Nigerian troops have arrested a businessman accused of “participating actively” in Boko Haram’s mass abduction of over 200 schoolgirls from their secondary school in Chibok, Borno State last year, Nigeria's defence ministry said on Tuesday.
Quoting Defence Headquarters (DHQ) spokesman, Major-General Chris Olukolade, the UK-based Telegraph newspaper reported that the suspect, Babuji Ya’ari, headed a “terrorists’ intelligence cell” for the Islamic extremists while masquerading as a member of the self-defence Youth Vigilante Group.
This confirms suspicions that the vigilantes have been infiltrated by Boko Haram. Soldiers have told the Associated Press (AP) that some of their comrades also belong to the extremist group.
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“The arrest of the businessman … has also yielded some vital information and facilitated the arrest of other members of the terrorists’ intelligence cell who are women,” Olukolade said in a statement Tuesday night.
He did not say when the arrests were made or how many people were arrested.
He alleged that Ya'ari has since 2011 coordinated several deadly attacks on Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram, and spearheaded the May 2014 assassination of the Emir of Gwoza, a religious and traditional ruler who was targeted for speaking out against Boko Haram’s extremism.
One arrested woman, Hafsat Bako, confessed to coordinating the payroll for operatives paid a minimum of N10,000 a job, the defence ministry statement said.
Boko Haram was responsible for the April 2014 kidnapping of 276 girls from a boarding school in Chibok. Fifty-seven escaped but 219 schoolgirls remain missing.
The mass abduction sparked international outrage and demands for the girls’ release under the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.
The extremists last year took control of a large swathe of Northeastern Nigeria where they declared an Islamic caliphate. This year, they became the West African franchise of the Islamic State group.
As their attacks spread across borders, a multinational army from Nigeria and neighbouring countries mobilised and this year drove Boko Haram out of towns. But suicide bombings and attacks on villages have continued.
Nonetheless, the Chibok girls continue to remain on the front burner as the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) group would on July 8 finally get to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari regarding the fate of the remaining girls who are yet to be found.
One of the co-conveners of the group and a former Minister of Education, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, made this disclosure on her Twitter handle on Wednesday.
She tweeted: "#ChibokGirls: Stop Press. We hope you will join us @BBOG_Nigeria on our march to meet with our president on July 8 at noon. #BBOG!!!!!!!!
"We @BBOG_Nigeria have received confirmation of schedule of our meeting with @MBuhari and FG on our #ChibokGirls for July 8, 2015 at noon.
“DAY443 of our #ChibokGirls. On July 8, we shall march to the President @MBuhari to ask him what he has done and is doing to bring back our girls.
“I could have chosen the easy path of looking away on the tragedy of our #ChibokGirls to avoid the toxin they spew. God forbid. I stand on."
In an earlier report by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Ezekwesili said the group had written to Buhari over the fate of the missing girls and efforts to successfully bring them back.
She was quoted to have said: “We have written to request for a meeting with the president as we did on several occasions with the previous government.
“The meeting shall enable us to express our deep anxieties at the failure of the federal government to rescue our 219 Chibok girls.
“We shall also use the meeting to understand and contribute to the strategy for countering terrorism, ensuring post-insurgency recovery and other related issues.”
But as the BBOG group prepares to meet the president, the terror sect continued to unleash mayhem Wednesday when two suicide bombers (male and female) detonated a bomb in Molai village, a few kilometres from one of the places visited by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, who was on an unannounced visit to Borno State.
A member of the youth vigilante group, Modu Abba, told THISDAY on the phone that another set of suicide bombers, four days after Saturday's similar suicide bombings at a general hospital in Molai where five persons were killed and 16 others injured, came back to attack the town for the second time.
Molai is 10 kilometres south of Maiduguri, where the vice-president was visiting internally displaced persons (IDPs) quartered in the town.
Maiduguri plays host to about 1.5 million persons made homeless by the Boko Haram insurgency, including about 125,000 quartered in 22 camps.
According to Abba, the two suicide bombers were unsuccessful in their attempt to wreak havoc and only succeeded in blowing themselves up into pieces, but two persons were injured in the process.
He said the suicide bombers were terrorists who were suspected to have sneaked into Molai from Sambisa Forest, the notorious base of the insurgents that has been under military siege for sometime.
Abba said the two suicide bombers must have been blown apart due to an accidental detonation of the explosives strapped on their bodies.
“It must have been an accidental detonation, as no known persons or structures were targeted by the suicide bombers.
“The explosion occurred at about 11 am close to Molai Leprosy/General Hospital and about 100 metres away from a local market. It left both suicide bombers dead and two innocent people injured.
“Many residents including patients admitted at the hospital were left scampering for safety,” he said.
Abba revealed that the explosive device on the first suicide bomber – the woman – detonated at the entrance of the hospital, injuring two passersby, while the other one who was riding a bicycle accidentally detonated his explosives at the back of the hospital before reaching the fence, killing himself only.
During his visit to Maiduguri on Wednesday, Osinbajo informed his audience that the federal government was moving into the next phase of management of the Boko Haram crisis. This he said entailed the resettlement of those displaced by the crisis.
