Rehabilitation and transitional justice in the Northeast, by Musa Gambo


The International Day of Peace was instituted by the United Nations to foster peace-building within and among nations and people.

As we commemorate the 39th celebration of the International Day of Peace 2020 themed “Shaping Peace Together”, on this day, the world observes a 24 hours global ceasefire and non-violence.

Unfortunately, the reverse is the case in our country Nigeria as we wake up to the terrible news of the death of one our finest soldiers in the country whom we used to call Oga Bako in Damaturu during his service there.

A hero of all who has given everything and now even his life to the protection of lives and dignity of our country. May he rest in peace, and this is not the only sad news of the peace day as five innocent people have been abducted on their way from Maiduguri to Damasak.

This kind of unwanted events have made the 2020 day of peace almost a nightmare for the northeast community and indeed Nigeria at large and these are among the numerous prevailing challenges that defile all strategies put in place so far and has been an indicator that we have reached a high time where reflection is necessary on different mechanisms that have been applied by all concern actors aim at ending a decade of unrest and insurgency perpetrated by the non-state armed group who have continued to unleash their terrorism and mayhem on the good innocent citizens of this country.

They have been occasionally laying ambush to our armed forces that continuously claim the lives of gallant men and women in service and hijacking motorist in routes from almost all the highways within the states; to abduct passengers for ransom or sometimes kill them in brutal ways recorded in videos as seen in YouTube and other media channels over the years.

It’s also part of their activities to take away innocent women in the villages and roads whose faith is only best known to those rescued by soldiers and Almighty God.

This is an undesirable situation that has turned hundreds of thousands of women to widows, and millions of children as untimely orphans while rendering millions of native citizens homeless in their own states and forced many to flee their houses and live as internally displaced persons completely dependent on the mercies of the government, civil societies and Non-Governmental Organizations for their sustenance and livelihood in camps across the region watching in pain as some of their productive youth turn into drug addicts, their children to beggars and some of their daughters to prostitutes.

This ugly scenarios and many similar challenges are the major bottlenecks that if not properly addressed and well-articulated, accepting rehabilitated ex-fighters into the community and possibility of transitional justice in the communities may forever be a mystery and ordinary story.

A lady nearly insulted us in a live radio session when I was hosted as a guest while speaking on transitional justice over the weekend, she started speaking without even stating her name or where she is speaking from and according to her opinion the very idea of speaking about forgiveness and reconciliation is unethical and as a matter of fact, should not be a subject of discussion.

Anger, grudge and desire for revenge are frankly clear more than anything else in her voice, I have no doubt in my mind that she has definitely lost someone.

According to (ICTJ; 2017) Transitional Justice stresses two broad ideas, the retributive justice that emphasized bringing to account perpetrators of human right violations to justice and the restorative justice which focuses on the victims of violation as to how to address their emotional, economic and social needs through compensation, forgiveness and reconciliation.

It’s a framework that takes the tale basics of criminal prosecution, the forgiveness of criminals under certain conditions, repatriation and institutional reforms. It’s guided by basic principles of the human right of the African Charter on Human and People’s Right.

The universal declaration of human rights, the international covenant of civil and political rights which Nigeria is a member of signatory countries of all the three laws above.

The above definition raises several questions about the needed rehabilitation in the region at this critical time with regards to justice done to the hundreds of families who lost everything because their breadwinners have been taken away from them at a time they needed them the most.

If justice has been served to the thousands of widows and orphans who lost their husbands and fathers on the battlefield while protecting and serving this great country?

Either if justice had been done to those children who have witnessed the horror of seeing their mothers raped, fathers slaughtered and sisters caged and taken away to be subjected into sexual slavery and subsequently given a bomb to denote themselves as suicide bombers caring with them many innocent victims?

What about the hundreds of student who have dropped out of schools or still struggling with their studies because the people responsible for sponsoring their studies have been killed?

It’s about the families of a  student mercilessly killed, burned alive during their sleep at night and those abducted for the offence of being in school alone, the servicemen killed for serving their country, the families of our friends who died serving as civilian JTF, the mothers who watched their children slaughtered in their front, the justice done for the people roosted alive in Auno and other places.

