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Army frees 267 detainees, no ‘links’ to Boko Haram – One girl hankers for life with militant husband

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria, Feb 13, (Agencies): Nigeria’s army freed 267 detainees Friday, including dozens of children, some as young as preschoolers, saying that investigators had determined they had no links to Boko Haram Islamic extremists. Only eight suspects were handed over to police for further investigation, commanding officer Maj. Gen. Haruna Umaru told a ceremony at a military barracks in the northeastern city of Maiduguri. He said the releases should reassure Nigerians that “no individual will unjustly or unduly be incarcerated.” He said the Nigerian military remains “committed to the protection of the fundamental rights of every citizen of Nigeria and foreigners alike.” Nigerian law requires that anyone arrested be charged before a magistrate within 48 hours and have access to a lawyer. But the military continues to hold people incommunicado, including foreigners, and the exact number still held is not known.

Four people from neighboring Cameroon and Niger were among those released Friday, along with 72 children. Nigerian security forces regularly detain the children of suspects. Glum, wearylooking detainees gathered under a tent for the ceremony, including a malnourished boy dressed only in an oversized T-shirt. The lone smile came from 21-year-old Hauwa Mohammed, who told The Associated Press she had been held for six months on suspicion of being the girlfriend of a Boko Haram fighter. She said she had gotten sick in detention and wanted to concentrate on taking care of her health. None of those released would discuss the conditions they were held in, apparently fearful of the nearby soldiers. Amnesty International has charged that Nigeria’s military is responsible for the deaths of some 8,000 detainees between 2011 and 2015 — some shot outright and others dying of torture, starvation or asphyxiation in overcrowded cells.

The military has denied the charges. Still, President Muhammadu Buhari has not made good on promises to investigate Amnesty’s allegations and its recommendation that nine senior officers be investigated for possible war crimes in the detainee deaths. At Friday’s ceremony, Borno state Gov. Kashim Shettima said the detainees’ release “bears testimony to the fact that we are running a professional force, contrary to insinuations from several quarters, insinuations of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detention and the dehumanization of the citizenry.”

ABUJA: Almost a year after she was rescued from Boko Haram captivity by the Nigerian army, 16-year-old Zara John is still in love with one of the Islamic militants who abducted her. She was delighted to discover that she was pregnant with his child following a urine and blood test carried out by a doctor in the refugee camp to which she was taken after her rescue. “I wanted to give birth to my child so that I can have someone to replace his father since I cannot reconnect with him again,” said Zara, one of hundreds of girls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants during a seven-year insurgency in northeast Nigeria.

But any decision over the baby was taken out of her hands. Her father drowned during flooding in 2010 so her uncles intervened. Some were adamant they did not want a Boko Haram offspring in their family and insisted on an abortion. Others felt the child should not be blamed for its father’s crimes. In the end, the majority carried the vote and Zara was allowed to keep her child, a son she named Usman who is now about seven months old. “Everybody in the family has embraced the child,” Zara told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview, asking that her location remain undisclosed.

“My uncle just bought him tins of Cerelac (instant cereal) and milk.” Zara was aged 14 when Boko Haram militants fighting to establish an Islamist state raided her village of Izge, in northeast Nigeria, in February 2014. They razed homes in the village, slaughtered men, and loaded women, girls and children into trucks. Two of Zara’s brothers were out of town when the militants struck in one of a wave of hit-and-run attacks on villages as well as suicide bombings on places of worship or markets. Zara’s mother fell off one of the overloaded trucks but tried to chase after the vehicle that was ferrying away her only daughter and her four-year-old son but was unable to keep up as the truck headed 22 km (14 miles) road journey to Bita.

At the time, Bita and other surrounding towns close to the Sambisa forest, were in Boko Haram control. “As soon as we arrived, they told us that we were now their slaves,” Zara recalled. Her days were spent doing chores and learning the tenets of her new religion, Islam, until, two months later, she was given away in marriage to Ali, a Boko Haram commander, and moved into from a shared house to his accommodation. “After I became a commander’s wife, I had freedom. I slept anytime I wanted, I woke up anytime I wanted,” she said.

“He bought me food and clothes and gave me everything that a woman needs from a man,” adding that he also gave her a mobile phone with his number plugged in and tattooed his name on her stomach to mark her as a Boko Haram wife. Ali assured her that the fight would soon be over and they would return to his home town of Baga where he intended his new wife to join his fishing business.

He told her that he had abandoned his fisherman trade and joined the militant group after his father and elder brother, both fishermen like himself, were killed by Nigerian soldiers. In a June 2015 report based on years on research and analysis of evidence, Amnesty International said the Nigerian army was guilty of gross human rights abuse and extra judicial killing of civilians in parts of northeast Nigeria, calling for an investigation into war crimes. Ali was not at home when the Nigerian army stormed Bita in March 2015 and rescued Zara and scores of other women, taking them to a refugee camp in Yola in northeast Nigeria.

The raid came as international scrutiny on Nigeria increased after the high profile abduction of 200 schoolgirls from Chibok in northern Nigeria in April 2014 which caused outrage internationally and sparked the global campaign #bringbackourgirls. The girls are yet to be found.

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