The vic e-president stressed that the role of government was to provide security and welfare for its people, revealing that he was in the capital of the troubled state to see to the welfare of the displaced persons.
Osinbajo, who spoke to journalists after his tour of the Dalori camp, one of the 22 IDPs' camps in the city, the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH) and the palace of the Shehu of Borno, said he had been empowered with knowledge on how to handle the IDPs and related issues, after his visit to the camp.
He disclosed that he was equally briefed by stakeholders on the IDPs, praising the efforts of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the Borno State Government for providing succour to the displaced persons.
He said that the federal government was ready to assist the IDPs back on their feet after they might have been resettled.
Earlier at the camp, Osinbajo told the displaced persons that he was in Maiduguri on the instructions of the president and to see to their well-being.
He said: “I am here in Borno State and in particular in this camp on the specific instructions of the president, His Excellency Muhammadu Buhari, who is concerned about the well-being and the welfare of the men, children and women in this camp.
“He has asked me to come and join the governor and see for myself what exactly is going on in the IDP camps, not just in Borno but also Yobe and Adamawa States which have been affected by the Boko Haram insurgency.
“The president is extremely concerned especially about the welfare of women and children and other displaced persons and in particular those who are here in Borno State.
“He wanted me to go round and interact today with the displaced persons who are in this camp.”
Osinbajo said that based on the report presented to him and the brief interaction with the displaced persons, it was quite apparent that there has been “great human suffering and extreme trauma”.
“But the governor of Borno State has been working hard at making sure all of the trauma and hardship is greatly reduced.
"The president wants me to tell Governor (Kashim) Shettima specifically that he is extremely pleased with the hard work he has done, that he is aware that the governor has been trying to ensure the comfort and safety of the people who are in these camps and of course the entire people of Borno State.”
The vice-president acknowledged that the task at hand was onerous but the federal government was ready to play its part in leading the effort to alleviate the suffering of the displaced persons in the North-east.
He added that despite funding constraints, all persons in Nigeria including residents in the North-east have a right to education, potable water, decent health care and shelter, adding that the federal government was committed to improving the livelihoods of the people of Borno.
The vice-president’s visit however caused major disruptions for the people of the state who woke up to see many of the major roads closed.
Motorists were diverted off the major roads in Maiduguri as early as 7 am for the vice-president who arrived the town in company with the Director General of NEMA, Alhaji Mohammed Sani Sidi, at 10.45 am.
Commuters were barred from the cordoned roads until he departed the city at 3.30 pm, forcing many motorists to abandon their vehicles and walked long distances to their destinations.
Meanwhile, the United Nations rights chief on Wednesday urged Nigeria to show compassion and make it easier for women and girls who became pregnant in Boko Haram captivity to access abortions.
Boko Haram militants are estimated by Amnesty International (AI) to have kidnapped more than 2,000 women and girls in Northeastern Nigeria since the beginning of 2014, including the Chibok girls kidnapped last year.
“During their captivity, lasting in many cases for months or even years, women and girls have been sexually enslaved, raped and forced into so-called ‘marriages’,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein told the UN Human Rights council in a special session on Boko Haram.
“Many survivors of these horrific experiences are now pregnant for their rapists … and several reportedly wish to terminate these unwanted pregnancies,” he said.
But in Nigeria, abortion is only legal when the life of the woman is at risk, Zeid said, warning that a lack of access would only add to the horrendous suffering the former captives had been through.
“I strongly urge the most compassionate possible interpretation of the current regulations in Nigeria to include the risk of suicide and risks to mental health for women and young girls who have suffered such appalling cruelty,” he said.
He also called on authorities to help women and girls freed from Boko Haram enslavement, who often face stigmatisation, to reintegrate them into their communities.
During his speech, Zeid accused Boko Haram of a litany of other atrocities in Nigeria and in neighbouring Cameroun, Chad and Niger, including massacres, beheadings, torture, burning people to death in their own houses and forcing children to become soldiers.
He demanded that perpetrators be brought to justice, but also warned that hard-handed tactics by the military and police fighting Boko Haram risked exacerbating the suffering of civilians and increasing support for the militants.
He pointed to reports of “shocking conditions of detention in north-eastern Nigeria, including torture and lack of food or water,” and the lengthy detention of women and children released from Boko Haram captivity, reportedly for screening and rehabilitation.
He also referred to the AI report last month accusing senior Nigerian officials of “war crimes” in connection with the Boko Haram battle.
But the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Bulus Z. Lolo, slammed the Amnesty report as “demoralising”, insisting to the council yesterday that it constituted an “undue interference in the work our security agencies are undertaking under very difficult circumstances against the insurgents (which) can only serve to strengthen and embolden Boko Haram”.
Nigerian forces were not the only ones accused of heavy-handedness. Zeid referred to the widely criticised case of 84 children, aged seven to 15, detained since last December “in near starvation conditions” after Camerounian forces raided what was first said to be a Boko Haram training camp, but which witnesses have said was an ordinary Koranic school.
Camerounian Ambassador Anatole Fabien Nkou told the council that all 84 children had now been released, and that they had only been held long enough “to establish their level of involvement” in Boko Haram crimes.
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