The teachers and lecturers executed for being teachers, the hundreds of people murdered for their religious beliefs and hundreds of families of community heads and ulamas executed for no other offence than their roles in safeguarding their communities.

My childhood and secondary school friend’s father was executed with several bullet seconds after he gave us pocket money at the front of his house, we ran thinking we were the target, only for us to come back and found his father dead in a pool of his blood, we were the first people to come back to the scene.

It is time to consider channelling the desired attention to grievance redressal mechanisms by rehabilitating the victims, First by rebuilding their homes and making their villages safe so they can go out of the miserable life in IDP Camps, giving them alternative means of livelihood on new skills to feed themselves and send their children to schools to regain their basic right going to school and recover their dignity in the society.

It’s well-known that whoever dies will never come back no matter the compensation and consolation but there are many basic things lost that are still needed to be done to reduce the pains of their loss and to be honest, almost everyone in this axis in one way or the other needed rehabilitation of some kind.

The peaceful community members who were subjected to the trauma of sounds of bomb blast and gunshots, the market people who go out without certainty of coming back alive, the neighbours who wake up and see other neighbours inhumanely slaughtered, the people who escape deaths in places of worships where hundreds have died, the trauma of young girls, boys and parent who have once lived for months under the dictatorship of terrorism, the families who have gone through the unintended resettlements from one place to the other, the many women who have gone through the trauma of their grooms killed in the wedding grounds.

Yes, the good people living in Maiduguri have seen all that including six months of complete isolation from the world by network blackout in which people have to travel to about 130 km Damaturu just to make phone calls and hundreds have died in the process.

 It’s generally agreed that all wars come to an end in a table, not gun and bullets as knowledgeably stated years ago by Galtung that “security can be attained through peace but peace can never be attained through security” and transitional justice have proved useful in many countries like Rwanda and other countries in the world and even in Nigeria.

In some cases, popularly the post-civil war campaigns of no victor no vanquished, the introduction of the National Youth Service Corps are all aimed at promoting unity and foster forgiveness in the late 1960s, the Niger Delta Development Commission of 2000, and the Federal Ministry of Niger Delta in 2008 are all part of the reconciliation and amnesty programs that have been fruitful in those cases.

In order to turn the ugly situation around, it is important to reflect on previous initiatives in Nigeria and extract insights and lessons learned which will enable us to do things differently in the northeast.

Someone I knew who once lived in Rwanda said there was a time their house help came back home from the market in tears and distressed without buying anything. She saw someone who raped her during the crises and is now back doing his normal business in the market due to the amnesty program of the authorities.

There is no future without forgiveness, but reintegration of ex-fighters with startup capital into the community at a time when the victims are languishing in abject poverty and hunger might not be the best decision and can only create more hatred and grudges than the desired result of forgiveness and reconciliation.

 This is a community that still stigmatize victims of circumstance who have been deceived or forcefully conscripted to join the sect and killed people, the communities in question still stigmatize the innocent women and girls who have been forcefully taken away and married to fighters of the sect or raped.

The married women who have been abducted and forcefully remarried to insurgents still face stigmatization and in some cases, even their husbands have refused to take them back.

 I have asked many if they would take back their wives after forcefully married to the insurgents and the answers are mostly no.

In 2017, the Center For Democracy and Development and the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies have separately conducted a survey as to the possibility of transitional justice in the northeast as indicated by Jibrin Ibrahim in Daily Trust Friday column of 8th September 2017.

Indications from the studies so far have shown that people are for retribution and punitive action against the perpetrators of atrocities rather than forgiveness and reconciliation healing.

Actors should focus on supporting victims and giving them the necessary things which they may possibly have if this crisis has not erupted, there is need to channel energy on sensitization and advocacy on the communities to stop the stigmatization of the people who have been captives, raped or forcefully married to the insurgent.

 I believe there would come a time for reintegration, reconciliation and forgiveness. May God grant us peace in Nigeria and the world, have mercy on the deads and make it easy for the living to forgive those who wronged them.

Musa Gambo is a JCI Nigeria Ambassador, President, Junior Chamber International Nigeria, El-kanemi, Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria.

He can be reached via


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