A Boko Haram defector has called on his former fellow fighters to repent and leave the Islamist group.
Bana Umar, from Nigeria’s north-eastern town of Banki, was 27 when he joined Boko Haram in 2014, the same year the group kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls from their dormitory in the town of Chibok.
Speaking to VOA News, Umar said he was lured by a friend to join the group to “fight and kill all the infidels”.
At that time, he said, it was “exciting” and the living conditions were good, as Boko Haram ruled large parts of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, and could operate almost at will.
But now he said “life is difficult” for fighters. “It is not what it used to be in the past. Food is difficult for everyone,” he added.
On 18 August, he escaped alongside another fighter and the wife of the commander for whom Umar used to work as a bodyguard, despite the risk of being killed if captured.
“I am calling them [militants] to repent, especially those who want to come out but are afraid… Let people know that soldiers would not do anything to whoever voluntarily repents. I came out and no-one harms me. Not one single soldier lays his hand on me,” he said.
Umar said listening to the radio had prompted him to make an escape plan, embracing the government’s promise of an amnesty for defectors, promising them they would be welcomed, not punished.
“Many of us listened to radio stations like BBC and VOA,” he said. “I listened to these radio stations frequently to the extent that when I laid down to sleep I would be thinking of what I heard. I realised that all our activities were evil. We killed. We stole. We dispossessed people of their properties in the name of religion. But what we are doing is not religion. Finally I got fed up with the group.”
He said more than 1,000 Boko Haram members would like to leave the group. “Even some original members of the sect now want to leave because soldiers have intensified the war against them, unlike in the past,” he said.