Cameroon: Reintegration of Boko Haram members.

Written by Dr. Florence Akano

In Cameroon, a national framework for dealing with Boko Haram defectors is beginning to take shape, although the progress is gradual, it has started nonetheless. The reality of the security situation in the areas plagued by Boko Haram is that there are many options in light of providing solutions to the problem, and there are many questions, one of which is what to do to repentant members of the sect, members who in most cases were brainwashed into joining the sect. Midjiyawa Bakary, the governor of the Far North Region, was the first to launch attempts to encourage defections, based on the experiences of neighbouring countries.

It is often easy to discuss the crises as a simple open and shut topic, however, it is more complicated as there are traditional authorities and familial, religious, and economic networks intersect. Boko Haram’s influence has grown rapidly in the peripheral areas of the country with little surveillance, where government services are inadequate and traditional authorities and familial, religious, and economic networks intersect, clash, or develop separately, each able to act across porous borders. For these reasons, Boko Haram’s security issue has prompted a regional reaction, primarily through the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), which was established in 2012 to improve military collaboration in the face of  Boko Haram’s threat. Although the MNJTF and national forces have met some security goals, long-standing community grievances and development issues remain.

In this context, the regional plan was adopted on August 30, 2018, in Abuja. Recognizing the interconnected experiences of communities surrounding Lake Chad Basin establishes nine key pillars for action to implement appropriate policies and programs aimed at the region’s short- and long-term stabilization and development. The third pillar focuses on the DDRRR (disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation, reinsertion, and reintegration) of Boko Haram associates, with strategic objectives outlined in an annexe that gives further background and definitions of terminologies.

Boko-Haram insurgents allegedly undergoing reorientation. © PremiumTimes

Due to a lack of housing facilities, these former fighters and their wives and children were sent back to their respective communities. Returnees swore on the Koran before the village community not to resume criminal activities and to cease all interaction with Boko Haram. Nigerian officials recently requested the return of over 1,000 former Boko Haram fighters to Nigeria during a visit to Cameroon. Since last year, when the terrorist group’s head was assassinated, hundreds of former fighters have surrendered in Cameroon. Former Boko Haram fighters were met by Umar Usman Kadafur, the deputy governor of Nigeria’s Borno state, at the disarming centre in Meri, a town near Cameroon’s northern border with Nigeria. In Hausa, a language spoken in northern Cameroon and southeast Nigeria, he communicated with the terrorists.

As earlier stated, the situation is a lot more complicated and has many faces. For example, not everyone is convinced about the repentance of Boko Haram members. Many young people who have observed this type of public procession of repentance do not seem to believe in it. In interviews, they expressed their disapproving opinions. One said that “if they feared God, they would not have aligned themselves with the demons of Boko Haram.” Another stated that “a murderer belongs in prison.” A third posed that “when they joined Boko Haram, they also swore on the Koran that they would remain faithful, at the risk of incurring divine wrath. Is it not on the same Koran that they swear the opposite today?” One other said, “Where they went, they learned nothing about religion, quite the opposite. They first have to be reIslamized before being given the Koran.”

The concerns are legitimate; the fears are founded on good ground. However, the governments in the Lake Chad region of which Cameroon is one, are taxed with solving the complex problem of insecurity in their region, and this step is founded on community research, for the furtherance of peace and recreation of communities that had been destroyed. We can only look to the future with the hope that the plan succeeds.

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Dr. Florence Akano

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