Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja
The Defence Headquarters (DHQ) yesterday said that only profiled terrorists belonging to the Islamic State for West African Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram are held in its detention facilities in the North-east and not children.
In a pre-emptive statement issued yesterday by the Acting Director, Defence Information (DDI), Col. Onyema Nwachukwu, the DHQ alleged that the Human Rights Watch (HRW) was set to release a report accusing the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) of arbitrarily detaining children in its detention facilities in the North-east.
DHQ stated that while terrorist organisations indoctrinate children and women and use them as suicide bombers, the military treats them as victims of war and not suspects.
DHQ said terror suspects were held in detention facilities, pending prosecution since the AFN was not vested with the power of prosecution.
“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, 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 who they use as suicide bombers in the theatre of operations,” it said.
The statement disclosed that apprehended children were kept in secure places where they were fed and profiled and deradicalised before being released.
“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”, it said.
The Defence Spokesman cited a portion of the report which it said supported the humane efforts of the military to take care of the children.
“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-radicalisation efforts by appropriate government agencies and NGOs”, he said.
Nwachukwu maintained that no children were kept and tortured in any detention facility. He said children caught in the act of terrorism were moved to safe facilities such as the Borno State Rehabilitation Centre in Bulunkutu, Maiduguri, and Operation Safe Corridor, where they were de-radicalised, rehabilitated and reintegrated into the society.
“Those whose families could not be traced are handed over to IDP Camps officials for administration”, he said.