The Defence Headquarters on Monday said that, contrary to planned report by the Human Right Watch, there are no children kept or tortured in detention facilities in the northeast Nigeria.
In a statement by the Acting Director Defence Information Colonel Onyema Nwachukwu, the DHQ 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).
The statement reads: “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 who 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-radicalized 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 appropriate authorities after de-radicalization 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 emphasized, 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; terrorist 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 neutralized in combat with troops does 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 northeast (NE).
Meanwhile, the Coalition for Human Rights Groups in Nigeria claimed that the report by the Human Rights Watch and other non-governmental organizations was a plot to discredit the 100 days in office of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The coalition said the report was attempt to ingloriously portray a scenario that smacks of mischief by stating that the Nigerian Military has detained children without charge for months or years in squalid and severely overcrowded military barracks, with no contact with the outside world.’
Maxwell Gowon, the Executive Director of the coalition, while addressing newsmen on the development on Monday, cautioned those that are hell-bent on misleading the general public to desist from such nefarious actions in the interest of peace and stability in Nigeria.
He said, “The Coalition of Human Rights Groups in Nigeria is in receipt of a grand plot by some agents masquerading under cover of civil society organizations to discredit the laudable strides of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
“The Coalition of Human Rights Groups in Nigeria having extensively studied the intended report slated for release to the media in Nigeria wishes to state that the Human Rights Watch (HRW) is in the vanguard of the nefarious plot after huge amounts of monies have exchanged hands.
“The Human Rights Watch a supposedly Human Rights Organisation in a news release titled ‘Nigeria’s Military: Holding Children as Boko Haram suspects” attempted to ingloriously portray a scenario that smacks of mischief by stating that the Nigerian Military has detained children without charge for months or years in squalid and severely overcrowded military barracks, with no contact with the outside world.’
“While it is expedient to put the records in proper perspective for the discerning minds to make their informed decisions, the Coalition for Human Rights groups in Nigeria wishes to state that the report by the Human Rights Watch is indeed an attempt at discrediting the laudable initiatives of the Muhummadu Buhari led administration.
“As a start, the Human Rights Watch as an organization is not credible enough to issue a report on the state of affairs in Nigeria because there have been unanswered questions regarding its methodologies and presence in Nigeria and other climes it is operating from.
“It is also on record that in times past, some members of the opposition in Nigeria paid hefty sums of monies to the organization for it to release or to commission false reports on the state of affairs in the country to paint a picture of gloom and despair before the local and international community.
“The recent report titled ‘Nigeria’s Military: Holding Children as Boko Haram suspects’ is one of those numerous attempts aimed at causing disaffection in the polity. It is also instructive to state that the report, is intended for mischief purposes as there are no tangibles that suggest that the Nigerian Military would hound women and children into cells in Giwa Barracks in Borno state.
“The Human Rights Watch as an organization is one that has a history replete with mischief and activities geared towards achieving pecuniary gains. This is evident in the postulations that the Nigerian Military has indiscriminately hounded young children in detention on fictitious allegations.
“In the words of the Human Rights Watch, Children are being detained in horrific conditions for years with little or no involvement with Boko Haram terrorist is at best the fiction of their imaginations. This is expedient of the fact that the Coalition of Human Rights Groups in Nigeria has followed the activities of the Nigerian Military in North-East Nigeria with keen attention, and there has been no instance where cases of indiscriminate arrests were made in North-East Nigeria. Also, to think that the Human Rights Watch could make such bogus assertions defeats common sense.
“The Coalition of Human Rights Groups in Nigeria is aware of the grand plot to discredit the Muhammadu Buhari led administration, and it’s consequently appalled by such blatant disregard for the sensibilities of Nigerians and Nigeria as exhibited by the Human Rights Watch.”