Africa Defense Forum
ADF is a professional military magazine published quarterly by U.S. Africa Command to provide an international forum for African security professionals. ADF covers topics such as counter terrorism strategies, security and defense operations, transnational crime, and all other issues affecting peace, stability, and good governance on the African continent.

Surge of Surrendering Fighters Offers Opportunity to Break Boko Haram


In March, a steady stream of beleaguered Boko Haram fighters and their family members surrendered to Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) troops in Niger and Nigerian Army troops serving in Operation Hadin Kai in northern Nigeria.

A total of 443 Boko Haram members and affiliated people surrendered over a four-day stretch. Many said they were fleeing relentless attacks by the rival extremist group Islamic State West Africa Province.

Ex-fighters urged others to follow suit and lay down arms.

“You are no longer going out to fight wars in other places, you are now waging wars against yourselves,” said ex-Boko Haram fighter Adamu Rugurugu in a video statement published by the Borno-based security analyst Zagazola Makama. “If what you are doing is true, then why are you now killing those people that you claimed are part of you? Is this not pure hypocrisy?”

Rugurugu went on to tell his former comrades to “come back and join us to live in peace under the same roof.”

As infighting continues among extremist groups in the Lake Chad Basin (LCB), security forces say it is time to capitalize on the discord.

“We believe that the surrenders could potentially be a strategy to end the conflict. Because it reduces the population from where they can find fighters,” Maj. Gen. Abdul Khalifa Ibrahim, force commander of the MNJTF, told ADF.

Ibrahim said more than 110,000 fighters, relatives and collaborators have surrendered since the beginning of the conflict. This includes people who surrendered to the MNJTF and to national military forces of the four LCB nations.

“What we do to encourage them to come out is we treat them well. We don’t think that, because they are coming out, they are enemies and shoot them,” Ibrahim said. “We respect the laws of armed conflict; we talk to them and we appeal to them to talk to other people.”

Nigeria established a rehabilitation program known as Operation Safe Corridor in 2016. The program, modeled on a similar one used for militants in the Niger Delta, is intended to deradicalize ex-fighters and offer vocational training and psychological support. But Operation Safe Corridor has been dogged by accusations of poor treatment of defectors and a lack of results.

In a March 25 speech at Edo University, Gen. Lucky Irabor, Nigerian chief of defense staff, said Operation Safe Corridor had graduated about 2,000 people. However, he acknowledged problems such as a lack of specialized training for instructors, inadequate facilities, and inadequate collaboration and coordination. On a national level, he voiced concern over a lack of laws on reintegration and an ineffective monitoring system for those who leave the program.

“Despite the modest successes recorded by Operation Safe Corridor in the fight against crime, the program still faced a lot of challenges,” Irabor said.

Irabor called for the establishment of a special fund for deradicalization, reintegration and reorientation (DRR) as well as a national DRR commission, new laws relating to the process and the adoption of a “whole-of-society” approach to monitoring ex-fighters.

Ibrahim stressed that the kinetic military aspect of a counterinsurgency operation is just a fraction of what is needed to be successful.

“Basically, we believe to win a counterinsurgency operation is not just a military affair,” Ibrahim told ADF. “All other sectors of society must contribute so we can have a better society for the benefit of all.”

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