The European Union, through the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace, managed by Service for Foreign Policy Instruments (FPI), offers support to the victims and former affiliates of Boko Haram in Niger and helps them to reintegrate into their communities. More than 1100 individuals formerly affiliated, so-called repentis and victims benefited from personal and professional trainings and were able to go back to their lives and families.
‘The whole village knew my father had been killed by Boko Haram’
Abdou (name changed for security reasons) is one of the so-called repentis who received help and was able to rebuild his life.
In 2014 Abdou’s father was kidnapped and later killed by Boko Haram. ‘We weren’t able to recover his body to bury him. Bosso has become the final frontier, and nobody can get beyond the village. Boko Haram killed people and forced them to leave; they lost everything they have. The neighbouring villages no longer exist,’ explains Abdou.
Five months after his father’s death, Abdou was arrested by the authorities. He was suspected of being a member and supporter of Boko Haram. Just two months before his arrest, Abdou’s daughter was born.
He was imprisoned for four years. Now, back with his family, Abdou wishes more than ever for the peace to return to the region. “We can resume our activities without having to rely on help from outside. The violence doesn’t allow people to develop and live their lives.”, he said.
Since September 2019, at the vocational training centre, funded by the European Union and run by Search for Common Ground (Search), Abdou started rebuilding his life by learning a new trade. He was training to become a tailor.
Abdou joined other former detainees: all imprisoned as suspected members of Boko Haram. These training courses help their reintegration within the communities and give them a new profession. “Thanks to this training, I can support others. In the future, I may even hire a few people.”, concludes Abdou.
Photo: Vocational training centre
‘Their whole lives will be marked by this war’
Individual psychological support is part of the rehabilitation and personal transformation programme run by Search with the European Union support. Prisoners are taught how to manage the difficulties and consequences of their imprisonment, as well as those of their release, to ensure that their transition back into the community is a peaceful one.
For five months, Alzouma, a psychologist, worked with prisoners suspected of being members of Boko Haram in Kollo prison where many prisoners suffer from insomnia, stress, obsessive thoughts and depression. But Alzouma’s first challenge was to gain the prisoners’ trust.
As part of the process of offering psychosocial support, Alzouma tackled the question of responsibility. ‘Denial surfaced a lot in our conversations: “I didn’t kill anyone, I’ve been wrongfully accused”’, he explains. The psychologist got each person to question their role and to consider how to define their responsibility if they had participated in acts committed by Boko Haram. By facing up to reality, the prisoners are able to accept and take on board what has happened, and then, and most importantly, to overcome those events and move forward in a process of personal transformation.
Other prisoners experience responsibility as feelings of intense guilt. Once they are far removed from the dynamics of combat, the new distance allows them to fully comprehend what happened. The prisoners then feel the impact of the harm done to others in the community. ‘Some of them are already displaying symptoms of trauma. Guilt sometimes takes the form of psychological disorders.’, confides Alzouma.
In Kollo prison, the prisoners share the same concerns as everyone else in the community: what happens next? A growing number of prisoners have been exonerated and have already been released. Stigma is another question that comes up frequently. ‘If there are victims of Boko Haram in my village, will they see me as responsible for everything they’re going through?’, he says, quoting the prisoners.
The psychologist has also had to deal with a second form of denial. ‘Some prisoners were saying to themselves: “If I go home, there won’t be any problems”. So I had to remind them what going home could mean. When former prisoners return home, it can stir up traumatic memories for the people in the community and for the prisoners too, when faced with a reality that they’re not prepared for. Their whole lives will be marked by this war’, he says in conclusion.
1100 people received help
The project “Kallo Lenio, Klla Founna: Together, towards the future!” was launched in 2018 under the EU’s Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace. Through its local partner Search for Common Ground, the EU was able to offer to more than 1100 victims, former affiliates and so-called repentis of Boko Haram psychological support and social and professional training. Besides helping these people get back to their communities, this is a crucial step in stabilization and development of the Region of Diffa and Lake Chad Basin in Niger.