Over 4,000 Boko Haram fighters have deserted the extremist group, signalling a huge shrink in the rank of the terrorists, a report by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) has said.
According to the report, the deserters from the four Lake Chad Basin countries (Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria) are leaving for various reasons which include safety concerns.
Boko Haram and other terror groups have terrorised the Lake Chad Basin countries for over 10 years.
The unending terror war has displaced thousands of nationals of the four countries.
The crisis has also crippled economic activities in the once booming fish market in the region.
Thousands of people have been kidnapped by the terrorists and many killed.
According to the 28-page report, while some of the insurgents joined willingly, others were conscripted or abducted and held captive in Boko Haram strongholds.
The report said although accurate figures were difficult to find, their data suggests at least 2,400 desertions in Chad, 1,000 in Nigeria, 584 in Cameroon and 243 in Niger.
“Motives for leaving Boko Haram include individual circumstances, safety concerns and the groups’ internal dynamics, among others.
“On the individual level, some people disengage because their expectations – based on religious ideals or economic opportunities – have not been met.
“For others, poor living conditions in the camps are a factor. The exposure to intensifying military offensives such as air strikes by Lake Chad Basin countries and the effective deployment of the Multinational Joint Task Force make the situation untenable,” the report partly read.
It also said the terrorists also impose harsh restrictions on members, along with permanent surveillance and corporal punishment for those suspected or convicted of deviating from the groups’ rules.
“These rules include ‘immorality’, stealing, drug abuse, etc. Within the group, the uneven application of rules fosters a sense of injustice. In some cases, the death penalty is applied. Inter-faction rivalries and violence have also caused people to leave.”
It further revealed that the uncertainty surrounding the fate of people who leave Boko Haram discourages others from making the same decision.
“The third problem is that communities aren’t centrally involved in reintegration processes even though they facilitate disengagement and are the first point of contact for ex-Boko Haram associates,” the report stated
Part of what the report recommended was that desertions need to be effectively managed.
“The way in which ex-Boko Haram associates are received and screened must be predictable and based on standard reception-screening-profiling mechanisms,” it said.
“Regional standards and protocols along with enabling legislation should guide demobilisation in the four Lake Chad Basin countries.”
“Specific policies on the role of women and children in violent extremism are also needed. To build societal resilience to groups like Boko Haram, community participation should be prioritised throughout the rehabilitation process, including design, implementation and evaluation.”
“Through cooperation and sharing lessons, countries in the Lake Chad Basin region can develop national and regional strategies that work.”
The ISS describes itself as a research-focussed African organisation committed to human security on the continent.
Teniola Tayo, a researcher at the Lake Chad Basin Institute for Security Studies, while commenting on the report via sms, said the various countries concerned have welcomed the report.
“Yes we had a closed dissemination webinar with stakeholders engaged in DDR in the four countries. They all welcomed the findings,” she said.
She said her organisation will be exploring ways to follow up with the countries individually.
When asked about the accuracy of their figures, another official of the organisation, Malik Samuel, stated that they (figures) were official.
“The figures of deserters quoted in the report were obtained from government authorities in the region. For instance, the figures from Nigeria were obtained from Operation Safe Corridors,” he said.
He said the major problem identified during the research was the difficulty of accurate figures of deserters because there were some who tried to leave the group and re-join the society without government intervention.
“In these cases, you see that it is difficult to get the actual numbers of deserters,” he said.