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Borno elders warn against release of repentant insurgents
Tobi Soniyi and Olaseni Durojaiye
The United States Government has revealed the plan of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Boko Haram to disrupt the 2019 general election from holding successfully, citing increased propaganda videos specifically directed at Nigeria and the ongoing civil unrest in Borno State.
In a related development, Borno Elders faulted the process leading to the release of ‘repentant’ Boko Haram members into the public, which they argued, could undermine national security if not well handled.
While the US gave its warning in a post on the official website of its Embassy in Nigeria on Friday, Borno elders expressed their concern in a letter they addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari.
In Its post, the US said the insurgents were targeting public places, noting that Nigerian forces had turned on the heat on the insurgents in the recent weeks repelling them and reclaimed the town of Baga hitherto captured by the terror groups.
The post said it did not have information regarding attacks directed at its embassy, though urged its citizen resident in the country “to review their movements.
“There is an increase in ISIS propaganda videos specifically directed to Nigeria and the ongoing and the ongoing civil unrest in Borno State and the North- east.
“ISIS West Africa and Boko Haram have both stated they plan to disrupt the upcoming 2019 presidential elections by conducting attacks on Nigerian security and infrastructure, as well as places of gathering such as markets and hotels, and malls.
“While we have no specific threat information to the US Embassy or within Nigeria during the election season, US citizens in Nigeria should remember to follow personal security precautions on a regular basis.”
In their letter to the president, the elders gave update on the security situation in the state and the danger of releasing repentant Boko Haram insurgents to the public.
The elders observed that some members of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) involved in intelligence gathering, easy identification and arrest of suspected Boko Haram members in civilian populations, were worried the operation safe corridor of the military could lead to breeding spies for insurgents because their release coincided with accelerated attacks by insurgents.
The letter said, “The ongoing de-radicalization and reintegration of repentant Boko Haram insurgents under the ‘operation safe corridor’ of the defense headquarters is a cause for concern for members of the Civilian JTF and some stakeholders in the state, who suspect that ‘Boko Haram members do not repent’ hence the de-radicalization programme may be breeding spies and agents of recruitment for the Boko Haram”.
The elders, therefore, called on ”Mr. President to consider and approve the suspension of the ongoing de-radicalization and reintegration of repentant Boko Haram insurgents until such a time they do not pose serious threat to our fighting force.”
One of the elders, who spoke with THISDAY privately, said the elders were of the view that the military’s operation safe corridor was not well thought out. The elders also requested the president to consider arming members of the Civilian Joint Task Force, so as to help combat the Boko Haram insurgency.
The elders also expressed reservations on the refusal to deploy 800 ex-CJTF members, recruited into the army since they are “fearless and understand the terrain better” than most soldiers deployed from other parts of the country.
They therefore demanded that for President Muhammadu Buhari order the immediate deployment to Borno State, the 800 soldiers drawn from ex-CJTF fighters.
A delegation comprising two former governors, traditional rulers, elders, national and state assembly members, local government chairmen representatives of unions of women, labour, journalists, religious leaders including the state chairmen of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Jama’atul Nasril Islam (JNI), led by the Borno State governor Kashim Shettima met the president and presented a letter to him.
The elders observed thus: “That, as observed by the leadership of the Civilian JTF without contrary view (from the military) at the meeting, majority of over 800 members of the Civilian JTF enlisted into the Nigerian Army are currently not deployed to Borno State where they can use their local knowledge of communities, in the fight against Boko Haram.”
Consequently, the letter in its fifth demand said, “Mr President should consider directing that the over 800 members of the Civilian JTF enlisted into the Nigerian Army, be immediately re-deployed to Borno State, be equipped and given specialized training where necessary, for the purpose of contributing their local knowledge of the terrain in Borno State, in the fight against Boko Haram”.
In a related observation, the letter told the president that more than 26,000 Civilian JTF members who fight alongside the military including in battle fronts, depend on sticks and knives. However, the letter made demand that the President should consider working with the National Assembly for the equipping a selected number of brave Civilian JTF, rather than all, with prohibitive arms and only for a specific period of time and under strict regulation by the military.
“Mr President should consider working with the National Assembly towards the speedy amendment of the Terrorism Act or coming under “a doctrine of necessity” to approve the specialized and regulated use of non-prohibitive arms for selected volunteers of the Civilian JTF, for the specific reason of fighting the Boko Haram in specific locations. Such use of arms should be for a specific period of time under strict monitoring by the Military” the letter reads in its fourth demand.
In another observation, the letter informed the President that “the Borno State police command, which has the duty to preserve constitutional authorities in liberated and rebuilt communities, is faced with challenges of low man-power and dependence on AK 47 rifles to counter Boko Haram fighters who attack communities with AA rifles”.
Consequently, the letter in its second demand, said “Mr President should consider and approve, as a matter of special case, the specialized use of AA rifles for the Borno State Police Command for capacity enhancement as against the current dependence on AK 47 rifles”.