As ongoing operations have left the Islamic State-affiliated terror group Boko Haram significantly depleted of ammunition and members, the group is now offering business loans to poor Nigerians in exchange for spying on local soldiers, conversion to Islam, or joining the Boko Haram jihad entirely.
The UK newspaper The Guardian spoke to two men who had accepted loans from Boko Haram. Both say they are not jihadists, but they feared that the terrorists would kill them if they did not accept the money. The money went into local businesses in Borno state, the headquarters of the terrorist group, and one man admitted to providing information on the movements of soldiers through the villages in order to stay safe.
The two men both traffic in food — one in fish and one in vegetables — and both say they were abducted and repeatedly persuaded to convert to Islam and join the jihad. When the conversion attempts failed, the terrorists took out wads of money. “They called me aside and said, ‘We want to give a loan of 1.4m naira [almost $7000] to boost up your trade but you will work for Allah,'” one man explained. Neither man has been approached to start paying back their loans, only to spy on their communities.
Given the extensive crackdown on the terror group in Borno state, the return to offering civilians money for intelligence is a sign that the group needs help protecting itself from soldiers and is running low on manpower. According to Nigerian army spokesman Sani Usman, Nigerian soldiers have entered deep into the Sambisa forest, where Boko Haram leadership dwells, and engage in regular firefights with Boko Haram jihadists therein. Acquiring information on where the soldiers plan to attack, and when, can prevent a catastrophe for the jihadist group, giving them time to move their impromptu bomb factories and the thousands of captives they are keeping in the forest.
The Nigerian military warned last month of Boko Haram targeting businessmen for loans, then tethering them to the organization as spies. The military specifically identified “butchers, traders, tailors, beauticians, and other vocational entrepreneurs” as particular targets.
While the government of President Muhammadu Buhari declared that Nigeria had “won the war” against Boko Haram in December, they have continued to engage in suicide bombings throughout the nation’s northeast and efforts to recruit new members. On Saturday, Buhari will host a security summit in the nation’s capital, Abuja, with the presidents of Cameroon, Niger, Chad, Benin, and France. “The security summit will lead essentially to the successful conclusion of ongoing military operations against Boko Haram in the north east of nigeria and the lake Chad basin,” Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper reports.
Buhari’s government has made clear that it has moved on from simply killing Boko Haram terrorists to capturing them and reintegrating them into society, giving them reason not to look back to Boko Haram. In April, the government announced “Operation Safe Corridor,” the cornerstone of which is a rehabilitation center for Boko Haram members who wish to learn trade skills and abandon the jihadi life. On Monday, Nigeria’s head of the National Emergency Management Agency confirmed that over 800 former Boko Haram terrorists are living in the government facilities and “undergoing skills acquisition training.”
The government has made clear that those in the facility have not been granted amnesty and will be tried for their crimes. The skills they learn at the facility will be for their use when they finish serving their sentences.