Nigeria Has Released 244 'Deradicalized Boko Haram Suspects' As the Bloody Insurgency Rages On

Some people in Nigeria and abroad have raised their eyebrows after the military released hundreds of Boko Haram suspects, claiming they had been de-radicalized and were ready to be reintegrated into society.

Boko Haram is blamed for the death of at least 20,000 people in Nigeria and neighboring countries since its insurgency became violent in 2009. Originally opposed to Western education in Nigeria, the group later turned into a militant organization fighting to establish an Islamic Caliphate in occupied territories.

The army said on January 15 that the release of 244 suspects was part of activities to commemorate the Armed Forces Remembrance Day. Kashim Shettima, the governor of Borno state, the epicenter of Boko Haram's deadly insurgency, commended the military for its efforts to root out terrorism in the area.

Those released included 118 adult males, 56 women, 19 teens and 51 children.

Critics have argued that people freed might not be ready to go back to their communities, given that Boko Haram is still active and is still recruiting.

Boladale Adekoya, a Lagos-based analyst on Nigerian affairs, believes that the recent release is a double-edged sword.

"On the side of morality, it is disappointing that the government was so eager to return the suspects at a time when the insurgents' activities seem to have increased.
The process of reintegration is also questionable," he told Newsweek.

"However, from an intelligence point of view, there is a possibility that some of the suspects recruited by the group end up providing information to the armed forces. But what measures are we adopting to ensure they do not become radicalized again?"

Rights groups have also claimed Boko haram suspects are sometimes arrested without reasonable suspicion that the they have actual links to the group, casting doubts on the effectiveness of some anti-insurgency activities.

Abubakar Shekau
A poster displayed along the road shows photograph of Imam Abubakar Shekau, leader of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, declared wanted by the Nigerian military with $320,471 reward for information that could lead to his capture in northeastern Nigeria town of Maiduguri May 1, 2013. In january 2018, the army said it released 244 suspects as part of activities to commemorate the Armed Forces Remembrance Day. PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)

Nigerian journalist Ahmad Salkida, who has extensively covered the insurgency and had ties with the group's former leader, Mohammed Yusuf, alleged that, according to military sources, "there was no evidence against them" of direct engagement with Boko Haram.

"Some of them are obviously victims of Boko Haram when the sect raided their villages and forced them to join their ranks," he told Newsweek.

"The best excuse to give for their exemption was to say they have been de-radicalised," he continued. "However, how do you release terrorists during an ongoing war, at a time the insurgents are still recruiting? Where is justice for the families of those they have killed, maimed and abducted?"

The Nigerian government stepped up de-radicalization efforts for militants willing to abandon the group in 2016.

Last year, more than 800 Boko Haram fighters participated in the de-radicalization program under the Safe Corridor Initiative, according to Nigeria's defense chief Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin.

Fight against Boko Haram not over

Nigeria Boko Haram terrorists
Commander Major General Adekunle Shodunke (C-R) points to IEDs recovered from Boko Haram Islamists as British Minister of State for the Armed Forces Mark Lancaster looks on during his visit to the Nigerian Army School of Military Engineering in Makurdi, Benue State, north-central Nigeria, on October 4, 2017. PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images

Boko Haram used to control territory the size of Belgium. However, Nigeria's ongoing military operation, Lafiya Dole, and a regional offensive—consisting of 8,700 troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin—have scored some successes, with soldiers recapturing key territories and releasing thousands of civilians held captive by the group.

In spite of the military's successes against the group, the fight against Boko Haram is not over, however.

The group reportedly killed three people in Adamawa state on January 16, just days after it was blamed for the death of at least 20 loggers in Borno.

The same day the suspects were freed, Boko Haram released a video purportedly showing some schoolgirls kidnapped in April 2014. After four years of captivity, some of the girls said in the video that they did not want to go back home.

The footage, obtained by Sahara Reporters, also showed Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. He refuted claims by officials that he had been wounded in battle.

The Nigerian government and army have often affirmed the fight against the group was over, only to have their claims dismissed by the group through videos or attacks.

Nigeria's President Muhammad Buhari, who has vowed his administration would finally defeat the terrorists, said in January that Nigeria "had beaten the group". Similarly to previous instances, Shekau dismissed the claim.

The organization, allied with the Islamic State militant group, is today divided. The fraction occurred after ISIS replaced Shekau as leader with Abu Musab Al Barnawi, a former Boko Haram spokesperson.

Although split into at least two factions today, Boko Haram has continued its violent war to establish an Islamic state.

"With the upcoming 2019 election, the government wants to proudly proclaim that it has won a battle," Adekoya said.

"What a responsible government would have done, is to still keep the suspects until the war is truly won.

"The government has shown time and again that it cannot be trusted. Nigerians will only believe the government the day the bombing stops," he concluded.