President Goodluck Jonathan has directed the Defence Headquarters to release some members of the Boko Haram sect in custody in connection with terrorist activities.
Already the directive to release the detainees has been communicated to all the units of the Joint Military Task Force.
Both the Presidency and the Defence Headquarters confirmed this on Tuesday.
The Director of Defence Information, Brig.-Gen. Chris Olukolade, in a statement said, “Consequent upon the directive of the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, the Defence Headquarters will be releasing from detention a number of persons being held in connection with terrorist activities.
“The move is in furtherance of the Federal Government position in response to requests by the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Reconciliation.”
Olukolade was however silent on the number and the category of terror suspects expected to benefit from the presidential peace overtures but all women in various military formations, especially by the Joint Task Force in the North-East, would be set free.
He explained that the decision to release the terror suspects was part of the President’s response to a request by the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Reconciliation.
He said, “The measure, which is in line with Presidential magnanimity to enhance peace efforts in the country, will result in freedom for suspects including all women under custody.”
“The details of the directive and those to benefit from this gesture have been communicated to field units and the Joint Task Force.
“The beneficiaries will be released to the state governors who will be involved in further rehabilitation before these suspects are released to their respective community leaders/relations.”
When asked whether the Police had received a similar directive, the Police Deputy Public Relations Officer, Mr. Frank Mba, said, “I am not aware of any such directive.”
Spokesman for the President, Reuben Abati, told one of our correspondents that Jonathan’s directive was evidence of Federal Government’s multi-dimensional approach to tackling the security challenge in some parts of the country.
Abati said, “Clearly, it shows that while government is pursuing the option of the declaration of state of emergency to flush out the insurgents, at the same time, it is providing incentives for those who want to embrace peace.
“That is to say that government is not adopting a one-track approach. The President himself said that it is a multi-track approach, a multi-dimensional approach.
“While the military actions continue, opportunity for dialogue through the committee is still open. I don’t know the number. That statement from the Defence Headquarters did not indicate a particular number of people. But when they are being released, the number will be made public. They are more of women who many are saying know nothing about the offence for which they are being held.”
The set-free-the-terrorists order came even as the President has reportedly sought the assistance of the neighbouring Niger Republic in combating the Boko Haram menace.
Reuters reports that the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Nurudeen Muhammed, delivered the request for help from President Goodluck Jonathan to his Nigerien counterpart, Mahamadou Issoufou, late on Monday in Niamey.
“We currently have military operations under way in Nigeria in three federal states to combat terrorism and we would like to have Niger’s support in the common fight against these terrorists,” Muhammed, according to Reuters, told Niger State television.
Two thousand villagers who fled from the military offensive in Borno State at the weekend reportedly headed for Niger Republic and there had been concerns that many members of the violent sect troubling the peace in the North-East were illegal aliens from neighbouring countries, including Niger.
Niger Republic is a landlocked country with a population slightly above 17 million citizens, who are mostly Muslims. It borders Nigeria in the north. A check on Wikipeadia on Tuesday revealed that Niger Armed Forces totalled 12,000 personnel with approximately 3,700 gendarmes, 300 air force, and 6,000 army personnel.
Meanwhile, Olukolade has debunked reports that the Federal Government is withdrawing Nigerian troops from Mali to fight Islamic terrorists in the North-East.
Olukolade said it was unnecessary for any such deployment to be made as the human and material resources in the country were effectively managed to handle internal and external missions.
He dismissed the report as a complete falsehood and assured Nigerians of the capabilities of the nation’s Armed Forces to discharge their sensitive security responsibilities.
“As the operation to rid our country of terrorist activities continues, the Defence Headquarters wishes to reassure Nigerians that the Nigerian military is quite capable and ready to discharge this duty professionally and creditably well.
“The report therefore in a section of the press that Nigerian troops are to be withdrawn from Mali to face the ongoing insurgency is complete falsehood.
“There is certainly no need for such action now as the human and material resources of the Armed Forces of Nigeria are being meticulously deployed and quite able to meet its present internal and external assignments.”
Olukolade said that while normal and scheduled rotation of troops in the various missions would be carried out as planned, it should not be misconstrued to generate wrong information for the country and the international community.
He said, “As a matter of fact the normal and scheduled rotation of troops in various missions will continue.
“This routine should not be misunderstood or misrepresented to misinform Nigerians and the international community.
“These times are too sensitive for anyone to engage in unnecessary sensation, speculation or rumour mongering on military affairs please.”