The United States government has justified its opposition to plans by the Buhari administration to hand over $106 million of looted funds by the late former military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha to the current governor of Kebbi State, Atiku Bagudu, saying such an action will be an unconscionable validation and reward for graft and impunity. A spokesperson for the Nigerian embassy in Washington DC refused to comment whether the documents were sent to the Nigerian government via the embassy; and a DOJ source who confirmed that the trove of evidence has been sent to the Nigerian government declined to confirm whether it was done through the Nigerian embassy in Washington or through official channels with the US embassy in Abuja.
The Buhari administration is arguing that a 17-year-old agreement signed between Bagudu and the Obasanjo administration entitles Bagudu to the funds and prevents Nigeria from assisting the US in further prosecution of corruption and money-laundering charges against the embattled Kebbi governor. But, lawyers from the Criminal Division of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) have reportedly sent a trove of evidence that Bagudu was the money-laundering kingpin for Abacha and his family, urging the Nigerian government to discount whatever agreement Bagudu signed with previous administrations, because such an agreement “was not in the public interest of Nigerians.” The DOJ wants Bagudu to be arrested and prosecuted.
The massive cache of documents, copies of which were obtained exclusively by Huhuonline.com expose the hidden financial dealings and offshore holdings of Bagudu and reveal how under Abacha; Bagudu and then finance minister, Anthony Ani, former National Security Adviser (NSA), Ismaila Gwarzo, and then CBN governor, Paul Ogwuma conspired with Gen. Abacha’s son, Mohammed Abacha to steal billions of dollars from the Nigerian government using criminal schemes; and then laundered the money through a network of shell companies, offshore banks and investment portfolios in tax havens from the British Virgin Islands to the Bailiwick of Jersey.
The scale and magnitude of the theft Bagudu perpetrated against the Nigerian people is, in many ways, the story of Abacha’s money-laundering itself. The leaked documents offer more than a snapshot of one man’s business methods or a catalog of his more unsavory activities. It allows a far-reaching view into how so much was stolen by so few and the way Bagudu has worked to keep his activities secret- offering clues as to why the US-led efforts to recover a substantial part of the Abacha loot have faltered.
The cache of documents covers Abacha’s reign of terror, from 1993 and allows a never-before-seen view inside the money-laundering exploits of Governor Bagudu; providing a detail look at how he channeled Abacha’s dark money through the global financial system, robbing the CBN and stripping the Nigerian treasury of billions; and in no small measure, contributing to the general debilitation and immiserating of Nigeria as a nation.
The documents make it clear that Atiku Bagudu was the main driver behind the creation of hard-to-trace companies in the British Virgin Islands, and other offshore havens used to launder money stolen by Abacha and his family. The files list 12 banks and 16 shadow companies and five investment portfolios that Bagudu set up for the Abacha family to hide their loot. These include:
• Assets held in account number 80020796, in the name of Doraville Properties located at Deutsche Bank International Ltd in the Bailiwick of Jersey, last valued at approx. $287 million
• Assets held in account number S-104460 in the name of Mohammed Sani, at HSBC Fund Administration Ltd in the Bailiwick of Jersey, last valued at approx. $12 million
• Assets held in account number 223405880IUSD, in the name of Rayville International, SA at Banque SBA in Paris, France, last valued at approx. $1 million
• Assets held in account number 223406510PUSD, in the name of Standard Alliance Financial Services Ltd at Banque SBA in Paris, France, last valued at approx. $144 million
• Assets held in account numbers 100130688 and 100138409, in the name of Mecosta Securities, at Standard Bank, UK, last valued at approx. £21.7 million
• Assets held at HSBC Life (Europe) formerly held in account number 37060762 in the name of Mohammed Sani at Midland Life International Ltd, and assets in account number 38175076, at HSBC Bank last valued at approx. $1.6 million
• Combined assets held in the name of Blue Holding Pte. Ltd., on behalf of Ridley Group Ltd and the Ridley Trust, at JO Hambro Investment Management Ltd, UK and James Hambro & Partners LLP, UK last valued at approx. €95,910,222.84 million.
