In October, I was the first researcher to visit Operation Safe Corridor, a military facility on the outskirts of Gombe, Nigeria, that houses a bold experiment in jihadist deradicalization. At the site, 157 former Boko Haram fighters who laid down their arms and turned themselves in under the government’s amnesty offer are going through a program to reintegrate them back into society.
This program may be the best path to peace, but its potentially fraught nature is clear. Deradicalization of former Boko Haram militants will not succeed if the broader contours of the conflict are not dealt with. Specifically, a wider justice and reconciliation package — one that convinces, prepares, and equips communities to receive former fighters — and sustained pressure from the military are needed.
Just like the ex-fighters, Boko Haram’s victims should receive support to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. Extending the kind of vocational trainings defectors receive at the deradicalization camp to communities and providing trainees with starting capital and/or tools will not only empower society economically, but also reduce resentment toward ex-militants returning home with marketable skills. The government should establish psychosocial therapy and other healing efforts to help communities accepting returning fighters recover from the atrocities they experienced. Informational campaigns to help communities understand why ex-militants are being granted amnesty and what vetting and deradicalization processes they have gone through will help as well. Moreover, to avoid further straining relations between Nigeria’s Muslim and Christian communities, the government must ensure that different religious groups are closely involved and receive adequate representation in the reconciliation process. Finally, some form of community-based truth-telling, justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation mechanism should be instituted. Religious, traditional, and community leaders can play a vital role in this as they are important vectors of communication.