The release of 1400 former Boko Haram terrorists has been widely condemned by many Nigerians in several quarters. Many, including myself, have found it very difficult to understand the rationale behind the release of insurgents who rebelled against the country, carrying dangerous arms and killing and maiming innocent citizens and soldiers on the grounds that they have repented.
This certainly does not make any sense to the victims of the war and to their families as well. Not to be unsympathetic, these people committed crimes, they are supposed to be punished under the tenets of the law, just the same way other criminals are given prison sentences.
When soldiers and some Nigerians lamented the release of repentant Boko Haram fighters, any right-thinking Nigeria would readily understand why.
For the soldiers, many of them have been through near-death experience fighting on the frontlines of the war against Boko Haram terrorists and not sure of ever surviving each battle. In addition, the soldiers can mention names in tens of colleagues who have lost their lives in the war against terror.
For the civilians, rarely a week passes without reading in the dailies of series of attacks carried out by Boko Haram members where men, women and even little children are killed without remorse. We have not forgotten the several mosques, churches, markets and public places that have been bombed killing several hundreds of people.
The Army claims the former terrorists underwent a process of deradicalisation and rehabilitation, but In an ideal circumstance, it is only when a war has ended that you can release deradicalised and rehabilitated elements, not before.
Recently, I read in the news how a man who stole a common goat was sentenced to prison. The more reason why it baffles me that a man who took up arms against innocent people is being presumably de-radicalized and reintegrated into the society. How is this justice? How is this justice for the victims? How is this justice for the families of the victims, especially when the war is still on-going.
Like they say, ignorance is not an excuse to break the law. I’m certain these people were not all that ignorant of their criminal acts. They were fully aware of what they were doing, even though misled by Islamic bigots. In my opinion, they do not deserve preferential treatment. They should be made to pay the penalties for the crimes they partook of and hopefully, when their sentence is over, they can join the rest of us in the real world.
Letting them off the hook easily is not amnesty and should never be compared with the amnesty programme set up by the Musa Yar’adua administration for former militants of the Niger-Delta. The militants didn’t go on a rampage killing civilians and security agents, neither did they burn down villages nor seize territories in Nigeria.
One thing we should also consider is the genuineness of their repentance. Are they repenting out of the genuine feeling of remorse and regret of their actions or are they repenting because they have been caught? If released, will they not be tempted to go back into the bush and join their former colleagues in a fight against the troops of the Nigerian Army?
In the last decade, Boko Haram terrorists have carried out several murders, suicide bombings, public executions of Christians and Muslims, maiming and killings of soldiers. Justice for the victims would be for captured members of the group to face the consequences of their action as dictated by the law. I’m not against amnesty or deradicalisation, but all that process can wait until after the war is won and over.