Posted by News Express | 11 September 2021 | 594 times
Some widows of soldiers in the over decade-old insurgency have condemned the proposed reintegration of repentant Boko Haram insurgents into society, describing the move as unjust.
Over 1,000 Boko Haram fighters had handed themselves over to army units in recent weeks in the southern Borno towns of Konduga, Bama, and Mafa. Both the Borno State Governor, Babagana Zulum, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed Mohammed, among others had defended the ex-fighters’ decision, noting that calls for the prosecution and killing of the repentant insurgents rather than granting them amnesty was against global best practices.
The widows, who also decried the non-payment of their husbands’ life insurance claims by the Ministry of Defence years after their demise, spoke to Saturday PUNCH in separate interviews on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of their matter.
Saturday PUNCH in May 2021 exclusively reported on the plights of the widows whose husbands were mostly officers. But the life insurance claims had yet to be paid since then.
One of the widows, whose husband was killed by Boko Haram insurgents on August 7, 2014 in Borno, said her in-laws thought she had been paid her late husband’s life insurance claim.
She said, “After my husband’s death, I was asked to leave the barracks. I have been paying house rent and other bills outside the barracks for two years which is another difficult thing. This situation makes me shed tears. I feel really sad with this development. Boko Haram made me a widow in my early 30s, because my husband fought for Nigeria. He died and the country abandoned us. Reintegrating repentant Boko Haram fighters into society or granting them amnesty is akin to telling them, ‘Well done.’
“I hear that in the camp where some of the surrendered insurgents are, they take care for them well yet widows and children of fallen soldiers are not assisted or taken care of. This is not fair to the patriotic zeal of my husband who gave his best to Nigeria.’’
Another widow whose husband was killed in December 2014 in Gombe State by insurgents said apart from the non-payment of her husband’s life insurance claim, scholarships promised their children by the army weren’t granted.
She stated amid tears, “Some of us took our children for documentation since last year and nothing has been heard. An entire session has ended and another starting in September. The scholarship is supposed to be paid to a late officer’s ward from age six. The money (about N70, 000) cannot even pay a term fees in most schools, we still need to add money to it and for those already in the scheme, payment is not consistent. Our husband wasted their lives. It’s not fair to be planning to reintegrate into society those who killed our husband who were loyal to the country in their fight for its peace. We feel cheated. The officers just wasted their lives and diverse thoughts keep coming to my mind. This is too much for us to bear.’’
Also speaking, a widow whose husband was a member of 50th regular course Nigerian Defence Academy said he was killed by insurgents on December 17, 2014 in Adamawa State.
She stated, “He was posted to Military Secretary from the war zone but was unable to resume before his demise. My husband was an infantry man to the core. He was a member of the Special Forces unit. He was always ready to serve. He was an outstanding officer. His death is something I have yet to recover from. Together we have three lovely kids. It’s so disappointing that all his benefits have not been paid after serving the army diligently for 11 years.
“The group life assurance beneficiaries from 2010/2015 have not been paid due to reasons we don’t know. Many of us are not working. We depend on our husband’s benefits to take care of our kids. We’ve had cases of widows committing suicide and doing odd jobs to survive. We don’t want to beg on the street. We are gradually losing our lives and some of us are sinking into depression but yet same people that turned us to widows are being forgiven and added back to society like nothing ever happened. They forget the pains they caused our families. It’s unfair to us.’’
She urged the army and the defence military to pay their husbands’ life insurance claims to help them forge ahead financially.
Also, widow of a soldier killed by Boko Haram insurgents during Operation Zama Lafia in Maiduguri, Borno State, on March 7, 2015, said she was always sad whenever she remembered her late husband.
She said her sorrow was worsened by the consideration given to the fighters who killed her husband by the Federal Government.
The widow who was visibly sad stated, “Whenever I remember my late husband, I crying hard as there is nobody to help me and the children. My in-laws are not also assisting us. The Federal Government is supposed to take good care of the widows because our husbands fought hard to ensure peace in Nigeria. But their patriotism is being ridiculed by integrating those who killed them into society. I am too unhappy to behold this. I am appealing to them to pay our husbands’ life insurance claims. After six years that my husband died at the battleground, nothing has been done for us. We have nowhere to go and no one to run to.’’
Reacting to the development, Mohammed Abdulkadri, media aide to the Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magashi (retd.), explained that the Federal Government was still working to facilitate payment of insurance claims to the widows of military men, noting that it would be done as soon as all necessary processes were concluded.
“We are still working on the insurance claims; everything is being done to fast-track the payment,’’ Abdulkadri stated.
Commenting on the matter, researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, Regional Office for West Africa, the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin, Abuja, Malik Samuel, stated that people formerly associated with Boko Haram were surrendering to security forces led by the military, both in Nigeria and Cameroon since the death of long-term JAS leader, Abubakar Shekau, in May this year.
He noted that the government saw the action of the repentant insurgents as a vital step to degrade and defeat the group.
According to him, the implication of government’s “hope” for rehabilitating repentant insurgents on families of slain soldiers, especially widows and victims of the insurgency, should be viewed from the perspective that many of these people, particularly the civilians, were also victims of the violence perpetrated by Boko Haram.
Samuel added, “This is especially true considering that most of them were abducted and kept against their wish. About fighters’ rehabilitation, there’s the government’s Operation Safe Corridor programme that seeks to deradicalise, rehabilitate and reintegrate low-ranking members of Boko Haram who seek a way out of the group. However, in order to maximise the current disengagement, government needs to really understand the dynamics behind the disengagement, especially the reasons behind fighters’ surrendering. Many of them are surrendering to the military to avoid ISWAP’s attack against them for their refusal to join the faction.’’
On his part, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Ifedayo Adedipe, described the tardiness in settling the insurance claims and other entitlements to the widows as a disgrace.
He said the government needed not to be told to fast-track the processing and ensure payment of the life insurance claims in view of the sacrifices made by the fallen soldiers while serving the nation.
Adedipe said, “The attitude of the government to the plight of widows is a disgrace; the slain soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice for the interest of the country. A government that cares, that should not be open to debate or negotiations; it should be first line charges for them. But in a country where people spray currencies at parties not to be able to pay widows’ entitlements speaks volumes. It is scandalous, to say the least.’’
(Adapted from Saturday PUNCH)
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