Nigeria will release suspects held in connection with activities by the Boko Haram Islamist group in phases, starting with women and children, President Goodluck Jonathan’s office said.
The release of other detainees “will be treated on their individual merits by the defense authorities and security agencies,” Doyin Okupe, the president’s public affairs spokesman, said in a statement e-mailed today. The move shows the government “has not foreclosed dialogue as a viable option in its bid to put an end to insurgency and terrorist activities in the northern part of the country.”
The decision to free some suspects is in response to recommendations made by a panel that Jonathan set up in April to assess the possibility of granting amnesty to the Boko Haram group and disarming its members, according to Okupe.
Jonathan imposed emergency rule in the northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa on May 14 to step up the fight against Islamist militants, whom he said were taking over parts of the region. The military of Africa’s largest oil producer began last week an air and ground offensive against Boko Haram militants after Jonathan imposed emergency rule.
Residents of Borno state have reported that “mass arrests” increased in recent weeks in Maiduguri, the state capital, Amnesty International said today. Military vehicles have been transporting corpses daily to mortuaries, it said.
Security forces have been accused of committing “grave human rights violations” in their fight against Boko Haram over the past three years, the London-based rights group said.
Nigerian authorities shouldn’t use emergency rule “as an excuse to commit human rights violations,” the group said.
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is a sin” in the local Hausa language, has carried out gun and bomb attacks across Nigeria’s north and Abuja, the capital, since police killed its founder, Mohammed Yusuf, while in custody for his role in clashes with the security forces in 2009. The group says it wants Islamic rule in Africa’s most populous country, almost evenly split between a mainly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south.
Jonathan’s emergency rule declaration followed violence in Baga, a fishing town on the shores of Lake Chad, in which as many as 228 people were killed after security forces responded to an attack by militants on April 16, according to local officials.
About 2,400 people have fled violence in northern Nigeria into southeastern Niger, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on May 21.