their families were living in the three camps as well.
He said 90 percent of die-hard Boko Haram insurgents were dead just as he attributed the mass surrender to the death of late terror leader, Ibrahim Shekau and the operations of the military.
In a separate interview, the Borno State Commissioner for Women Affairs, Zuwaira Gambo, said the 11 Chibok Girls, who recently escaped captivity had 25 children.
She said government was taking care of the young mothers.
In a chat with some of them the young mothers expressed their desire to return to school like some of their colleagues.
“We want to go back to school like others. We are not happy”.
Allegations of Forced Abortion of Pregnancies of Wives of Insurgents
There were insinuations of involvement of the military in abortion of pregnancies of female terror suspects. However, with the number of new babies in the various camps and the care accorded the young mothers and their babies, the allegations appeared far-fetched.
Major General Musa condemned such insinuations, saying abortion was alien to the military.
“In Africa, we abhor it (abortion).
We have gone to other countries and secured them. Why should we do it here. Every nation should stand up for what we want.
“When they see that you don’t want to do what they want, you have a problem. As a nation, we must look into all these things in order to move forward”, he said.
Medical staff of the hospitals located in the repentant terrorist camps in Borno State deplored insinuations of abortions of pregnancies of wives of the repentant insurgents.
Speaking to newsmen at the camp, the Head of the Medical Facility, Dr Mohammed Sale, said the new born babies in the camp comprised of 150 females and 112 males.
A breakdown of the figure showed that in July this year, 94 babies were delivered at the facility, with 98 delivered in August, 60 in September and 11 in October
On abortion, he said the medical facility did not record any case of maternal mortality or abortion in the camp, saying such critical cases were usually referred to the state owned Umoru Shehu Specialist Hospital and University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH).
Military High Command Weighs In, Slams Reuters
The military high command has also debunked allegations of involvement in the abortion of pregnancies of wives of insurgents in the North-east.
A statement issued by the Director, Defence Information (DDI), Maj Gen Jimmy Akpor, said the allegations smacked of wickedness in view of the military’s role in the restoration of democracy in Liberia, Sierra Leone, among other peace-keeping operations across the globe without any such record.
It accused Reuters news agency
of planning to publish stories about purported actions of the Nigerian military during the government’s 13-year war against Islamist insurgents in the country’s North-east.
“To them, they were committed to producing an accurate, fair and complete report hence, their request to arrange a time to discuss before their reporting.
” The supposed stories were purported to focus on two specific areas: first, supposed military-run programme of forced abortions performed on women and girls who were held captive and impregnated by Islamist militants and second, a supposed killing of children by the military as part of counterinsurgency operations.
“The Reuters report was to also allege that, since 2013, Nigeria’s military had run a secret, systematic and illegal abortion programme in the country’s North east terminating at least 12,000 pregnancies among women and girls.
“That many children were shot, poisoned, suffocated or run down by vehicles in army-led actions. Furthermore, the report was to allege that soldiers selected babies and toddlers for killing after rescuing them and their mothers from Islamist militants, amongst other weighty concocted allegations”, it said.
It stated that “the key motive for supposedly carrying out the abortions was allegedly the notion that the children of Islamist militants, because of the blood in their veins, would one day follow in their father’s footsteps and take up arm against the Nigerian Government and society”.
The statement further provided statistics of insurgents and their families housed in different camps in Maiduguri during a recent tour of the camps.
“Let us analyse the period from July 2021 till November 2022. A total of 82,064 Boko Haram fighters with members of their families have surrendered to troops of Op HADIN KAI. Out of this number, 16,553 were active male fighters, 24,446 were women while 41,065 were children.
“The Borno State government is camping and accommodating them family-by-family, as per households, without having to separate the children from their parents. In the same camp are thousands of pregnant women and nursing mothers”, it said.
“A total of 262 babies were born within a period of 4 months (94 in July, 98 in August, 60 in September and 11 in October 2022). This figure comprises 150 female and 112 male children. The children were neither aborted nor yanked from their mothers and killed, as may have been the joy of Reuters.
“Let us now spotlight the rescued Chibok girls who were kidnapped from their school by Boko Haram Terrorists in 2014. A total of 11 of the Chibok girls were rescued this year 2022. Hauwa Joseph with her child, Mary Dauda with her child, and Ruth Bitrus were rescued in June 2022.
“Troops also rescued Kauna Luka with her child and Hanatu Musa with her 2 children in July 2022.
“In the same vein, Aisha Grema with her four-year-old child and Falmata Lawal were rescued in August 2022.