The documents which included evidence from the World Bank Stolen Asset Recovery (STAR) initiative also provide details of how Atiku Bagudu; more than Mohammed Abacha and even Gen Abacha himself, concocted fraudulent schemes to steal Nigeria blind. Among other things, Atiku Bagudu played an instrumental role in setting up and executing the complicated financial transactions used to launder the stolen billions and remains a signatory and corporate representative designated on many of the assets owned by the Abacha family.
The records reveal a pattern of covert maneuvers by Bagudu, using banks and offshore companies linked to his network to move money in secret transactions, disguised payments, backdated documents and hidden ownership within the inner circle of Abacha’s dictatorial regime. The documents listed five offshore corporate entities in the notorious tax haven of British Virgin Islands created by Bagudu to launder Abacha’s stolen billions. These are: Doraville Properties Corporation, Mecosta Securities Inc., Rayville International SA; Ridley Group Ltd, and Standard Alliance Financial Services Ltd.
Although some $308 million of the Abacha loot is expected to be returned to the Nigerian government in April after a tripartite agreement how the funds will be expended on three major infrastructural projects, US DOJ sources told Huhuonline.com over $2.1 billion of stolen wealth and assets remained under the control of Bagudu and Mohammed Abacha. Of this amount, about $458 million in cash and assets have already been seized and forfeited by the United States, as proceeds of corruption and money-laundering. The sources said the US will not be inclined to return the impounded cash and assets to the Nigerian government, pursuant to the 1989 treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters between the US and Nigeria if the Buhari administration insists on handing over some of the looted funds to the very man who looted the funds in the first place.
“To allow this travesty to stand is to say that there is no real penalty for corruption, which remains Nigeria’s number one problem because of its wide negative implications on the citizens… Allowing a man who stole billions to hold public office and walk the streets freely cannot serve as deterrent to other corrupt and criminally minded persons,” noted a DOJ source, who elected anonymity because he has not been authorized to officially comment on the matter.
Huhuonline.com will be publishing exclusive reports to expose how, as the gasoline that ran Abacha’s money-laundering engine, Bagudu, created an anonymous offshore network system sprawling global bankers and investment portfolio managers and go-betweens who conspired to create complex structures to disguise the origins of Abacha’s dirty money. The files expose foreign bank accounts and offshore investment companies controlled by Bagudu and his family members, including his wives and children and his brother, has been described by one US DOJ official as “Nigeria’s Panama Papers”. That story is next.
In a clear show of its resilience and market leadership, Zenith Bank has announced an impressive result for the year ended December 31, 2019, with profit after tax (PAT) of N208.8 billion, achieving the feat as the first Nigerian Bank to cross the N200 billion mark.
According to the bank’s audited financial results for the 2019 financial year released in Lagos on Friday, profit after tax rose by 8% to N208.8 billion from the N193 billion recorded in the previous year.
The Group also recorded a growth in gross earnings of 5% rising to N662.3 billion from N630.3 billion reported in the previous year. This growth was driven by the 29% increase in non-interest income from N179.9 billion in 2018 to N231.1 billion in 2019. Fees on electronic products continues to grow significantly with a 108% Year on Year (YoY) growth from N20.4 billion in 2018 to N42.5 billion in the current year. This is a validation of the bank’s retail transformation strategy which continues to deliver impressive results.
Profit before tax also increased by 5% growing from N232 billion to N243 billion in the current year, arising from topline growth and continued focus on cost optimisation strategies. Cost-to-income ratio moderated from 49.3% to 48.8%.
The drive for cheaper retail deposits coupled with the low interest yield environment helped reduce the cost of funding from 3.1% to 3.0%. However this also affected net interest margin which reduced from 8.9% to 8.2% in the current year due to re-pricing of interest bearing assets. Although returns on equity and assets held steady YoY at 23.8% and 3.4% respectively, the Group still delivered an improved Earnings per Share (EPS) which grew 8% from N6.15 to N6.65 in the current year.
