8 February 2013

Nigeria: Boko Haram - Women Protest Detention of Loved Ones

Hundreds of women yesterday took to the streets of Maiduguri calling for the immediate release of their loved ones allegedly arrested and kept in custody of the Joint Task Force (JTF) for months over Boko Haram related crimes.

A town hall meeting organized by the Defence Headquarters meant to strengthen military-civil relationship turned awry when the women mobilized themselves and headed towards the Borno State Government House.

The women, chanting 'Allahu Akbar' defied threats by security operatives and called for the immediate release of their husbands, sons, cousins and nephews, allegedly held in various detention cells of the JTF without being charged to court.

The women were among the large crowd of residents of Maiduguri and environs who were earlier addressed at the Ramat Square by the visiting team of the civil- military relations department of the Defence Headquarters from Abuja.

As early as 7:30 am, over 1000 women, mostly the elderly besieged the Ramat Square. They were thoroughly screened by security operatives before they were allowed in. Much later, some men, who were told to stand in a separate area, were also allowed into the field in anticipation of taking their incarcerated sons and brothers.

Shortly after a session, the women, looking frustrated and unconvinced took to the streets and calling for the release of their loved ones.

Our correspondents gathered that the women were allegedly misinformed about the purpose of the meeting, believing that it was designed to facilitate the release of their detained male relatives.

One of the women, who simply identified herself as Hajja Kalthum, said her son was picked by men of the JTF over one year ago.

"His younger brother told me that I should go to the Ramat Square because the soldiers said they would only release the boys when their mothers identified them," she said.

Another woman who declined to mention her name said at the Ramat Square, they were shown a large poster of Mohammed Shekau, the spiritual leader of the Boko Haram.

"They urged us to reveal where he (Shekau) is and assured that if we cooperate, all our loved ones would be released," she alleged.

Daily Trust reports that during the protest around noon, activities at the centre of Maiduguri were disrupted until an officer of the JTF, Lt Col D. R. Hassan, believed to be in charge of the task force in the area addressed the women before they dispersed.

Assistant Director of the Civil Military Relations from the Defence Headquarters, Air Commodore Ademola Onitiju who led the delegation also held a similar session with Bulama's, (ward heads), district heads and religious leaders at the multipurpose hall of the Government House.

According to him, the purpose of the forum was to get input from the people with a view to finding a lasting solution to the insecurity problem facing Borno State and environs.

Earlier in their submissions, most of the traditional rulers who spoke at the forum alleged that innocent people had been arrested by the JTF and called for their release.

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