” Furthermore, Asabe Ali with her child, Jinkai Yama with her 3 children, Yana Pogu with her 4 children and Rejoice Senki with her 2 children were rescued in September and November this year. The names of the rescued girls are in Serials 18, 46, 41, 38, 7, 11, 3, 12, 20, 19 and 70 respectively (in the order of rescue) in the list of the abducted Chibok School girls. The rescued girls were handed over to the Borno State government after their rescue”, it said.
Defence Headquarters maintained that a visit to the rehabilitation centre accommodating the Chibok girls on 29 November 2022 revealed that there were two other Chibok girls (with their children) recued earlier, bringing the number of the Chibok girls in the centre to to 13.
Other residents in the facility, it said, were children, who were rescued by troops unaccompanied (by any adult) or who separated from their parents/relatives due to fog of war.
“The welfare of the Chibok girls with their children and the unaccompanied children, is a major priority of the Borno State government.
“The Joint Investigation Centre (JIC) is where captured terrorists (men and women) are being processed, to determine their level of complicity in the heinous crimes committed by the Boko Haram Terrorist group. There were 1,952 persons in the facility, which included 23 women with 11 children who remain attached to their mothers as at 30 November 2022.
“There is also a medical facility being run by the Centre in collaboration with medical staff of ICRC. The welfare of all the occupants at the JIC is thus highly prioritised, including basic education for the children, tailoring and hat-making skills acquisition for the adults as well as provision of recreational and sporting facilities for all the occupants”, it said.
“Since July 2021 when the Boko Haram terrorists started surrendering with their families in droves, a community-based reintegration process is evolving, involving local traditional leaderships, town councils and family members. The process is made easier due to the fact that most of the surrendered terrorists were actually conscripted from their villages by the core terrorists, whose ranks have been degraded by more than 95 percent.
“Accordingly, a total of 4,933 recued civilians/surrendered persons (including 1,977 children, 1,423 women and 1,533 men) have been reintegrated with their communities from the camp housing the Chibok girls alone. The children were not taken from their parents and killed; unaccompanied ones were not also rounded up and killed”, it said.
Defence Headquarters, therefore, condemned the attempt to demonise the military. “The Reuters’ series of stories are akin to telling the world that Nigerians still live on top of trees. It now seems that the new stock in trade for Reuters is, ‘mining’ and selling lies to demonise Nigerian military, Nigerian institutions and Nigerian leaderships.
“This new vocation of Reuters is worse than illegal arms trade, worse than hard-drug trafficking, and actually worse than terrorism”, it said.
Concerns over Role of NGOs
There are also growing concerns over the role of Non-Governmental Organisation (NGOs) and alleged international conspiracy delaying the end of the insurgency war in the North-east.
There are presently 246 foreign and local NGOs involved in different humanitarian activities in the state.
Some critics have viewed the operations of the organisations, some which are non-descript and the absence of an exit plan in view in spite of the surrender of 82,000 insurgents and their families as a clandestine move aimed at prolonging the war.
Military authorities said the agencies pay hotel accomodation for 10 years ahead, an indication of the absence of an exit plan.
THISDAY Checks also confirmed that many of the NGOs paid for hotel accommodation for upwards of 10 years.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had, at a meeting with bank officials in Borno, lamented the practice of allowing a single NGO to open over 50 bank accounts.
The commission subsequently declared that the movement of funds by NGOs operating in the North-east must be approved by it.
Speaking in Maiduguri, Theatre Commander, Operation Hadin Kai, Maj Gen Christopher Musa, said it was imperative to check the inflow of funding to the agencies through diplomatic means, noting that the NGOs were powered by massive funding which required effective monitoring.
“What powers them is funding. They take hotel rooms and pay 10 years ahead. Who’s monitoring them?”, he queried.
He maintained that for the nation to move forward from the insurgency war, funding of Non-Governmental Organisations should be checked.
Meanwhile, the NGOs at a meeting with the military in Borno said they were not averse to scrutiny of their activities, stating that they remained focused on raising funds to meet humanitarian challenges.
Speaking at the meeting, Head of Civil Military Coordination, UN OCHA, Mr Brian Laguardia, said the groups had several meetings in the past with the military to address certain issues and allegations which he said was work in progress.
“There is no reason why you should not scrutinise us. Our focus is to raise funds to meet humanitarian challenges”, he said.
The agencies present at the meeting include, UN, WHO, UNICEF, WFP among others.
Lack of Access to Arms
The military commander lamented the lack of access to weapons by western countries, noting that only China sold weapons to Nigeria.