The Group increased its share of the market as it secured increased customer deposits across the corporate and retail space as deposits grew by 15% to close at N4.26 trillion. Total assets also increased by 7% from N5.96 trillion to N6.35 trillion. The Group created new viable risk assets as gross loans grew by 22% from N2.016 billion to N2.462 billion. This was executed prudently at a low cost of risk of 1.1% and a significant reduction in the non-performing loan ratio from 4.98% to 4.30%. Prudential ratios such as liquidity and capital adequacy ratios also remained above regulatory thresholds at 57.3% and 22.0% respectively.
In 2020, the Group remains strategically positioned to capture the opportunities in the corporate and retail segments, while efficiently managing costs and expanding further its retail franchise employing digital assets and innovation.
Consistent with this superlative performance and in recognition of its track record of excellent performance, Zenith Bank was voted as the Best Commercial Bank in Nigeria 2019 by the World Finance and the Most Valuable Banking Brand in Nigeria 2019 by The Banker. The Bank was also recognized as Bank of the Year and Best Bank in Retail Banking at the 2019 BusinessDay Banks and Other Financial Institutions (BOFI) Awards, and was ranked as the Best Digital Bank in Nigeria 2019 by Agusto & Co. Most recently, the Bank emerged as the Bank of the Decade (People’s Choice) at the Thisday Awards 2020.
In The Spotlight
Here is the main problem with Nigeria’s electricity sector: Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation, but it has failed consistently to generate, transmit and distribute enough electricity to power its development process and accelerate economic growth. Between 1999 and 2007, President Olusegun Obasanjo focused on the reform of the electricity sector as one of the major priorities of his administration. Gas-powered plants were set up across the country under his watch, turbines and other equipment were imported. His government laid the foundation for reform in the power sector but could not complete the process, particularly the privatization of the power sector. Obasanjo’s legacy includes the National Electric Power Policy (NEPP) of 2001, the National Electric Power Sector Reform Act of 2005 which established the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), and the establishment of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), to replace the notorious National Electricity Power Authority (NEPA). The PHCN was later unbundled into 18 successor companies. By the time President Obasanjo left office in 2007, power generation in the country had increased from about 1, 200 MW in 1999 to 4, 000 MW in 2007. For a country of Nigeria’s size and population, this was not enough to transform the country. Obasanjo was succeeded by President Yar’Adua.
In the course of his campaign for Presidential office, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua stressed the importance of the electricity sector as an engine of growth. He promised to declare a national emergency in the sector. He eventually didn’t declare an emergency but shortly after assuming office in 2007, President Yar’Adua established a Presidential Committee for the accelerated expansion of Nigeria’s power infrastructure with a mandate to ensure the delivery of 6, 000 additional megawatts within 18 months and an extra 11, 000 MW by 2011. By the time President Yar’Adua gave this directive, Nigeria’s power generation capacity was down to 3,000 MW per day. South Africa with a much smaller population was at the time generating 36, 000 MW. Egypt with a population of 78 million also had a generating capacity of 36, 000 MW. The Yar’Adua Committee which was given 18 days to do its work, submitted its report one year later!
The House of Representatives also conducted a probe of the electricity sector. The House Committee on Power led by Hon. Ndudi Elumelu accused the Obasanjo administration of having spent over $10 billion on the electricity sector without having much to show for it. The Committee disclosed that between 2000 and 2007, the Obasanjo administration spent over $10 billion on various projects in the power sector. The Elumelu Committee raised questions and demanded answers. The Presidential Committee meanwhile recommended that the country would still need about $85 billion to meet the target of 20, 000 MW generating capacity as recommended by the Vision 2020 Committee. President Yar’Adua in the course of it all, ordered a probe of the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC). The Chairman of the NERC and six commissioners of the agency were suspended from office and invited for questioning.
President Yar’Adua’s government soon entered into discussions with General Electric (GE) and later signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the German Government on power development projects in Nigeria. Siemens was one of the six German companies included in that MOU. The Government also launched a Gas Master Plan to address the problem of gas supply to the Papalanto, Omotosho and Geregu power plants built by the Obasanjo government. Contracts worth over $660 million were awarded, but despite all its good intentions, the Yar’Adua government could not make much difference. Power supply remained epileptic in Nigeria. There are many who believe that the efforts of the Yar’Adua administration were abbreviated by a lack of urgency occasioned by the President’s health challenges and the obsession of that administration with the past administration’s expenditure in the power sector. It was so bad that power equipment worth $5 billion that had been imported in 2, 500 (or 800?) containers by the Obasanjo administration, which arrived three days after President Obasanjo left office were abandoned at the ports for three years. Taxpayers incurred a demurrage of N4 billion!
