Editorial: Buhari’s unwillingness to prosecute Boko Haram terrorists worrisome

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With the Nigerian Armed Forces gradually recording some gains in the fight against Boko Haram terrorists in the Northeast state of Borno, the country is beginning to have terrorists surrendering their arms considering the fire-power of the military in that region. News making rounds have it that in August alone, about 6,000 fighters from the terrorist organisation have surrendered under the pressure of the counter-insurgency efforts of the military.

In fact, reports have it that two of the 720 fighters that recently surrendered were experts in bomb making and fabrication of bullets for the terrorist organisation, while most of the fighters were lieutenants of Abubakar Shekau, the deceased Boko Haram leader.

We commended the counter- terrorism efforts of the Nigeria military and other efforts of the security agencies to restore peace and normalcy to the war-ravaged parts of Borno state and the north east. We are not oblivious of the fact that the damage and destruction that have occurred in that part of the country in a decade cannot be reversed within a short period. We therefore called on the government both at the federal and state levels to collaborate in restoring socio-economic lives and activities to that region. More also, international organisations that have been on ground in the region willing to support the rebuilding process should be encouraged by the governments.

On the other hand, we are gravely concerned about the recent posture of the Federal Government about the prosecution of the surrendered terrorists. Flaming this concern was the last month comment of the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed that prosecuting repentant Boko Haram insurgents would contravene global best practice. The minister said this during his interaction with international media outlets in Washington DC.

The minister said, “I personally spoke to the military authorities before I left Nigeria and they said what they were doing is what the global practice dictates about soldiers that surrendered that should be treated as prisoners of war. You cannot just shoot them because there are international conventions that give rights also to prisoners of war. What the military is doing is that, when they surrender, they profile them to ensure that they are genuine and reintegrate them into the society.”

This statement is by all standard disturbing considering the economic, financial and diplomatic damage the activities of the insurgents have cost the country. The federal government have spent trillions of naira in that zone alone, prosecuting the war against the terrorists. Such huge amount of fund could have been ordinarily channelled into productive and proactive ventures. More also, the wanton destruction of properties and infrastructure cannot be quantified, is it the lives that had been lost, children that were turned to orphans and those that have been deprived of good, quality and basic education.

The Attorney General of the Federation and the Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami, had also stated that the government would not release the names of the alleged sponsors of the Boko Haram terrorists in the country. He said releasing the names of such persons could have effect on the ongoing investigations and the successes being recorded in the fight against the insurgents. The approach of the president and his aides with the issue of insecurity especially banditry and clashes between herders and farmers that has portrayed the government of the President Muhammadu Buhari and protecting the interest of a section of the country as against the collective and corporate interest of the whole country seems to be at play in this case.

Shying away from prosecuting these surrendered terrorists would indirectly give legitimacy to criminality in the country. What the government would invariably telling Nigerians would be “it pays to be a repentant criminal than to be a law abiding and patriotic citizen of the country”. We can only hope the Federal Government would retrace it step and ensure that the full weight of the law rest fully on all perpetrators of crimes against the country and humanity.

While we call on the government to seize this window of opportunity to redeem its image and change the negative perception by revealing the names of the sponsors of the terrorists and also prosecute the surrendered insurgents, we strongly hope the President Buhari and his handlers would see the issue from this prism.

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