No fewer than 720 deadly Boko Haram fighters have surrendered to the Borno State Government from the swathe of forests in Sambisa and Cameroon in the last two months, The Nation investigation has revealed.
About 92 of the fighters were among the 840 who surrendered in Cameroon and returned to Nigeria.
Thorough screening carried out on other returnees revealed that they were farmers.
The returnee fighters have been handed over to the military for disarming and profiling preparatory to their being taken to a camp.
Two of the 720 fighters were said to be experts in bomb making and fabrication of bullets for Boko Haram.
It was learnt that most of the fighters were lieutenants of deceased Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, who blew himself up in a face-saving move during an ambush against him by rival Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) fighters.
The Acting General Officer Commanding (GOC), 7 Division, Abdulwahab Eyitayo, said that more than 8,000 Boko Haram fighters, including their wives and children, have so far surrendered to troops.
There were strong indications yesterday that the military might be preparing for the last phase of the battle against the deadly Boko Haram sect.
An informed source, who spoke in confidence, said the death of Shekau encouraged the Borno State Government to adopt a non-kinetic approach in the fight against insurgency.
Non-kinetic approach, according to the source, refers to using more of persuasion than confrontation in getting the insurgents to drop their arms.
The source said: “The surrender of Boko Haram fighters is real. Following the death of Shekau, we adopted non-kinetic approach by opening up communication with them, and it is working.
“These fighters did not want to surrender to the military for fear of the unknown, so it was part of the agreement that the state would handle it.
“Most of the fighters became war-weary after discovering that their leader, Shekau, committed suicide.
“With ideological superior argument on the consequences of suicide for a Muslim, they bought into non-kinetic approach.
“So far, about 720 Boko Haram commanders (fighters) are in custody in three centres established by the Borno State Government. But they were first received by the military at a base in Bama for profiling and disarming before they were taken to the centres.
“The first commander to surrender was Modu M. from Dikwa. He volunteered to come out and through him more than 719 top commanders have surrendered their arms. Among them, we have two experts in bomb making and fabrication of bullets.
“One of the deadly commanders was Rugurugu from Gwoza, who personally came with his wife and children to beg for forgiveness.
”About 92 of the 720 fighters came from the Cameroon axis.
“You should know that actually, 840 suspected Boko Haram members returned from Cameroon. But after profiling, we discovered that 92 of them were commanders while the rest were farmers, abductees and the enslaved ones they were using for support.”
Asked about the fate of the Chibok girls that were yet to return home since they were abducted in 2014, the top source said: “Among those that have surrendered in the last two months, there are three Chibok girls.
“The last Chibok girl we are expecting refused to get married. But she was serving as a slave to Boko Haram.”
On the likelihood of a repeat of the Afghanistan scenario playing out in Nigeria, the top source, who was privy to the ongoing coordination, added: “We are countering their ideological focus. The Borno model will be different from Afghanistan.
“Most of Shekau’s fighters are young boys between 20 and 25 years old. We are hopeful of succeeding in changing their focus.
“In fact, their communities are involved in their identification. We have brought in religious leaders to preach to them as part of their reorientation. We want them to be part of the restoration of the lost glory of Borno State.
“The Governor of Borno State, Babagana Zulum, has unfolded plans for a DRR policy which covers Deradicalization, Demobilization, Reformation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration. We will put them through all these stages in line with international best practices.
“After mopping up the fighters, the actors that will be involved have been doing it before. They are people who are experienced; they will replicate what they have done before.
“As part of the last stage of reconciliation, we may put in place a Truth Commission in order to heal all wounds and avert going through this path again in our history.
“The governor is also considering a Victims Support Programme to assuage all and move the state forward.”
Claims of surrendering Boko Haram fighters genuine — GOC
The Acting General Officer Commanding 7 Division of the Nigerian Army, Brig-Gen. Abdulwahab Eyitayo, said there was no doubt that claims of surrender by some Boko Haram fighters were genuine.
Eyitayo, who spoke in Maiduguri, said more than 8,000 Boko Haram terrorists have so far surrendered to troops.
He said the terrorists surrendered from their enclaves in Sambisa Forest as well as other hideouts.
He however said the adamant ones among the Boko Haram fighters will soon be flushed out.
He said: “The genuineness of their intention to surrender is not in doubt considering that they turned in their families as well. There was no way they could have come out with their families if the intention was suspect.
”One of the reasons they are surrendering in droves is the overwhelming fire power from the troops.
“It is because every man’s endeavour is motivated by his family’s wellbeing. That is why they are coming out with their families. We started seeing the signs in June.
“Our intensified operations had blocked their logistics’ routes and supplies and there were bombardments all over. That was why they started surrendering, and diseases have overpowered many of them.
“It was better because in the end, the troops will clear all of them and their sympathisers combined.
“We are not doing what we are doing in order to pamper the surrendered fighters. Far from it. We are known for our ruggedness and doggedness. 7 Division is the fighting division of the Nigerian Army, and we are not relenting.”
‘Troops on last phase of battle with insurgents’
In spite of the ambush against troops at Marte on Friday, a defence source said the military might be heading for the last phase of the battle against Boko Haram.
The source, who gave an insight into the state of the confrontation, said what was left was the battle with members of the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) whose leader, Abu Musab Al-Barnawi, has been killed.
The source said: “All those pockets of ambush and attacks were from ISWAP with a strong base in Gudumbali in Guzamala Local Government Area (LGA) out of the 27 LGAs in Borno State and few parts of Yobe State.
“The same ISWAP attempted to hijack Shekau’s fighters but they refused because ISWAP killed their leader. It was in the process of resistance and attempts to force their way out of Sambisa Forest and other camps that Al-Barnawi was killed by Shekau’s fighters.
“The military is sustaining the fight against ISWAP which is suspected to be in control of Shekau’s faction’s armoury in the Sambisa Forest. We know some ISWAP/ ISIS leaders and members are foreigners. The military will rout them out.
“This 12-year old war will soon end. It is a matter of time. Despite the fact that the military has not yet deployed Tucano jets, the battle is 80 per cent won.
“By the time the military comes out more forcefully in the next few months, the North-East will be liberated from Boko Haram.
“The Federal Government is aware of the development in Afghanistan and likely support for ISWAP/ISIS from this end. But the political and geographical frames of the battle are different.”