Nigeria Boko Haram militants offered olive branch by army

image copyrightAFP/BOKO HARAM
image captionThe army hopes its de-radicalisation initiative will encourage others to leave Boko Haram

Nigeria's army says 800 militants from the Islamist Boko Haram group who have surrendered and shown remorse will be rehabilitated into society.

They would be profiled, documented and offered training in new skills at several camps currently being set up, the army spokesman told the BBC.

Until now militants who surrender have been held in jail awaiting trial.

The army has been criticised in the past for its treatment of Boko Haram insurgents and suspects.

Last June, Amnesty International said that 7,000 young men and boys had died in military detention in Nigeria since 2011.

The BBC's Abdullahi Kaura Abubakar in the capital, Abuja, says the programme, known as Operation Safe Corridor, hopes to persuade others who are yet to renounce their membership of the jihadi group to do so.

It is also an attempt by the army to show that human rights will be respected in future - a key promise made by President Muhammadu Buhari when he came to power last year.

The seven-year insurgency in north-eastern Nigeria has killed some 17,000 people and forced more than 2.6 million from their homes.

Difficult to forgive?

Army spokesman Brigadier General Rabe Abubakar said there would be two or three camps by the military - the locations of which would be made public when they were officially launched in the next few months.

"They will be very big and all facilities will put in place... to rehabilitate them to become good members of society," he told our correspondent.

Other government agencies would be involved in this new de-radicalisation programme, he added.

Asked if the repentant militants would be paid whilst they underwent training, Brig Gen Abubakar said: "I believe the government will definitely ask the relevant agencies to do what is needful."

On questions about whether those who surrendered would be tried or given amnesty, he said that things needed to be taken "phase by phase".

"The most important thing for us is to have them rehabilitated. Since they have shown remorse and come on board, I think it is our duty to ensure that we help them to become very productive members of this great country," the army spokesman said.

Boko Haram at a glance:

image copyrightScreengrab
image captionBoko Haram fighters still appear well armed in recent propaganda videos
  • Founded in 2002, initially focused on opposing Western-style education - Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language
  • Launched military operations in 2009
  • Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria, hundreds abducted, including at least 200 schoolgirls
  • Joined so-called Islamic State, now calls itself IS's "West African province"
  • Seized large area in north-east, where it declared caliphate
  • Regional force has retaken most territory last year

Our reporter says as commendable as this arrangement is, there are many who doubt if communities are ready to wholly accept them.

It is likely that many victims of the cruelty of these former gunmen may find it difficult to forgive, he says.

Meanwhile, a committee set up by Nigeria's defence minister is due to submit its report how areas liberated from Boko Haram should be handed back to civilian authorities.

At the moment the military is solely in control of most of the towns and villages recaptured from Boko Haram.

The majority of those displaced by the conflict have yet to return to their homes.

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