“A lot of countries are looking to demonise the military. They have denied us weapons yet give to countries, who do not respect human rights.
“The western world has blocked every attempt to buy weapons. Only China allows us to buy weapons. It took three years for us to get the Super Tucano planes. We have improved greatly and we hope to do better”, he said.
He said the flow of arms through Nigeria’s borders was unchecked and called for more efforts to address the situation.
Shehu of Borno Says Foreigners Introduced Terrorism in Borno
The Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar El-Kanemi, while receiving a delegation of Defence Headquarters led by the Director, Defence Information, Maj Gen Jimmy Akpor, in his palace, said strangers, who came to settle in Borno State in the name acquiring qur’anic education imported terrorism into the state.
He lamented the devastation unleashed on Borno State by 13 years of insurgency, saying it was a ploy to take over the state by external forces.
He said the challenge of Boko Haram insurgency was never started by Borno people. He said the late leader of the Boko Haram sect, Abubakar Shekau, was not from Borno State.
“Everybody knows where Shekau is from,” he said.
El-Kanemi described the ideology of Boko Haram as meaningless, and not derived from any holy book.
“Boko Haram is something meaningless, mindless, without any sense of direction.
None of the holy books either the Holy Qu’ran or Bible indicate that you kill one another, show disrespect to people, burn people’s property and cause distress.
“We don’t know that ideology, we don’t know how they decided to do this. These people came to Borno simply because Borno is home of peace and hospitality. Borno people like strangers, they like one another, they were doing their legitimate and local businesses”, he said.
“So these people came to Borno and requested for a place to settle while not knowing that they have an ideology which they came with and polluted the minds of the youths and created havoc in this part of the country,” he said.
The traditional ruler said the insurgents killed many people including worshippers, Muslim and Christian clerics.
“So many people died, many people were killed at that time, it was a very pathetic situation around 2009 that was maybe three months or so months of my appointment, because I was appointed in March 2009.
“They killed our imams, they killed pastors, they burnt mosques and churches, they killed our district heads, village and community leaders, traditional rulers and even one of our Amir, Amir Warda, was killed here in Borno. They detonated bomb on me but luckily enough I escaped with the late deputy governor,” he said.
Repentant Top Boko Haram Commander
Newsmen also encountered a former Boko Haram commander, Adamu Rugurugu. Rugurugu means “destruction of everything in sight”.
He revealed how the sect’s leadership deployed him and other commanders against troops. The repentant terrorist was full of commendation for the military and Borno State government for the kind treatment they have received so far.
He lamented that while in the forest, many of the terror leaders were overbearing and hid from armed forces fighting in the North-east.
He thanked the military authorities, saying “they pity us without ill-treatment.We pray that God increases them in value. Whoever will bring tension in Nigeria and who doesn’t want peace to reign, may Allah distance him far away from us totally.”
Rugurugu disclosed that Boko Haram leaders misled them and urged God to avenge on their behalf. He recalled how most fighters were forcefully abducted, marched to Sambisa Forest and conscripted into evil ideologies.
“We were mobilised and stationed at Sambisa forest, busy holding the horn while the top commanders are milking the cow. We cheated ourselves and we will not go back again since God has now delivered us out of this predicament. We returned to the community and soldiers have accepted us”, he said.
“The leaders (of Boko Haram) are not attending the battle, it is only the low-ranking members that carry guns. Have you ever heard of any ‘Khadi’ or ‘Wazir’ leading the battle on the frontlines?
“They will say you are doing this thing for the sake of God and when you are killed, paradise will be your final abode.I swear to God this is a scam, you are not going to any paradise.”
Rugurugu appealed to his “brothers” still inside the forest to tow the path of peace and lay down their arms.
All stakeholders are encouraged to sustain efforts aimed at ensuring peace and maintain the humanitarian trajectory as a pathway to end hostilities.
The plight of the Chibok Girls and other victims must be accorded priority. The international and local Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) should also move in this direction.
The military deserves commendation for all the sacrifice. The heart-wrending situation of the victims of this unprecedented violence, the families, communities require attention of all stakeholders to manage the situation and avoid a repeat occurrence.
Peace is better than war. Matthew 5:9 says: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
The peace option is what the North-east and the entire country are in dire need of at this time.
In 13 years, the gruesome violence in the North-east has left in its wake blood, tears, destruction and a new humanitarian battle for the military and other stakeholders
Although the insurgency war has ebbed with the mass surrender of the terrorists, it has thrown up questions about the nature of the stakeholder engagement in the theater of conflict and the commitment to end hostilities