President Yar’Adua was succeeded by Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. As former Chairman of the National Economic Council and former Chair of the National Council on Privatization, Jonathan was certainly privy to the Electricity Sector Road Map and the Power Sector Master Plan. He continued where his boss former boss stopped, but even more so, from where Obasanjo stopped, and by avoiding the ugly politics and blame game that had developed around the subject of electricity delivery in Nigeria, he was able to make significant process in the areas of accelerated reform, policy execution, provision of power sector infrastructure, public-private sector partnership and privatization.
President Jonathan had threatened, right from his early days in power that he would privatize the PHCN, and reform the electricity sector. In due course, he launched a Power Sector Transformation Plan and gave full effect to the Nigeria Electricity Sector Regulatory Act of 2005. He commissioned and upgraded a number of power plans including the Azura-Edo power plant, the first fully privately owned Independent Power Plant in Nigeria. He re-organized the PHCN by selling off the Federal Government’s majority stakes in the 18 companies unbundled from PHCN in the shape of six Generation Companies (GENCOS), 11 Distribution Companies (DISCOs) and a Transmission Company owned fully by the Nigerian government. Private sector investors in the GENCOs and DISCOs paid as much as $3.3 billion for the acquired PHCN assets in what was considered an open and fair process even by international observers. Nigerian banks supported the process, investments were also attracted to the gas sector. By 2013, the power sector had resurrected with installed generation capacity at about 12. 910 MW, but available capacity nevertheless remained at less than 7. 652 MW. Transmission capacity was 8, 1000 MW while a distribution peak of 5, 375 MW was recorded. Thus, the problem of low capacity utilization persisted.
President Goodluck Jonathan handed over to President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. Like other Presidents before him since 1999, President Buhari even as a candidate promised to transform Nigeria’s power sector. In the run up to the 2015 elections, President Buhari in a document titled “Covenant with Nigerians” and also in the “APC Manifesto”, promised that “The APC government shall vigorously pursue the expansion of electricity generation and distribution of up to 40, 000 MW in 4 to 8 years.” The promised figure was twice the Vision 2020 Committee projection of 20, 000 MW by 2020. The reality is that the Buhari administration has not been able to deliver on that promise. In 2017, former Minister of Power, Housing and Works, Babatunde Fashola claimed that the government had achieved a record 5, 074 MW in actual power generation. From 2015 to date, President Buhari has continued to give assurances that his administration will sort out the electricity sector crisis.
The administration has reportedly spent more than N900 billion on the power sector as intervention fund. It has signed a six-year contract with Siemens of Germany for an upgrade and technical input across the value chain to generate up to 25, 000 MW in three phases. The Buhari administration accuses previous administrations – Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan’s of wasting Nigerian resources on the power sector without results and the Jonathan administration of mismanaging the privatization process. It is alleged that over $6.8 trillion has been spent on Nigeria’s power sector since 1999. Meanwhile, the country remains literally in darkness. Many companies have had to relocate from Nigeria. Businesses, homes and families are compelled to provide their own electricity. The cost of diesel is high. Many lives have been lost to generator explosions. There are communities in Nigeria that have not seen electricity for seven years, simply because they are not connected to the national grid! The House of Representatives has asked President Buhari to declare a state of emergency in the electricity sector. The standard response has been to blame either the former ruling party, the PDP (1999- 2015) or the Jonathan privatization process or more specifically, the power distribution companies. In 2017, the Buhari government mooted the idea of probing the power sector from 1999- 2015.
