Bamidele Shafa, a Major General in the Nigerian army, has revealed that some members of the Boko Haram terrorist group are Christians.
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Shafa, who co-ordinates Operation Safe Corridor, which is charged with the responsibility of deradicalising and reintegrating repentant Boko Haram members into the society, disclosed this in an interview with Saturday Sun.
He described many of the former terrorists as victims of circumstance.
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Shafa said they were placed in a camp where they were taught how to read, write and also put through the rudiments of different trades.
“In addition to that, the CDS (Chief of Defence Staff), has also authorised what we call counter narrative package, three weeks loaded, where we bring consortium of clerics from north-east, headed by the Chief Imam of the Nigerian Army and the Chaplains of the Catholic and the Protestants to go there and engage these boys, engage them to diffuse their minds of the negative ideologies that the Boko Haram has put in them,” he said.
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Asked if this meant that some of the repentant terrorists are Christians, Shafa replied:
“Yes, there are a few of them that, very few of them who are not Muslims and that is why I said these are people that need to be helped. They had to go for their survival.”
The general dismissed insinuations that the programme is political, adding that it is not designed to confer amnesty on terrorists.
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He noted that many Boko Haram members were coerced into joining the jihadi group, and are not “core ideologists”.
Explaining the rationale behind the deradicalisation and reintegration programme, Shafa added:
“Let me quickly correct one impression, Operation Safe Corridor is not conferring amnesty on anybody. We need to get that correctly.
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“Now I know the feelings out there; people who have committed heinous crimes, people who have killed people, people who have destroyed government properties and what have you.
“But you see, we need to understand that not all members of Boko Haram or ISWAP as the case may be are hardened, not all of them are core ideologists of these groups.
“A number of them, in fact, a large number of the foot soldiers of these groups are people who were conscripted, they are people who were coerced against their will.
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“There are people who joined these groups for the sake of their personal survival and the survival of their parents and their siblings.
“And these groups of people are waiting for opportunities; they are waiting for any avenue for them to come out. And that is exactly what Operation Safe Corridor has provided for them.
“So I understand the feelings of Nigerians. But you see we need to be ingenious in dealing with this menace that has been with us since 2003.
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“And that is the reason why the president and commander in chief has set up this programme to bring out these people who actually formed the bulk of Boko Haram.
“And like I have said in different fora, since we started this programme, a large number of foot soldiers of Boko Haram, ISWAP have actually come out to embrace the programme, embrace peace and we are doing well with them.”