A policy dialogue was held to discuss reintegration and the measures required to enhance community acceptance of persons associated with non-state armed groups in the Northeast. The event took place at the University of Maiduguri and was organised by the Peace Ambassadors Centre Humanitarian Aid and Empowerment (PACHE), with support from the Managing Conflict in Nigeria (MCN) Programme. The initiative commemorated the 2021 International Day of Peace with the theme: ’Recovering better for an equitable and sustainable world’.
The policy dialogue explored opportunities for enhancing community acceptance of persons associated with the non-state armed groups, whose violent activities have contributed to death, displacement and destruction in the region. This is because of reports of resentments expressed by community members on the planned return of ex-combatants and their associates to communities. Agitations by residents in Borno State had intensified following the mass return of over 3,000 people associated with the non-state armed groups.
Stakeholders appraised the different counterinsurgency and peacebuilding efforts in the state. They argued that reintegration seems challenging due to the serious and grave impact of the insurgency and feelings in the state that victims of the insurgency continue to suffer from the impact of the insurgency.
Participants also noted that popular responses to reintegration appear to be influenced by a lack of understanding of the processes and steps taken by authorities to treat ex-combatants and returnees. They agreed that while religious and cultural norms provide the basis for community acceptance of persons who have repented for misdeeds, such acceptance is not unconditional. Social norms and expectations demand that certain issues need to be addressed and some conditions met before full acceptance.
After the event, participants issued a communique with the following resolutions:
- The authorities should embark on a thorough screening of returnees to ensure the differentiation of returnees depending on the roles they played in the insurgency.
- There is need for transparency in the management of the reintegration process. Religious leaders, community leaders, civil society, and the general public should be informed of the processes adopted for reintegration and involved in its implementation to address widespread scepticism arising from ignorance.
- There is need for the prioritisation of resettlement and empowerment of victims of the insurgency to correct the widespread impression that reintegration is perpetrator rather than victim focussed.
- The government should reconsider plans to establish reintegration facilities in communities given public concerns about security and safety.
- Implementers of the reintegration programme should draw on the lessons learned in de-radicalisation and reintegration process since the commencement of the Operation Safe Corridor Programme.
- There is a need for the comprehensive transitional justice programme to complement the reintegration initiatives.