- UNICEF lauds release
Doris Obinna and Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri
The military said the 184 child and teenage Boko Haram suspects released to the United Nations were combatants, informants and suicide bombers for the armed group.
Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, Maj. Gen Rogers Nicholas, who represented the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen Tukur Buratai, at the handing over said the suspects were arrested at different locations in Borno State during military operations.
He said the military could not take any legal action on the suspects because of their ages as most of them are children and teenagers.
“Looking at their age and based on UN standard, we won’t be able to take harsh action against them, and based on our rule of engagement, we should be able to keep them and see how we can de-radicalised them,” Nicholas said while handing over the suspects to the UN Humanitarian Coordinator.
He said the children were involved in combat and planned suicide attack.
“These children are involved with armed group. In the course of our operations in the northeast, some of the children were either used as suicide bombers, some as informants to Boko Haram, some combatant on their own with various weapons, cutlasses, knives and riffles,” he said.
He said the army chief approved the release of the suspects because of their ages.
Representative of the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Ibrahim Sisay, said the release of the suspects was an indelible mark in the life of the children.
Sesay said an estimated 2, 000 children have, so far, been released by the military. He said the transfer of the children was consistent with international norms and standards. He said Unicef has over 7,000 persons currently under its re-integration programme.
“We will provide them with necessary support, including education, to start a better life,” he assured.
Meanwhile, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has welcomed the release of the children, which came after the children, aged between seven and18, were cleared of ties with Boko Haram insurgents.
“These eight girls and 175 boys are first and foremost victims of the ongoing conflict, and their release is an important step on their long road to recovery,” said Mohamed Fall, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.
“We will be working with the Borno State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development and partners to provide the children with all the assistance they need. I also want to commend the action taken by the military and the authorities; it demonstrates a clear commitment to better protect children affected by the conflict.”