Needless politicking, sentiments and emotions have proven to be the bane of the electricity sector in Nigeria. Every Minister of Power since 1999 has always been ready with an excuse for inefficiency. Babatunde Fashola, as Buhari’s Minister of Power, Works and Housing heaped the blame on the privatization process. Buhari’s NERC blames the DISCOs and even threatened to revoke their licences. This blame game continued last week with Fashola’s successor as Minister of Power, Engr. Saleh Mamman threatening that the DISCOs are the problem of the electricity value-chain and if they do not sit up, their licences will be revoked. He says he has even sent a memo to the Federal Executive Council to that effect. The FEC should ignore his memo. Mamman doesn’t sound like he knows what he is talking about. Ignorance is bad in itself, but the kind of tripodal ignorance that has been demonstrated by the current Minister of Power is curious!
It seems to me that government needs to go beyond scapegoating, passing the buck, sentiments and politics, to address fundamental problems of the electricity sector, and cross-cutting issues in the entire value chain. There are consequential steps that should have been taken after the privatization exercise of 2013/2014 to deepen the transition process away from PHCN which the current administration has conveniently ignored. This is in part responsible for the distortions within the entire value chain. If the Minister of Power does not know what these are, he should consult the Bureau for Public Enterprises, the National Electricity Regulatory Commission and the Vice President’s Office which oversees the National Council on Privatization. If he does not trust anyone in those departments, let him talk to Nasir el-Rufai, the Governor of Kaduna State who as Director General of BPE, at the time of the commencement of reforms in that sector can tell the story much better - that is, if he doesn’t choose to play convenient politics.
If el-Rufai plays politics with the matter, let him talk to Dr. Lanre Babalola and Bola Onagoruwa. For example, the Gas Production and supplies to the various Power Plants are still largely dependent on NGC/NNPC which are government-controlled and as usual cannot respond to the 24 hours need of the privatised power generating plants. Unfortunately, in the last 5 years, this critical component of the value chain of power generation has not been resolved by President Buhari’s Government. Gas Production and supplies is yet to be privatised and NNPC/FGN remain the major bureaucratic problem for the gas-based electricity generating investors. Even the gas price in USD has not been allowed to be translated into appropriate naira tariff for the entire value chain of electricity supplies.
Recently we read in the media, that the Federal Government has granted sovereign guarantee to NNPC to build gas pipeline from Ajaokuta to Kano (AKK) for $2.8 billion, with about two captive gas-powered generating plants along the gas pipeline. But any discerning observer of the industry will ask whether this AKK should be a priority now, when you can deploy the $2.8 billion to solve the immediate problems of the stranded 10 gas-powered generating plants in the hands of NIPP/Niger Delta Power Holding Company. It is certain that this $2.8 Billion project will not be completed in the next 3-4 years and may never get sufficient gas to reach Abuja or Kano, when even Kaduna refinery built since 1989 with Crude Pipeline from Escravos has never gotten enough to refine Nigeria’s export crude on a daily basis. These are the issues each of the Ministers has refused to look into, focussing instead on chasing the DISCOS as the weeping child.
Is Minister Mamman aware at all of the existence of 10 power plants that are being managed by the Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC), a limited liability company that is managed by public officers? The Minister of Power was quoted as saying Nigeria now has a generating capacity of 13, 000 MW in 2020. In 2013, Nigeria had a generating capacity of 12, 910 MW. What has been added since 2015? Even if 7000 MW is produced today, can TCN with its 330KVA/132KVA transmit that much to all the DISCOS? The answer is capital NO. The Minister pretends not to know that TCN is the weakest link between the GENCOs and DISCOs. The Minister should show us how much has gone into 330KVA/132KVA in the last 5 years across Nigeria.
The Federal Government could have sold ten more power plants to increase capacity. It has not done so. Even then, the so-called claim of 13, 000 MW is at best academic and fictitious. Minister Mamman claims that the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) has a capacity to transmit 7, 000 MW but it actually transmits about 5, 000 MW out of which the DISCOs can only take about 3, 000MW. There is shortage of electricity in the country and so, high demand for limited supply has driven up prices and yet government is insisting on the withdrawal of subsidy and a hike in electricity tariffs by April 1. I don’t get it. No wonder all the private sectors, industrial and commercial houses generate electricity at about 70-85 Naira per kilowatt hour for themselves, but this has disenabled them from competing with other manufacturers around the world. This is one of the major reasons that the private sector must be allowed to take over the entire value chain of the electricity industry. Since 2015 that Yola DISCO has been returned to the Federal Government, it will interest the general public to hear from the Minister, how much investment in 132KVA, 33KVA and 11KVA infrastructure has been provided in the entire North East that Yola DISCO covers.
