The Death of 44 Boko Haram Fighters in Chadian Prison Raises Several Critical Questions
It is been reported that 44 suspected Boko Haram fighters have died a Chadian prison. The deceased were part of those captured by Chad in its recent onslaught on the group after their attack that killed nearly 100 Chadian soldiers last. Upon winding up “Operation Wrath of Bohoma”, which was lunched following the assault, the Chadian army said it had killed 1,000 militias and captured 58 others. It was later announced that the suspected fighters would be arraigned on terrorism charges last Thursday. However, in an announcement on national television Saturday, the country’s chief prosecutor Yousssouf Tom said 44 of them have suddenly died. “On Thursday morning, their jailers told us that 44 prisoners had been found dead in their cell,” he said.
I am curious about this claim because it raises several critical questions. Chad said the dead fighters ingested a “deadly substance” that induced heart and breathing problems, but they did not explain the source of the chemical. From where did they get it – from inside the prison or did they smuggle it in with them? If it was in the prison, is it standard practice for authorities to keep poisonous chemicals in jails and within the reach of inmates? If they smuggled it in, were they not searched when they were arrested and at the time they were detained? Were they all kept together in the same cell so they conspired to kill themselves and took turns to ingest the poison? Were they helped by prison officials who are Boko Haram members or sympathizers? For the above and other unanswered questions, I have reservations on this version. I think there could be other possibilities.
Other Possible Explanations
It is possible that these suspected fighters were tortured to death by Chadian soldiers who are angry with the detainees for killing more 150 of their colleagues last month alone, and the soldiers are not confident in the legal system the fighters were about to go through. If this is the correct , it is a widow into the human rights abuses by state forces in the Lake Chad sub-region over the past decade. Thousands of people who were never members of Boko Haram have been extra-judicially killed and illegally detained by soldiers and vigilantes according eye witnesses and several reports including from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Granted these are members of Boko Haram caught in the act, they still should not be killed without trial. This is because the rule of law is the only difference between terrorists and soldiers. Boko Haram fighters are terrorists because they kill without authority, justification and fair hearing. If soldiers stoop to their level by committing terrorist acts, then they can be justifiably put in the same class with Boko Haram. We cannot fight Boko Haram’s wrongs by committing more wrongs.
The final possible scenario is that the said fighters were never captured by the Chadians in the first place. It could be that Chad exaggerated the figure of the fighters it arrested. Many expressed reservations about the country’s claim that it had killed 1,000 fighters, saying the figure might have been inflated.
If this the case, it is yet another evidence that this decade-old insurgency will go on for a long time because it will support the idea that authorities are mostly fighting Boko Haram with claims on pages of papers and social than with actual combat. This narrative is so popular that Nigerians on social media have created a moniker for it: “audio counter-insurgency”, meaning it is waged only verbally.
The Implications if it was a Suicide
But let’s go back to the Chad’s claim. If the deceased fighters killed themselves, they likely did so to prevent public humiliation of the “mujahidun” by “infidels” and forestall torturing them to reveal information about their group and their brothers-in-arms. They see dying for this as martyrdom because they prevented harm to the “Ummah”. This is reminiscent of how ISIS’ leader, Abubakar al-Baghdadi, killed himself when he became certain that the Americans would get hold of him.
If it true that it was a suicide, it tells us how convinced Boko Haram fighters and other so-called jihadis are that their cause is divinely approved. They are misguided to think that their violence is sanctioned by Allah. They think if they kill, they will be rewarded by God. And if they are killed, they die as martyrs and go straight to paradise. Furthermore, it discredits the story by Vanguard a couple of days ago claiming that Shekau is reaching out to Nigerian authorities to surrender. If his fighters would rather die, what more of their boss, the villain himself?
Chad needs to come out clear on this story and tell the world what happened. But I wouldn’t hold my breath. As with many other unsolved puzzles in this war, we will probably never know the truth of what happened to these fighters, if they ever existed in the first place. But whatever be the truth, it is revealing of what’s going on the ground. We have seen numerous mysteries and more will keep coming.