Can a Defectors Program Bring Peace to Nigeria?

Written by: Mollie Crook

The United States State Department is projected to invest millions in an effort to de-radicalize Nigerian fighters. This project will be the jumping point for the fight against terrorism around the world. Boko Haram, an anti-West terrorists group has been tormenting its people by recruiting young impressionable men and violently killing and kidnapping men, women, and children. In 2014 alone, they mercilessly killed 1,500 in Nigeria by targeting schools and military installations.The State Department, in unison with the Nigerian government, is offering amnesty to prior militant members of Boko Haram. Though defecting from such a violent group is extremely risky and life threatening, the promise of returning to a relatively normal life in society was meant to prove a greater incentive than any death threats. 

This seemingly idealistic program is not quite living up to its hype. The State Department and the Nigerian government have ensured training and smooth reintegration. Even with this promise, many are sitting in the outpost awaiting trial without a tangible timeline. Those seeking defection are not working or getting an education at such outpost. They remain idle, in fear, often without food or resources. Despite the relationship between the Nigerian government and the State Department, it has taken over a year to pass a law that outlines how the defectors will be put on trial and consequently rehabilitated. Additionally, Nigeria, left in ruins after years of war and destruction, has a crippling economy and the people that managed to survive are left traumatized by the terrorist group. This provokes the question of what kind of state would they be integrating back into, and if this is the best way to de-radicalize these ex-Boko Haram fighters. One of the defectors at the outpost, frustrated by the lack of progress, Mustafa Aboucar, who was a young man when he was enticed by the powerful Boko Haram leadership, reported that “I’ve had enough of this. Coming here, it was a big mistake.” This calls into question whether this potential defection program is producing positive results. Many Nigerians are unwilling to accept these defectors because they were the ones killing their families and destroying their homes and livelihoods. 

Is it truly best for a distant and unattached country like the United States to interfere and try to reintegrate these people and ultimately bring peace? An alternate approach to bring peace to Nigeria is brought by Agnes Bashir, an orator and retired civil servant, and Amina Kyari, who work for NGOs supported by a peacebuilding International Alert to rid these young men who defect of the stigma that inevitably follows them. They believe the best way to bring about peace and civility among Nigerians is internal, rather than from a country more invested in capital gain from oil than actual peace. In reference to the once-fighters for Boko Haram Agnes proclaims, “They were once part of us. Our sons brought this conflict. It is the indigenous people themselves who can bring peace.” Terrorists groups and the consequences of the fallout will continue to be debated, but it is up to the Nigerian people and honest supporters of prosperity and rehabilitation to restore peace to the country.