or several decades until about 2017, there used to be a gathering of disabled ex-combatants that begged for alms around the Oji-River section of the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway. A similar spectacle existed around the Agbor section of the Onitsha-Benin Expressway. After the Nigerian government declared “no victor and no vanquished” in the Civil War of the late 1960s, effectively reintegrating ex-combatants from the Biafran side became a problem. Many of them, disabled from battle and without socio-economic relief from the government, resorted to begging. Ex-combatants can severely threaten post-war or post-conflict peace and security if not adequately reintegrated into society. Most ex-combatants have no other skill besides the use of guns and other munitions. Disarming ex-combatants without economically and socially reintegrating them into society renders them unemployed. Such a situation only presents two options. Like many disabled and helpless former Biafran soldiers, the options are to beg or deploy their ammunition using skills in income-generating criminal activities. For instance, some ex-servicemen are known to work for insurgents. Either way, they become huge and undesirable social liabilities.
The second important reason for socially integrating ex-combatants is to manage the atrocities that some might have perpetrated against civilians while they bore arms. Without a methodically structured rehabilitation process that prepares a community to accept such a group of people, the reintegration efforts would be in vain. Having been disarmed, they will only become very vulnerable to ex-victims who will want to take revenge. For instance, how possible is it that many of the AK-47 wielding Fulani militants [the herdsmen] notorious for their atrocities will be allowed to coexist safely in the same communities they terrorized post disarmament without being adequately reintegrated? Thirdly, reintegration of ex-combatants is also necessary to assist groups of ex-combatants that have become weak, vulnerable, incapacitated, and marginalized. An excellent case is the ex-Biafran combatants that the Nigerian government left to beg for alms on the roadside for several decades. That posture of abandonment contrasts with the recent gestures to Boko Haram fighters. The government has made efforts to disarm, forgive, and reintegrate “repentant” ex-Boko Haram insurgents into society. Many analysts have queried the rationale for the actions.
Again, there are also concerns about the inequities in the reintegration policies, which the government does not extend equally to armed agitators. Each of the rehabilitated ex-combatant and ex-militant groups have had a different kind of experience. For example, while there is a well-established program for reintegrating ex-Boko Haram insurgents and other bandits from northern Nigeria, members of the Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra [MASSOB] and the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra [IPOB] received a different set of treatments. Different rehabilitation and reintegration standards seem to be in use for various groups of ex-combatants depending on sub-nationality. In the paragraphs below, we summarize how the Nigerian governments rehabilitated or treated ex-combatants comprising ex-Biafran soldiers, ex-Niger Delta militants, ex-OPC members, ex-Islamic insurgents, ex-MASSOB and IPOB members as well as repentant bandits from the Fulani militant groups.
The Nigerian Civil War was inevitable. After the war, the federal government placed the 3Rs policy of rehabilitation, reconstruction, and reconciliation to effectively clean up the grouses of conflict, rebuild destroyed facilities and restore normalcy. This program was essentially for revamping everyday socio-economic life, reconciling, and reintegrating ex-combatants. Unfortunately, the Nigerian government refused to reintegrate ex-Nigerian officers of the Igbo extraction recalled from foreign training but fought on the Biafran side until a presidential amnesty in 2006 for which only 103 out of the 143 qualified personnel were eligible. For clarity, soldiers on foreign training who returned to fight during the war naturally fought on the sides of their ethnic origin. However, those who returned and fought on the Biafran side were marginalized and denied their entitlements to pensions and gratuities regardless of the “no victor, no vanquished” refrain of the central government. Even the amnesty, pronounced in 2006 by the federal government, was fraught with ethnicity and corruption. Again, after the war, all ex-combatants directly recruited into the Biafran Army were dismissed. Ex-combatants hitherto in the Nigerian Army that fought on the Biafran side but above the rank of captain were either dismissed, discharged, or retired without benefits. Reintegration back into the Nigerian Army was only open to junior officers of the Nigerian Army who fought on Biafra’s side. The reabsorbed group also faced daunting challenges as it took about four decades for one of them to emerge as the Chief of Army staff in Nigeria in 2018.
