By Sanni Onogu, Precious Igbonwelundu and Robert Egbe
A proposal before the Senate for the rehabilitation of repentant Boko Haram members has been described as “risky”, although not totally out of place.
The Senate on Thursday got a Bill seeking “An agency for the Education, Rehabilitation, De-radicalisation and Integration of repentant insurgents in Nigeria (Est, etc) Bill, 2020”.
It is sponsored by Senator Ibrahim Geidam (Yobe East).
The agency, according to the Bill, “is to 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.”
Speaking on the Bill, Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN) said: “I would say it’s a risky concept, although it happens. So, we have to be very careful about it.”
He added: “That practice does exist in some countries. It is one that has to be handled very delicately, otherwise it could backfire.
“For example, if the person is not yet fully repentant or pretends and you get carried away and restore him to normal civil life as if nothing has happened, it could give him another opportunity to strike a deadly blow.
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“It’s something that could be done very carefully, and then you have to be very particular about who you choose. It cannot be a very large scale thing, so that people may not think that you can commit horrors and later on you’ll be accepted back into society without consequence.”
Another lawyer, Ebun Olu Adegboruwa (SAN) said any good proposal to end the insurgency is welcome. He noted that a previous government implemented an amnesty programme for Niger Delta militants.
Adegboruwa explained that: “Every effort should be made to end the Boko Haram scourge, including possible de-radicalisation of repentant ones amongst them.
“A crime is a crime, no matter the weight; since (former) President Umar Yar’Adua pardoned militants who raped, kidnapped and killed people, including foreigners, there is nothing wrong in reforming insurgents if they truly embrace amnesty.
“Part of the focus of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) involves the transformation of criminals for the good of society.
“However, all efforts should be made to properly monitor the repenting insurgents so that we don’t end up throwing the dreaded ones among them into the society to do more damage.”
Mr. Emeka Ngige (SAN) described the proposed creation of an agency for repentant terrorists as unnecessary.
He said it will further compounded bureaucracies that the government has been pushing to reduce
Ngige said: “I think the sponsor of the Bill may have good intentions in proposing it but in truth the creation of such agency is totally unnecessary. Creating such an agency will add to the many bureaucracies the Federal Government is looking for ways to reduce on account of huge expenses in running them.
“My humble suggestion is that the proposed agency should be accommodated within the Northeast Development Commission already taking care of multifaceted challenges arising from the insurgency in the North East Region. Let the proposed Agency be a department in NEDC, please.”
Many Nigerians took to the social media to condemn the proposed bill, noting that the senators ought to dissipate energies on more important issues like the fate of widows and orphans created by Boko Haram attacks.
Former Aviation minister Femi Fani-Kayode said on his twitter handle: “A federal agency for ‘repentant’ Boko Haram members is to be established? An agency for beasts that slit open the throats of women and children, behead clerics, abduct and enslave thousands and bomb places of worship?”
One Hamma Hayatu said Boko Haram seemed to be a business and source of income for some people, otherwise, such an agency would not be contemplated.
“People who are supposed to be sent to dungeon or even gas chamber…., there is no agency for victims of Boko Haram atrocities but an agency for retired Boko Haram members bill is introduced at the Nigeria Senate,” Hayatu wrote.
Another commentator Ugwunna Ejikemi wrote: “The Nigeria Senate just introduced a bill to create a whole new agency for ‘repentant’ Boko Haram members. Just like every other federal agency, this will have an MD, hundreds of staff and billions allocated to it every year?”
Former media aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Reno Omokri, said the proposal if approved, will portray Nigeria in a bad light before the international community.
Festus Green wrote: “Senate introduces bill to create agency for repentant BH terrorists? What bills have they introduced to help civilian and military victims? What have they introduced to help families of service women who have been maimed or have paid the supreme price? Aondoasee Gwa said: “The victims are left in their devices and the generosity of mostly foreign, international NGOs. But the perpetrators of the heinous, repugnant atrocities are being treated like VIPs. Why wouldn’t other groups take up arms against the state in the future?”
Jamal Jaja described Boko Haram as a deal that “Nigerians who died were merely collateral damage to politicians, high ranking members of the military who ‘feed fat from the funds appropriated for fighting the terrorists.’”
Nnennaya Okposuogu said the bill should be thrown out unless the NASS wants to be tagged enablers and supporters of Boko Haram.
“The bill is an insult to all victims of Boko Haram, indeed to all Nigerians. We should never reward genocidal terrorists. Never,” she said.