Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Research Findings: Strategies for Community Reintegration in Northeast Nigeria

Boko Haram (BH) members, abductees, and conscripts who have managed to escape or defect from the group are now attempting to reintegrate with their communities. However, such attempts have been met with resistance, as some communities perceive them to still be members of the group. In some cases, security agents, vigilantes, and community members have killed those attempting to return and reintegrate, leaving returnees/defectors even more traumatized. Furthermore, out of fear for the consequences when returning home, current BH members, abductees, and conscripts contemplating an escape or defection have fewer incentives to leave BH, which may be further empowering the group.

Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace (DREP) Centre, with support from the Nigeria Regional Transition Initiative (NRTI) organized and facilitated 9 community-level meetings across 9 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe States to generate community discussion about reintegration and the needs and expectations of different types of returnees. These two-day forums were held in three LGAs from each state and the tool/methodology used is appended.
The purpose is to understand community processes for reintegrating BH returnees and defectors to enable their safe return and to also enhance community trust and cohesion. This will in turn reduce the chances for unaccepted defectors/returnees joining or remaining members of BH.
It should be emphasized that the North-East is a large complex region impacted by the BH insurgency and this activity can only present a snapshot of the situation. Furthermore, accounts of the conflicts and responses gathered from communities are the subject of passionate emotions from both victims and perpetrators based on current state of mind and situations.

Below is an executive summary of findings. Full report will be available on request. 

  • Boko Haram members, abductees and conscripts who have managed to escape/defect from the group are attempting to reintegrate with their communities. 
  • Such attempts have met stiff resistance, as they are perceived to still be members of the sect. 
  • In most cases, security agents, vigilantes and community members have killed those who attempted to return. 
  • The purpose of this project is to understand community processes for reintegrating Boko Haram returnees/defectors. 
  • This will enhance community trust and cohesion as well as reduce the chances for unaccepted returnees/defectors to join or remain members of insurgent groups. 
  • DREP Centre organized Community dialogue on Reintegration of Boko Haram returnees/defectors in 9 LGAs across Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States. 
  • After the initial pilot dialogue in three (3) LGAs across Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States, a meeting was held to review the results and make recommendations for the next phase based on lessons learned. 
  • Findings from these community dialogues show the following: 
  1. Discussions around the Boko Haram Insurgency is very sensitive as it has heightened suspicion and mistrust among people.
  2. More persons, including women and girls, willfully joined the Boko Haram sect as against the number of persons that were forcefully conscripted.
  3. Most of these communities felt sad, betrayed and still live in fear at the realization that some of their community members joined the Boko Haram Sect.
  4. It is clear that defectors/returnees as well as those captured or forcefully conscripted, just like other victims of the insurgency across the Northeast, bear different degrees of trauma that need to be addressed.
  5. Communities are still skeptical of accepting these defectors/returnees who they consider to still be members of Boko Haram.
  6. Defectors and returnees are either killed by security agents, vigilantes and community members or are taken away to detention camps in Yola.
  7. Similar treatments are meted out on those that were abducted or forcefully conscripted by the Boko Haram Group as they are considered “contaminated”.
  8. There are communities where reintegration is considered impossible. This is understandable based on the present hurt and trauma experienced at individual and community level.
  9. However, where possible, conditions for reintegrating Boko Haram defectors or returnees include assurance of total rehabilitation of defectors, trust and confidence building, physical and psychological rebuilding of community structures, restoration of means of livelihood and temporal relocation of defectors or returnees. Some of these conditions are based on traditional or cultural practices.
  10. Also, there are existing structures, institutions and cultural activities/festivals that can be leveraged upon to promote reconciliation and reintegration. The challenge, however, is that the current situation is novel and the impact is huge.
  11. It is believed that Religious and Community Leaders can play a key role in the reintegration process due to their influence on the people. However, since they are frequent targets of attacks, their involvement in any reintegration process at the moment makes them suspected links or supporters of Boko Haram.
  12. There is need for creativity or innovation in adapting these practices or leveraging on existing structures.
In the light of these, the following proposals/recommendations are made for further action:
  • More community dialogue meetings on reintegration of Boko Haram defectors/returnees across the three States of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States. Selected community members that participated in the community dialogue on reintegration of Boko Haram defectors/returnees should be brought together to harmonize responses and findings from the meetings conducted already.
  • State level conferences be held across the three States of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe to educate people on the importance of accepting repentant defectors and returnees, emphasizing that this will weaken the Boko Haram support base and reduce the likelihood of them joining insurgent groups.
  • Immediate peacebuilding activities in these communities to rebuild trust and promote reconciliation among groups. This will help address the challenge of security agents and community members killing defectors that return back to the communities, thereby weakening the strength of Boko Haram. Engaging community members in this process endorses a sense of self- healing and reconciliation, which will in turn, promote stability for these communities in the future.
  • For the women and girls who have been rescued, as well as insurgency defectors, there is need for trauma healing and psychosocial support. This will be mutually beneficial to both victims and defectors as well as contribute to the overall deradicalization process for both victims and perpetrators of the Boko Haram insurgency.
  • Support towards restoration of means of livelihood and return of normalcy to most communities. It is crucial for the stability of Nigeria and States affected by the insurgency that provision is made for aid and ongoing support for both victims and defected perpetrators of the Boko Haram insurgency.
  • Religious and community leaders need to be organized and coordinated to first accept the idea of reintegration before they can impress on their followers to do same. They need to undergo trauma healing and psychosocial support sessions, as well as have their capacity in mediation and other peacebuilding skills enhanced.
  • Advocacy for deliberate government policies that will address the root causes of insurgency and extreme behaviors among citizens.

    Ogbonna, Chris Anthony, 
    Director of Programs, DREP Centre, Jos,
    Plateau State-Nigeria. 


    ...detail report is available on request.

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