Nigeria: Can Boko Haram fighters rejoin society?

Nigeria’s military is increasingly confident in its fight against Boko Haram, as growing numbers of members surrender. But victims of the armed movement in the country’s northeast are nervous about reintegration programmes that aim to return former adherents to mainstream society.

At least 10,000 people linked to Boko Haram and its rival, the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), have given themselves up in recent weeks, the Nigerian army says. Those surrendering range from combatants to abductees coerced into working for the groups. The pace of defections from Boko Haram, which is fighting to impose its own interpretation of Islamic law on the northeast and is behind a wave of mass kidnappings, has increased since the reported death in May of the group’s leader Abubakar Shekau and the subsequent rise of ISWAP.

Hundreds of former low-level members of Boko Haram are now undertaking government "deradicalisation" programmes to reintegrate them to civilian life, with authorities also providing support to family members of surrendered fighters. Supporters of state-run rehabilitation initiatives such as Operation Safe Corridor say they tempt fighters to give themselves up, and could help end a 12-year war between Nigerian government forces and insurgent groups that the UN estimates has killed about 350,000 people.

But many people who have borne the brunt of Boko Haram attacks and exploitation are questioning the government’s decision to host surrendered fighters in a compound in Maiduguri - where Boko Haram originated. They have doubts about the sincerity of those who have given themselves up and say the rehabilitation schemes allow Boko Haram followers to get away with their crimes. Hundreds of thousands of people who remain displaced and dispossessed due to Boko Haram attacks are urging the government to ensure that victims are also supported.

In this episode of The Stream we’ll look at the challenges in rehabilitating former Boko Haram fighters as victims maintain their call for justice.

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