Molly Kilete, Abuja
The Defence Headquarters (DHQ), has debunked allegations by the Human Rights Watch that the military was keeping children in its detention facilities in the North East where they are being tortured.
The DHQ, said contrary to the allegations, the military actually manages children in the North East theatre as victims of war and not as suspects.
It said children caught in the web of terrorism are moved to safe facilities such as the Borno State Rehabilitation Centre in Bulunkutu, Maiduguri, and Operation SAFE Corridor, where they are de-radicalised, rehabilitated and reintegrated into the society.
It further stated that those whose families could not be traced are handed over to IDP camps officials for administration.
Director, Defence Information, Colonel Onyema Nwachukwu, who made this known, explained that apprehended children were kept in secured places, where they are adequately fed, profiled and de-radicalised before they were eventually released.
Nwachuku in a statement said: “The Defence Headquarters has noted with deep concern that while troops of the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) are intensifying effort to ensure lasting peace in the North East (NE), Human Rights Watch (HRW) is set to release a report accusing the AFN of arbitrarily detaining children in its detention facilities in the North East (NE). This report is not only false but capable of undermining the joint efforts of the Armed Forces and other security agencies to restore peace in the NE.
“It is an established fact that Boko Haram Terrorists (BHTs) indoctrinate women and children whom they use as suicide bombers in the theatre of operations. In the conduct of their operations troops arrest these children while attempting to detonate explosives and provide tacit support to insurgents such as intelligence on troops’ movement and deployments.
“Contrary to HRW claims, however, the AFN manages children in the North East theatre as victims of war and not as suspects. Apprehended children are kept in secured places where they are adequately fed, profiled and de-radicalised before their release. This was evidently captured in the HRW Report, where it stated that “since January 2013, Nigerian authorities have released at least 2,200 children from detention nearly all without charge. This statement further attests to the fact that the children are released to the appropriate authorities after de-radicalisation efforts by appropriate government agencies and NGOs.
“It is expedient to state that only profiled Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists are held in detention pending their prosecution by appropriate prosecuting agencies, as the AFN is not vested with the power of prosecution. It is also necessary to clarify, that aside the set of children involved in acts of terrorism, some adult female Boko Haram terrorists arrested in terrorists’ enclaves during combat have also been found to be with children. During the process of profiling and investigations the women opt to keep their children rather than hand them over to relations. While the female terrorists are kept in the detention facility, their children are given protected care in a welfare holding facility, not a detention facility, where they could be accessed by their mothers under supervision by female personnel. The children are provided with regular feeding, clothing, requisite medical attention, in-house spiritual and educational tutoring and other welfare needs.
“The DHQ, therefore, wishes to state that no children are kept and tortured in any detention facility. The children caught in the act of terrorism are moved to safe facilities such as the Borno State Rehabilitation Centre in Bulunkutu, Maiduguri, and Operation SAFE CORRIDOR, where they are de-radicalized, rehabilitated and reintegrated into the society. Those whose families could not be traced are handed over to IDP Camps officials for administration.
“It must also be noted that several attempts have been made by these sponsored Rights groups to lay allegations of arbitrary arrests and extra judicial killings at the doorstep of the AFN all in an effort to undermine the successes so far recorded in the ongoing Nigeria’s Counter terrorism and counter-insurgency operations against Boko Haram and ISWAP in the North East.
“It must be emphasised, that contrary to the insinuation, the AFN does not engage in arbitrary arrests since its operations are intelligence driven. The AFN is at war in the North East against Boko Haram and ISWAP; terrorists groups that are globally recognised for the most inhuman and callous attacks on humanity. Arresting and detaining members of these terrorists groups to face trial and obtain justice for Nigerians for the atrocious attacks and callous killing of innocent citizens and foreigners cannot be described as arbitrary or unlawful. Their arrest and detention are professionally handled and within legitimacy of the mandate of the Counter terrorism and counter Insurgency operations in the North East. Suspects (adults not children), caught in the act of terrorism or aiding and abetting terrorism are arrested, profiled and processed for prosecution after thorough investigation.
“More also, terrorists and insurgents neutralised in combat with troops do not translate to extra judicial killing as erroneously portrayed. The AFN does not condone extra judicial killing and erring personnel are sanctioned according to the dictates of the military justice system and the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The AFN is a professional military with extant doctrines and Standard Operating procedures, hence, extra judicial killing or summary execution is an aberration and not permissible in our operational engagements. The DHQ is using this medium to remind the general public that it works in conjunction with other relevant government agencies and NGOs in handling children in the various safe facilities provided by both federal and state governments. We also want to reaffirm our commitment and adherence to Rules of Engagement (ROE) and Laws of Armed Conflicts in all our operations. It is pertinent to state that over the years the AFN has periodically taken NGOs and other Civil Society Organizations (CSO) on guided tours of our operational areas to ensure transparency and openness.
“All NGOs and CSOs operating in the NE and other parts of the country are enjoined to desist from publishing poorly researched and shallow reports on the activities of the AFN, as this is capable of undermining national security efforts to restore peace in the NE.”