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Insurgency Victims Divided Over Efforts To Reconcile Parties Without Compensation

The Borno State Government’s effort to return IDPs to their hometowns is being mitigated by lingering misgivings among victims of the insurgency which, some say, can only be fully addressed by the Federal Government.

The torn flaps of the umbrella sway to the direction of wind blowing from the east of the roadside market of Muna displacement camp in Maiduguri, along Gamboru Ngala road. Sitting under the yellow umbrella with MTN’s brand printed boldly on it is a man in his mid-50s selling maize, beans and guinea corn. He is Mallam Modu, an Internally Displaced Person (IDP) from Bama Local Government Area of Borno State. 

‘’My house and shop were completely burnt down by Boko Haram. I came to Maiduguri without taking anything along but I thank Allah for sparing my life. I had to start my business from the scratch here,’’ Modu, who used to sell foodstuffs at Bama before coming to Maiduguri as an IDP, narrated. He said he lost all his wealth to the insurgency.

Ya Kellu, an IDP from Boboshe village of Dikwa Local Area, is in great trauma over the loss of her husband in a raid by terrorists. ‘’They slaughtered him for removing the black Boko Haram towering flag in front of our house. My husband removed the flag because the Nigerian Air Force jets would bomb our house if they spotted it from above,’’ said Ya Kellu, who is now mentally ill. “We couldn’t leave Boboshe because we were trapped by Boko Haram. We only came here after the military drove them out of our area and burnt our houses.’’ 

And sitting on a local wooden bench, Babagana Abatcha, who sells children’s clothes at Budum Market in Maiduguri, narrated how the military burnt down their shops in 2012.

‘’All the shops you see around here were rebuilt by the Borno State Government. Boko Haram detonated a bomb there in 2012,’’ he said, pointing at a junction barely 50 metres away. “When the military came in response, they looted our shops and burnt them down.’’  

These are only a few of thousands of victims of the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast who are struggling to survive with the hope of regaining their lost socio-economic status. 

The decade-long insurgency has caused an incalculable loss of lives and properties in the region. The unending insurgency with its fluctuating strength has caused an estimated loss of over 37,500 lives. A 2016 World Bank report on recovery and peacebuilding sums the value of damaged infrastructure and social services at $9.2 billion.

The devastating effects of the insurgency are felt across all spheres of lives. There are millions of victims of the crisis stemming largely from the civilian population, followed by the Nigerian security operatives. Apart from these two categories, there are also Boko Haram fighters and innocently detained people who have been said not to have received fair legal treatment.

By far the greatest casualties are civilians who have been caught in the web of aggression involving both the Nigerian military and Boko Haram fighters. 

Mallam Isa from Alamndiri village, Marte Local Government Area, lost his young cousin to summary execution by the Nigerian military in 2016. “They came and gathered all of us in the village. They then separated the elderly aside and killed all the youths. They shot over 30 youths that day. Their reason was that we were harbouring Boko Haram in our midst,” Alamndiri said. 

Musa Kurama, another victim of the carnage by the Nigerian military, was in Meleri, also a village in Marte. He had his house burnt to the ground among others because the community was perceived as a terrorist hideout.

‘’They asked us to vacate our houses and torched them as we were leaving,’’ Musa said in an innocent tone. He explained that the insurgents did not live with the residents but only came and left.

The Nigerian military itself has not been spared from victimisation as thousands of its personnel have died since the crisis broke out in 2009 and thousands more have been injured.

The deplorable conditions of military detention facilities where Boko Haram suspects are detained have continued to be a source of concern for human rights groups. The cells were congested and there was little to no food and water, talk less of bathing, according to some former detainees.

“Our toilet was a plastic bucket placed in the corner of the cell. Hundreds of detainees died from various forms of torture,” Babagana Kawudima, recounted of his six months sojourn at the notorious Giwa Barracks detention facility in Maiduguri. Kawudima was lucky to be released in 2014, leaving behind thousands of others yet to be tried. 

Amnesty International, earlier in the year, mounted a short-lived campaign demanding justice for abused survivors of Boko Haram insurgency. The campaign was staged on behalf of Knifar Movement, a group of displaced women demanding the release of their husbands. The group’s about 1,300 members had compiled a list of almost 800 people from villages who died from hunger and sickness in displacement and reported sexual violence involving the military and the civilian militia in the camps. 

Compensation and resettlement efforts?

The enthusiasm of the Borno State  Government to return IDPs to their hometowns is mitigated by the lingering misgivings among victims of the insurgency. The misgivings range from security concerns and compensation for victims to reintegration of repentant Boko Haram fighters as well as the release of innocent detainees in military custody.

The hands of the State Government are, however, tied to redress the misgivings due to structural restrictions of not having full control over the security apparatus of the state or leverage over counter-insurgency operations in the state.

The subject of compensation for Boko Haram victims was first visited officially in 2013 when the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of the Security Challenges in the North submitted its report to then-President Goodluck Jonathan. The former president, however, dismissed the need for victim compensation, suggesting that what they needed instead was assistance. 

The government has since not given serious consideration to the proposal. The victims have, however, been receiving assistance in various forms from the government and non-governmental organisations, as the former president submitted. 

