ABUJA — The Nigeria military have alleged that some Christians are also members of the Islamic terror group, Boko Haram.
Major General Bamidele Shafa, the Coordinator of Operation Safe Corridor, saddled with the responsibility of deradicalisation and reintegration of repentant Boko Haram members into the society, told Nigeria Sun Newspaper in an interview.
He defended the Nigeria government’s policy of pardoning insurgents who reportedly ‘voluntarily surrender their arms and renounce terrorism.’
He said; “Let me quickly correct one impression, Operation Safe Corridor is not conferring amnesty on anybody. We need to get that correctly. Now I know the feelings out there; people who have committed heinous crimes, people who have killed people, people who have destroyed government properties and what have you. But you see, we need to understand that not all members of Boko Haram or ISWAP as the case may be are hardened, not all of them are core ideologists of these groups. A number of them, in fact a large number of the foot soldiers of these groups are people who were conscripted, they are people who were coerced against their will.
“There are people who joined these groups for the sake of their personal survival and the survival of their parents and their siblings. And these groups of people are waiting for opportunities; they are waiting for any avenue for them to come out. And that is exactly what Operation Safe Corridor has provided for them. So I understand the feelings of Nigerians. But you see we need to be ingenious in dealing with this menace that has been with us since 2003. And that is the reason why the president and commander in chief has set up this programme to bring out these people who actually formed the bulk of Boko Haram.
“And like I have said in different fora, since we started this programme, a large number of foot soldiers of Boko Haram, ISWAP have actually come out to embrace the programme, embrace peace and we are doing well with them.
“…there are a few of them that, very few of them who are not Muslims and that is why I said these are people that need to be helped. They had to go for their survival.
“The greatest challenge is about this perception, that is, government giving succour to perpetrators and leaving the victims. And that is not correct. The government is also doing a lot for the victims. Don’t forget that the Northeast Development Commission has been established even before then there was presidential committee on northeast initiative, there was Victims Support Fund. All these were established by the government to address the problem in the north east. So Operation Safe Corridor is only complementing those efforts and to address the issue of these boys who themselves are victims of circumstance, we need to help them. They need help, so we need to help them.
“We are creating alternatives for them. They are learning work in the camp, majority of them cannot read and write but we are teaching them in the camp. We introduce them to western education, formal education. I can tell you that by the time these boys are leaving the camp, they can read and write. They read simple English, they write simple English. As a matter of fact, the CDS has just authorized an education officer to be posted to the camp to actually come out with a robust curriculum so that they go through a robust curriculum of formal education and write exams and sit for certificate of literacy examinations, so that when they are leaving the camp, they have something if they want to further their education and what have you. One of our partners has also agreed to build set of classrooms for this programme.
“In addition to that, the CDS, has also authorized what we call counter narrative package, three weeks loaded, where we bring consortium of clerics from north east, headed by the Chief Imam of the Nigerian Army and the Chaplains of the Catholic and the Protestants to go there and engage these boys, engage them to diffuse their minds of the negative ideologies that the Boko Haram has put in them. They just finished last week. You needed to listen to the testimonies of the group. It was wonderful. That session was wonderful and in another one month, they are returning back to Gombe to engage them further before they graduate.”
Asked if the programme is similar to amnesty granted Niger Delta militants, he said;
“Well, I think there is big difference in the sense that what we are doing here is that we put the boys together, we take them through a structured therapy, psycho-social, psycho-spiritual counseling, we take them through vocational training, we take them through western education, we take them through recreational education and we also take them through drug abuse intervention under supervision. I am not aware that such thing happened with the Niger Delta militants, I am not aware. So that makes the difference.”