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Still on Reintegration of Repentant Boko Haram Terrorists by Zanna Hassan Boguma

Given the consistency of terror attacks by the Boko Haram Insurgency, their slow defeat, and the growth of domestic anti-terror policies, how do we deal with those who have carried out violent extremism, and how do we protect our societies from further atrocities whilst treating them justly?

To discuss this, there is a need to examine the use of, and the power exerted by what are known as de-radicalization and counter-radicalization programmes that have developed over the last years.

Accused of rarely focussing on actually practising de-radicalization, such programmes are beset by problems of definition, objective, evaluation, manipulation and discrimination. A ‘cottage industry’ is being established; money being poured in to counter the perceived threats has ensured the arrival of hosts of inexperienced practitioners.

However, these schemes are also said to be an “essential tool to combat terrorist and extremist threats. In order to achieve this, policy makers need to explore the value of de-radicalization and counter-radicalization as public policy, and how they are informed and measured.

How formally harmless members of society go to embrace violent extremist ideologies is a looming question in the world of counter terrorism, yet, increasingly so s the problem of “deradicalization”, pr convincing people to abandon an extremist mindset.

World wide, hundreds of deradicalization programs have sprung up. They typically consist of trained counselors either convincing he extremists their religious views are not founded in proper theology, treating subject’s extremism as a mental health issue, or trying to nudge the extremist’s value system away from violence.

Despite their ubiquity, there is been precarious little effort spent evaluating whether these programs actually works. And despite the little workability of the programs, citizens, policy makers, and security officials have come to recognize that we cannot arrest or kill our way out of the problem. We can physically defeat groups like ISIS, Boko Haram or other violent extremist and terror groups, but this leaves their appeal unfounded or even strengthened.

Here, we may ask, is it dangerous to implement deradcalzation feelings as before they are proven of using the wrong methods would case a lot of damage. It could mean not detecting a high risk person, or even shielding him from the authorities. The fact that a person is in a deradicalization program could make security officials and people in his community less vigilant, bending them to his continued danger.

We should also be tempted to ask, what are the hurdles to assessing the efficacy of deradicalization programs that are many? First, there are no generally used definitions and concepts in the field, making it difficult to even find out if everyone is talking about the same thing. “Deradicalization” versus “Disengagememt”, for example, are, concepts that sometimes are used to mean the same thing and sometimes are not. And also we don’t know when a deradicalization case is considered to be fished, or how to measure recidivism. So we need standardization in the basic definition when it comes to specific metrics, to use recidivism as an example, we do not have any base rates for terrorists who do not go through a program. Does recidivism only count as go back to the same ideology? What about a different violent extremist ideology? Or does it simply mean any form of crime.

On the basis of the above conceptualization, and in view the of our peculiarity, deradicalization process in Nigeria will be very difficult if not impossible. Changing ideology of an extremist, particularly a religious extremist is a task that requires a lot of efforts by both government and religious bodies.

Similarly, based on our experience at the Operation Safe Corridor (OPSC) camp at Mallam Sidi in Gombe, the level of deradicalization and rehabilitation is averagely okay. But from the interactions we had and with the corridor’s clients, there is a hope for better deradicalization if the program continued. However, we,shouldn’t be unmindful of our past experience when Boko Haram elements were released as a result the of government’s negotiation efforts, we are very afraid, the rehabilitated elements might be influenced based on deep rooted ideological indoctrinations.

Equally important is the incidents of rejection by traumatized societies of a returnee repentant and deradicalized Boko Haram. In Borno state for example, when the first batch of Boko Haram graduates from the camp were seriously protested by mainly people from their communities based on their actions when they were still in arms as insurgents. Many of those against reintegration of the returnees back to their communities.

It was on this premise that we felt Government should design a way of providing starter packs to those trained and deradicalized elements and relocate them to a more safer place other than their communities.

In summary, if there exist better ways to fail at public policy, these should be sought after rather than tinkering with an imperilled strategy that only entrenches unscientific attitudes and narratives behind the causes of radical violence. The practice of combating radicalization consolidates the perception that terrorism is caused by a fanatical religious ideology and that the holding of radical ideas within a society is only a detrimental attribute. Counter- and de- radicalization have shown themselves to be an unreliable and divisive policy choice that shows no scientific basis for reducing risk against societies. Programmes that have asserted de-radicalization success have focussed on low-level or non-criminal individuals and have largely ignored the problems around their evaluation. Future expansion of de-radicalization programmes should be taken extremely seriously, on the basis of unfounded claims of success. As Foucault suggests, “Power exists only as exercised by some on others, only when it is put into action” – discourses and terminology have real world consequences, which affect individuals and society as a whole. When these are based on unscientific and politically-based assumptions, and the intuition of practitioners, rather than considered thought, it is easy to see how divisiveness and stigmatization in society becomes established, and a lack of foresight as to what such practice hopes to accomplish. Therefore, I recommend the following as a measure for deradicalization, rehabilitation and reintegration and policy reevaluation:

  • As a minimum, schemes that operate both as inside and outside of prisons/camps are renamed away from the “unhelpful term” ‘de-radicalization’, to more accurately represent how they function. This will in turn help to disassociate the role of ideology in causing terrorism, which has been a significant cause of stigmatization for Muslims around the world.

  • “Post-crime rehabilitation schemes” is an appropriate alternative name for schemes based in prisons/camps, and “risk-reduction schemes” where preventative policy exists outside of prisons/camps.

  • The practice of securitizing alleged risks should be reformed to be driven more by science than presumption. Governments should legislate for what they consider to be threatening behaviour so the responsibility for risk-management doesn’t fall on the shoulders of non-terrorism experts. There should be requirements for referrals to be made based on evidence of risk rather than intuition and prejudice.

  • In the meantime, if practice based around countering ideology is to continue, debate should accelerate on what constitutes success.

  • Expanding programmes based on existing practice is at best flawed, and at worst, a stimulant for division and racism.