Multifaceted measures so far taken by the government have been more focused on rehabilitation than on compensation for victims. Massive reconstruction of destroyed houses, provision of infrastructure and social services by Borno State Government are the most glaring efforts of this process. This is intertwined with the monetary expenses the government is incurring in the exercise of returning IDPs to their homes and the proposed closure of all IDP camps by May 2021. 

This reconstruction and resettlement drive by the state government, however, does not explicitly portray individual compensations but has only paved way for the issue tabled again for reconsideration. 

The Information Commissioner of Borno State, Baba Kura Abba Jato, pushing the campaign for compensation says he believes it is the responsibility of the Federal Government.

“It is not a new thing to be done. The Federal Government has done some in the Niger Delta; so it could still be done here in the Northeast,” he told HumAngle. 

“It is not the onus or responsibility of the Borno State Government to compensate those victims. It is beyond the scope of a state government,” he argued.

According to the commissioner, the Borno State Government is even moving a step further by keeping IDPs in camps in various parts of the state. The government has been in the forefront in providing relief materials for displaced citizens across the state and in neighbouring Cameroon and the Niger Republic. Jato said, “Relief materials being taken to them almost on a monthly basis are enough for the government to contain their immediate needs.” 

Alhaji Mustapha, a current affairs analyst clamouring for compensation, similarly said: “If compensation for victims of brutality during End SARS protests could be tabled by the House of Representatives Committee on Policy, why could the compensation for victims of insurgency in the Northeast not be addressed?’’  

Although the insurgency is not over and its negative effects persist in a diminishing pace, many are of the view that it is necessary to revisit the issue of compensation for victims as they return to their communities to reassess the damage done. For the members of host communities in Maiduguri and other major cities, normalcy is beginning to return, at least in sharp contrast to the past.

However, much is still needed to be done for the returnees as many, rather than return to their reconstructed houses, prefer to remain in camps because of safety concerns. Some of the villages requiring a facelift are also inaccessible to the government. 

The International Organization on Migration in collaboration with the Nigerian military and Borno State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development has started reintegrating repentant Boko Haram fighters who have undergone de-radicalisation and rehabilitation through the Safe Corridor programme. But victims of the insurgency are divided on the question of how to receive the former insurgents.

Only a minute percentage of the victims can grapple beyond their emotions to admit ex-Boko Haram fighters into their forgiving hearts. Among those opening their hearts are those who do so only in the absence of an alternative to peace in the state as in the words of Kaka Kyari, a civil servant with Marte Local Government. Kyari said, “There is nothing wrong in accepting the former militants if this would bring lasting peace for us. Besides, we have no choice than to accept them. They have security clearance and no one can touch them.’’ 

The majority that shut out their door of forgiveness on the ex-combatants have exhibited anger over the reintegration. Ali Gana, an IDP from Marte, expressing his reservation, asked, “How can we stay with them when they have killed our brothers, destroyed our houses and caused us to go on exile?’’

The position of Gana is not different from that of the Information Commissioner who said, “It is not going to be easy for one to see someone that he or she knows has taken the life or disabled a very close relation, returning to the communities and feeling okay with it.”

Jato, however, added in an appealing tone: “We are all believers, both Muslims and Christians, and this element of forgiving and forgetting is deeply enshrined in our religion. The concerns are that if these people that are forgiven will not go back to their old bad habit, then they are welcome. No matter how we fight and throw bombs, etc, war must end up at the reconciliation table.”

The Federal Government dominated initiative has been faulted in several corners for allegedly pampering the repentant militants over IDPs who are in dire need.

Mallam Abatcha, an IDP from Dikwa who receives barely 10kg ration of foodstuff for his monthly upkeep, accused the government of feeding the ex-jihadists with delicious meals and “leaving us here in starvation”.

The way forward?

A community leader from Maiduguri, Mallam Zubairu, urged the government to take the former Boko Haram members to a different town or state to start a new life. “They can choose to come back or stay there after some couple of years. It is too early to bring them back to society now when the crisis has not even ended. Their presence in the community at present would stir new pains from the victims’ wounds,” he concluded. 

In his interview with HumAngle, Jato likewise suggested that, ideally, the ex-militants should be trained and relocated to a confined area different from their former communities to prevent interaction with the victims of the insurgency.

This was critical, he explained, because most of the complaints from the locals were that the insurgents were being rewarded and reintegrated when the war was still ongoing.

A mid-way option advocated by the state government to cushion the misgivings of the victims is sensitisation of members of the communities into which ex-fighters would be admitted.

It still boils down to the function of how much sensitisation the government has done to the locals before bringing the people back to society. There must be a deliberate sensitisation and preaching on the act of forgiveness, letting the people know that God loves the one who forgives than the one who seeks vengeance,” said the commissioner. 

IDPs have also said repositioning the judicial process to ensure the release of unjustly detained people and the speedy trial of the accused would go a long way in facilitating the healing of wounds inflicted on the victims of the insurgency.

Additional reporting by Abdulkareem Haruna. 

This investigative report is part of a series of publications supported by the African Transitional Justice Legacy Fund under HumAngle’s ‘Mediating Transitional Justice Efforts in North-East’ project.

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