A Nigerian military commander said at least 51,000 Boko Haram terrorists and their families have surrendered in the country’s northeast in just the first three months of this year.
Major General Chris Musa said Tuesday that the mass surrender of insurgents is a sign that Nigerian security forces are winning the 13-year-conflict against Boko Haram. But some analysts remain skeptical.
Musa, the commander of operation Hadin Kai, made the announcement Tuesday to reporters in Abuja. He said among those who surrendered were 11,000 people who had been enslaved by, conscripted by or born to the insurgents.
Musa said they had surrendered because of successful military operations. He spoke to a Lagos-based television show on Monday.
“We want to assure the public that we’re doing the best we can and we’re working together because this operation is for Nigeria, it is a Nigerian war,” Musa said.
The army commander said the death of Boko Haram sect leader Abubakar Shekau also played a role. Shekau was declared killed in May 2021 during fighting with splinter group Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).
According to the country’s 2016 Safe Corridor plan, which provides recruits with a voluntary exit from Boko Haram, many defectors could have a normal civilian life. But analysts said the program, if not properly managed, could pose risks.
Darlington Abdullahi, a retired air commander, said if reintegration is not carried out properly, problems could emerge.
“There’s a possibility that they might go back into the kinds of activities they were engaged in previously,” Abdullahi said.
The Safe Corridor program is part of a national strategy to reduce militant activity in the country’s northeast but critics argue it is offering amnesty to terrorists.
Musa said surrendered terrorists were being held in a camp in Maiduguri and would be closely monitored before being allowed back into their communities.
But Abdullahi said it wouldn’t be easy to change their ideologies.
“For them to fit into the larger society, they must change their mindsets,” Abullahi said. “They must begin to behave like normal people. They must begin to feel that they belong to the society.”
Last week, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited the camp in Borno state during his two-day visit to Nigeria and praised the reintegration program.