The membership of the Movement for the Actualization of the sovereign state of Biafra [MASSOB], albeit an ethnic agitation, was pronounced illegal and somewhat treasonable right from its onset. Although the federal government did not proscribe it as an organization, its activities were considered damaging to national security and consequently banned in 2001. Since then, the group has never enjoyed any window of dialogue with the federal government, despite adopting its proclaimed peaceful activism approach. It nevertheless clashed severally with the police, resulting in the deaths of many of its members. In 2005, its leader was arrested, detained, and charged with treason but was released two years afterwards. The federal government’s noninterest in dialogue with the group found meaning in its members’ continued persecution. As of 2015, the Nigerian Army chief threatened to deal decisively and crush the group, which it saw then as a threat to the country’s unity and territorial integrity. The government did not make available any opportunity for this Movement to drop their agitation. It also did not make efforts to meet some of their demands. The Nigerian government’s hostility and treatment of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra [IPOB], which branched out of MASSOB, is even harsher. Beyond its proscription, the IPOB received the brand of a terrorist organization. Several of its members suffered deaths at the hands of the Nigerian police and other security forces. The government still wants its leader to face treasonable charges.
The Oodua People’s Congress [OPC] came on stage following the June 1993 presidential election annulment won by Moshood Abiola from the Yoruba nation. The interest was to project the Yoruba ethnic plan and acting as a counterbalancing force against Hausa-Fulani domination and state machinery control. It also advocated for the autonomy of the Yoruba race as a republic. Locally, it also acted as a vigilante group besides its ethnic militancy profile. Nevertheless, the OPC was never considered a threat to national security in the same way that IPOB and MASSOB were categorized because it lacked the well-established secessionist profile that the latter has attracted to themselves. However, the constant clashes it had with mainly the Yoruba, other ethnic groups, and the police regarding the many cases of the groups extrajudicial killings prompted the federal government to ban the organization in 1999. However, the ban was only by mouth and was never gazetted and therefore had no strong legislative backing. It also never prohibited the organization from functioning. There is an ample record of the group’s several killings and abuses, including ethnic violence, mainly with the Hausas and other cases of civilians’ killing. Despite all of that, the government took not much action to rein in on the group. On the contrary, OPC has benefited tremendously from the government and its officials. For instance, in March 2015, the federal government awarded the surveillance contract for NNPC pipelines in the Southwest to the group. It also gave a similar contract to the ex-militant from the Niger Delta region.
Unlike IPOB, OPC, and MASSOB, the federal government decided against deploying military force on the Niger Delta militia and opted for a comprehensive dialogue, rehabilitation, and development system. As of June 2009, it granted unconditional amnesty to militants operating in the Niger Delta region. It also commenced dialogue and negotiations with appointed mediators three months afterwards and eventually unrolled a robust program of reintegrating the ex-militants into Nigerian society in 2009. A combination of nonviolent training, education, guidance and counselling, access to microcredit, and the opportunity to go back to school were made available to these ex-militants. An independent ministry to oversee the management of the Niger Delta people’s aspirations and a commission to propel its accelerated development has been put in place by the federal government. By February 2011, no fewer than 26,000 ex-militants of Niger Delta origin had enrolled in the amnesty program.
Despite being the most dreaded terrorist group globally, ex-Boko Haram combatants who have collectively murdered over 40,000 Nigerians now have a safe corridor to re-enter society without blame. All they need to do is repent. In 2016, the federal government launched the operation “safe corridor” as a window for rehabilitating and reintegrating the so-called “repentant” members of Boko Haram into society. Eligible ex-combatants are foot soldiers and middle-level commanders within the insurgency group. These repented low and medium risk ex-combatants undergo a deradicalization program, after which they are provided with employable skills and reintegrated into society. By the end of 2020, approximately 2000 ex-members of the terrorist group took advantage of the program. The program involves seventeen government agencies handling specific projects. Unfortunately, determining a truly repentant insurgent is almost impossible. And the federal government knows that a lot. Related murderous groups such as the AK-47 wielding Fulani herdsmen appear to enjoy the federal government’s protection and may not need any rehabilitation and reintegration program.
Finally, so far, the rehabilitation and reintegration program of ex-Niger Delta militants appears to have been most fruitful. Before the amnesty and attendant reintegration efforts, Niger Delta militants’ profile as murderous compared to how many Nigerians perceive nomadic cattle rearing Fulani men. Peace and normalcy returned almost entirely within the region post amnesty and reintegration. The persistent vandalization of public infrastructure in the region ceased. But the government’s approach to restoring peace in the Niger Delta region and rehabilitating Boko Haram insurgents compared with its attitude to other ethnic militants’ smacks of the Nigerian government’s typical different strokes on different folks. While the government courts the dangerously murderous Islamic insurgents with olive branches, militants in south-east Nigeria genuinely agitating for their ethnic liberation face constant persecution and threats. While it is true that these militants have different profiles and focus, the program for reabsorbing them into society should be equitable.