The Buhari government simply needs to move beyond politics and sentiments. If President Buhari succeeds in solving the electricity supply conundrum in Nigeria, that alone will be enough legacy for his administration. He should listen only to those who know. Engr. Saleh Mamman has absolutely no clue. I hope the Minister knows he is a member of the National Council on Privatisation and therefore cannot take any policy decision without NCP approval first.
By Reuben Abati
In The Spotlight
The recent revelation by the Borno State Commissioner for Information Babakura Jato that about 1,400 repentant Boko Haram suspects have been released in three tranches by the military and re-integrated into the society since Operation Safe Corridor, the government’s de-radicalization programme started in 2016, has generated a lot of angst, not just among the civilian population but also among the soldiers fighting the terrorists. Vincent Akanmode, writing in The Nation of February 15 2020 captured the feeling of most Nigerians over that announcement thus: “True repentance is a matter of the mind and not of the mouth. Unless they are laying claim to the clairvoyance of a witch, the military has no way of ascertaining the genuineness of the purported penitence of the pardoned Boko Haram members.”
There are several issues involved here:
One, push-backs to any attempt to re-integrate those associated with terrorism and violent extremism are normal in virtually all societies facing such challenges, especially in on-going conflict situations. We have for instance the celebrated cases of Shamima Begum and Hoda Muthana - who were born in the UK and the US respectively. Both women left to join ISIS in Syria and Iraq respectively and started families there. However their desire to return to their countries of nationality provoked intense debate on how Western governments should treat citizens who are exposed to violent extremism. The governments of both the US and the UK are insisting they will not have them back.
Two, resistance by communities to the re-integration of ex-combatants and their sympathizers however mask a fundamental challenge facing governments in such conflict situations: how does the government deal with defectors during such conflicts, especially given that they defected or were captured in war situations where there may be insufficient evidence to prosecute them? Since it cannot really be an option for the government to simply execute such combatants or keep them in detention facility forever at government’s expense, the idea of a de-radicalization and re-integration programme becomes almost unavoidable. In fact several commentators on the Boko Haram conflict such as a report for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in September 2018 entitled, ‘Achieving Peace in Northeast Nigeria: The re-integration Challenge’, have repeatedly maintained that a purely military solution will be incapable of defeating the group.
Three, the idea that a purely military solution will be insufficient to defeat the terrorists is the whole justification for a de-radicalization and re-integration programme in virtually all countries with challenges of terrorism and violent extremism. However despite the ubiquity of the concept of ‘de-radicalization’ in discussions of counterinsurgency and violent extremism, there is no consensus in the literature on its definition. Generally it is understood as a preventive counter-terrorism measure aimed at having those with extreme and violent religious or political ideologies to adopt more moderate and non-violent views. It is predicated on the assumption that terrorists and others with extremist views can be engaged in such a manner as to reduce their risk of recidivism – the tendency for a criminal to re-offend.
Four, there are usually several questions begging for answers in any ‘de-radicalization’ and‘re-integration’ programme: Is it possible to screen the combatants well enough to measure their threat level, especially in countries like Nigeria where some elements in the military are often accused of colluding with the Boko Haram terrorists and their associated factions? How can we ensure that the ‘former terrorists’, if re-integrated into the society, cannot end up radicalizing others in the community or becoming spies to their former terrorist masters? Is it fair to rehabilitate the combatants without also rehabilitating their victims? Essentially it can be argued that re-integration of former combatants into the society remains aspirational because communities are generally not willing to accept them back.
