GOVERNOR Babagana Zulum of Borno State recently ruffled not a few feathers when he stated categorically that terrorists were recruiting new members from the internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camps in the state. He made the disclosure during an interview with the BBC Hausa service. He said: “Yes, it is true Boko Haram are recruiting people into their fold. And this is frightening. My fear is about those at the IDPs camps. If they don’t go back to their villages to farm and do other things, they will end up becoming members of the Boko Haram.”
It is really difficult to imagine that the terrorists who put the IDPs in their current predicament in the first place are recruiting some of them (IDPs) into their rank and file. But Governor Zulum is no frivolous person and must be given an opportunity to be interrogated on his claims. The governor spoke against the backdrop of the need for IDPs in the troubled North-East region to be given a new lease of life, especially in the planting season when they can return home and tend to their farms. Truth be told, if through the failures of the Nigerian state the IDPs cannot see any meaning or purpose to their lives, resorting to the terrorists who caused their initial pains could become an attractive option.
According to Governor Zulum, the primary concern in the North-East is the immediate return of the IDPs to meaningful and productive lives. In this regard, the thick despondency enveloping the IDP camps is portentous: it is a recipe for finding succour elsewhere, regardless of whether such places are run by state or non-state actors, and without the slightest care for their legitimacy or otherwise.
The IDP camps in the affected areas have to given a new look. The government must restore hope to the long-suffering population and dispel the clouds of doubt that may cause them to embrace criminals and criminality. In particular, the young and energetic populations among the IDPs must be productively engaged, listened to more often, and given all the support they need to thrive even in the current adverse conditions. Unemployed or unhappy people brimming with energy can easily be co-opted into lawlessness.
The federal, state and local governments have a duty to provide meaningful employment opportunities for the teeming IDP youths. That way, they would not be readily available for recruitment by terrorists, and the terrorists’ guns will quieten down fast. Besides, genuine efforts must be made to ensure that the IDPs return home as soon as possible. They cannot be IDPs forever.
To be sure, the style and manner of the prosecution of the terror war in the country has undoubtedly been worrisome. Sincerity of purpose and transparency remain core concerns. If Boko Haram renegades are being habitually forgiven and rehabilitated, how can the Nigerian military be truly committed to the terror war? How would the IDPs not feel let down when they see their tormentors living in comparatively far better comfort on the bill of the Nigerian state, while they starve and scrounge as the days roll by?
The Federal Government must address the concerns raised by the Borno State governor, and with dispatch. Terrorism cannot be curbed with the recruitment window left perpetually open.
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