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Opinions of Thursday, 19 August 2021

Columnist: Tunde Adeparusi

Nigeria and incentivisation of criminality

Boko Haram fighters Boko Haram fighters

It may be necessary to critically consider the antecedents of the Nigerian government, particularly the criminal justice system, where recidivism is concerned. This may shed light on what may be playing out in the Nigerian society regarding the sudden capitulation of certain ISWAP-Boko Haram terrorist members as well as the corresponding queer disposition of the Federal Government. It is noteworthy to mention that recidivism is high in Nigeria because the prisons lack adequate rehabilitation services. The correctional facilities are of poor standard. The poor state of the Nigerian prison system; lack of adequate correctional facilities, poor remuneration of probation officers, dilapidated structures, overcrowding etc. are all a factor responsible for the high rate of recidivism in Nigeria. Therefore, a system this poor may not be able to effectively and efficiently cater to the bigger challenges of managing ‘repentant’ or ‘surrendered’ terrorists, needless to say. Hence, Nigeria has done very poorly in the area of crime reduction.

Moreover, the Nigerian criminal justice system comprises the police, the court and the prisons. These three departments play a very important role in society; apart from the fact that they control the crime rate, they also help determine the crime index, which serves as a common indicator of how good or bad the country is doing in terms of its crime experience. However, the effectiveness of a criminal justice system is determined by its ability to meet the goals of deterrence, incapacitation, retribution, rehabilitation and reintegration. To actualise this goal, these three departments must synergise their powers and functions:

Many often get confused about the primary objective of the prisons thinking they are primarily established to punish offenders. Even though this may be partially correct, one should not be oblivious of the fact that prisons are also correctional facilities saddled with the responsibility of improving the behaviour of an offender while ensuring the safety of the society through an effective and efficient reintegration process. And in most cases, this procedure is painstaking, and invariably time-consuming. It may not be done in haste, so the primary objective is not defeated. Perhaps, this oblivion is responsible for the current state of the Nigerian prisons, and by extension, the entire criminal justice system.

The Nigerian prisons are pretty much still operating an archaic record-keeping system, which even makes it quite difficult to maintain a functional and effective database, let alone monitor offenders who are released back into the social system. It was reported that the prevalent criminal rate of recidivism in Nigeria was 37.3% as of 2005. Howbeit, with the current spate of criminal activities and the overwhelming nature of the appalling conditions of the Nigerian prison system, it may not be totally out of place to presume that one out of every 10 offenders arrested in the Nigerian society is most likely to have once been a guest in the prison yard.

Furthermore, it is often said that an idle hand is the devil’s messenger. The youth unemployment rate in Nigeria skyrockets by the day with no immediate possible solution in view.

During the recent International Youth Day celebration, The Guardian remarked that “an increasing number of Nigerian youths continue to face economic uncertainty and social exclusion, forcing the majority of them into gambling and crimes, while the rest languish in penury and deprivation”. One may wonder what plans the Federal Government has for this very important class of citizens who are loafing around the streets with no jobs, let alone the miserable ex-offenders (‘surrendered’ or ‘repentant’ Boko Haram members inclusive) who are also being released into the same system! Moreover, the World Poverty Clock has also recently fingered Nigeria as the number one poverty capital of the world. Although this may not be good for the image of the country, however, it does not change the fact that it is true by all indices.

Over 350,000 innocent civilians have been reportedly killed by these same terrorists operating within the Nigerian social space. Millions have also been displaced while a huge number is barely surviving in the various the IDP camps across the country, living on less than $1 per day:

Terrorists are also humans. They too have the natural inclination to succumb to economic pressure, just like any other human begins living in the same milieu. It is also important to note that terrorist organisations operate on ‘heavy’ budgets; the organisations do cater to all members who are driving the goals of the organisations at various levels. Therefore, with the new development involving reported cases of sudden capitulation, there is a possibility that ISWAP-Boko Haram are running very low in terms of income generation, more especially now that the government has not been paying ransoms as before (due to acute economic austerity). Also, the families of (kidnapped) victims do not have the wherewithal to meet the impossible demands of the abductors keeping their family members in captivity:

Recall that the family members of the abducted students of Bethel Baptist High School in Kaduna State had to cough up N100m after which only 28 of the abductees were released. Others remain in captivity, even to date. The government could not help to rescue these abductees because it is incapacitated due to lack of funds! Well, it is rather unfortunate that this has been the only effective instrument of rescue employed by the government.

So, economic pressure may be pushing out the terrorist members (from their hideouts) to feign ‘restitution’ because in the actual sense nobody repents from his nature or suddenly wake up to renounce his ideology. If this will ever happen at all, it will not be in a jiffy! It is a very long process; adequate rehabilitation could even take years! Hence, the fact that they are driven by hunger and have decided to give up temporarily, does not mean they have also given up their ideological beliefs, especially where their ultimate goal is concerned; to exterminate all ‘infidels’.

The other possibility is, perhaps the government of Nigeria is falling for the bait of the ISWAP-Boko Haram terrorist organisation. The fact remains, the more the terrorist organisation could infiltrate the society through its members, the better and, even easier it is for the organization to achieve its ultimate goal. This is because the ideology that is driving terrorism is almost unbreakable due to religiosity; the driving force behind every member of any Islamic terrorist organisation is motivated by their beliefs with one goal in mind; to exterminate all ‘infidels’ in any way or by any means possible, even if they have to lie to achieve this goal.

Recall that earlier this year, 1,009 repentant Boko Haram members were released in Borno State. The questions remain; how has the government been able to deradicalise them, and for how long? Apart from the army, were other agencies of the government or even private; civil organisations or non-governmental organisations (both local and foreign, like Amnesty International) invited to take part to effectively monitor the process was adequate? And if yes, to what extent? If no, why not? Who monitors these ‘ex-terrorists’ to ensure that they do not go back to work for the terrorist organisation? Where are their records kept? How has the government helped empower ex-Boko Haram fighters in terms of vocation etc. in order to keep them busy? What roles did the criminal justice system play in all of this? All these and many more questions are awaiting answers. And not until these questions are sincerely answered, it will be a disaster to reckon with what the Nigerian government is currently doing with ‘surrendered’ or ‘repentant’ terrorists in the society, more especially with the overwhelming poverty level currently confronting the poor and the vulnerable.

In conclusion, the above highlights could help any outsider grasp the complexity of the challenges facing the Nigerian state. There is a problem in the way in which the government is handling the security situation, especially where the terrorist insurgency is concerned; incentivising criminality rather than employing the effective use of the criminal justice system is a premonition of an imminent disaster.