Five, Nigeria has three main de-radicalization programmes: one is located in Kuje prison, Abuja, and was set up by the Nigerian government in 2014. The participants in this programme are combatants convicted of violent extremist offences and inmates on/ or awaiting trial. The aim of the programme is to combat religious ideology and offer vocational training as a prelude to re-integrating them into communities. There is also the Yellow Ribbon Initiative which is located in communities in Borno State and is organized by the non-governmental organization, Neem Foundation. It was set up in 2017 and targets women, children and young people associated with Boko Haram. There is equally the Operation Safe Corridor, which was set up in 2016 by the Nigerian government and targets Boko Haram combatants who have surrendered. OPSC’s approach targets three key issues: religious ideology, structural or political grievances and post-conflict trauma. To counter Boko Haram’s religious ideology, OSC engages Imams to dialogue with those in the programme, (called ‘clients’) on religious concepts. To address political grievances such as poverty, unemployment, marginalization and illiteracy, participants in the programme are trained in rudimentary vocational skills. They are also offered therapies to help them overcome the trauma that they must have faced as members of Boko Haram who participated in or witnessed some gruesome events
Six, most of the countries faced with the challenges of violent extremism and terrorism have one form of de-radicalization and re-integration programme or the other under different names. For instance all the four Lake Chad basin countries - Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad - have their own versions of de-radicalization and re-integration programmes. In Northern Ireland, the Early Release Scheme that ensured the conditional release of convicted terrorists under the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 was deemed essential to sustain the peace process. In Colombia, ‘Collective Reincorporation’ was a programme where former guerrillas who fought for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, (the FARC), were engaged in an experiment in building peace. In Singapore, the Religious Rehabilitation Group formed by some Muslim religious teachers known as asatizah identified religious counselling, dialogue and discussions as the way forward in de-radicalizing the country’s extremists. In Saudi Arabia, after the attacks in the Kingdom of al-Saud in 2003, the Royal Family fostered the implementation of soft counterterrorism strategies in a bid to fight the ideological and religious justifications for Jihadism. The strategy was based on the acronym PRAC -, ‘Prevention’, ‘Rehabilitation’ and ‘Aftercare’, in which the rehabilitation phase plays a dominant role in the programme. In Somalia, the Serendi Rehabilitation Centre in Mogadishu offers support to ‘low-risk’ former members of Al-Shabaab with the aim of de-radicalizing them preparatory to their re-integration into the community
Seven, do de-radicalization programmes really work? There is no consensus on what constitutes ‘success’ in reforming a terrorist, and a narrow focus on recidivism as the key metric has been discredited because re-offending could well have been stimulated by new impulses after release – just as not re-offending does not necessarily mean that the released former combatant or sympathiser has abandoned extremist views. It is also not clear if any rehabilitation is because of the de-radicalization programme or because of other interventions for eliciting behaviour change such as the desire for freedom or to access some benefits that go with a rehabilitation programme. Additionally, official information about the success of a de-radicalization programme is likely to be biased as the state and groups running such programmes are wont to paint a rosy picture of affairs to justify the expenditures on such programmes. Also whether a de-radicalization programme is dimmed successful or not may be subjective depending on the metrics focused upon. For instance while an April 2019 research for the Tony Bair Institute for Global Change (entitled ‘Dealing With Boko Haram Defectors in the Lake Chad Basin: Lessons From Nigeria’) praised Nigeria’s Operation Safe Corridor to the high heavens, regarding it not just as a model of rehabilitation for Africa but also for the Western world, a September 2018 report for the Carnegie Foundation on the same programme (cited earlier) was very critical of the programme on several grounds including for lack of clarity on the eligibility for the programme and on how to re-integrate the former combatants into civilian life.
Eight, what are the options for the government when it comes to dealing with captured or surrendered Boko Haram suspects? What is often omitted in discussions of whether a de-radicalization programme is successful or not is what could be the alternative to such programmes. Framed in such a manner, it becomes obvious that in most cases governments facing challenges of terrorism and violent extremism have virtually no other alternative. Be this as it may, the timing of the announcement that the government has released some 1,400 former Boko Haram fighters – at a time of resurgence in attacks by the terrorist group and probably a declining sense of legitimacy for the Buhari government (as evidenced by President Buhari being recently booed in Maiduguri - one of his strongest political bases) was very inauspicious, and helped to harden attitudes and the push-back from Nigerians.