President Goodluck Jonathan on Saturday said he has approved the disbursement of N1 billion to the military for the upgrade of detention camps where suspected insurgents are held across the country.
The President disclosed this during an interview with journalists in Paris, France, shortly before his departure to Nigeria at the end of a two-day summit on peace and security in Africa hosted by President Francois Hollande.
Mr. Jonathan said he gave the approval for the disbursement, following series of complaints by local and international human rights groups on the conditions of barracks which housed the detention camps.
He said he was specifically concerned about a human rights report on the situation of Giwa barracks where some of the suspected Boko Haram detainees were kept.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported exclusively on the Giwa barracks and other detention facilities in Borno from interviews with victims and their families as well as security sources. A Human Rights Watch report also lamented the situation at the barracks.
“They were talking about some conditions in the barracks and because of that, not quite long, I released N1 billion to make sure that they expand the facilities in detention camps, particularly the camp in Giwa Barrack that they complained about.
“Boko Haram faithfuls that are arrested are being detained in some numbers of places and not only Giwa barracks.
“Following complaints that I received, about that particular barrack, I called the Chief of Defence Staff to go and use the army engineers to quickly expand and improve the facilities so that people arrested will live under normal human conditions,’’ he said.
The president also claimed that reports of human rights abuses by the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) were over-blown by the media and most of the reported torture and killings were carried out by the Boko Haram group and not the military.
“The issue of human rights abuses is blown out of proportion. Whenever they have major encounter, Boko Haram destroy at will, they kill at will, some of these destructions that are being ascribed to the Nigerian Army are actually by the Boko Haram sect,’’ he said.
The military has been accused of several human rights abuses in their battle with insurgents, including the killing of scores of civilians in Baga, Borno State. Several hundred homes were also burnt, allegedly by soldiers, in retaliation for the killing of some soldiers by insurgents in the community.
Mr. Jonathan also noted that the state of emergency declared in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States has greatly curbed the excesses of the Boko Haram.
“Before the emergency rule, even Abuja which is at the centre of the country was not safe. You could recall how the world became alarmed when the UN building in Abuja was bombed and even the Police headquarters in Abuja and a military market also were bombed; as well as a popular newspaper house.
“But with the declaration of state of emergency, we have been able to get to a point that our challenges are now in Borno State and Yobe State.
“Even the Adamawa State, the third State that the state of emergency covers, within this period, there are no issues unlike before that there were repeated issues of killings and bombings.
“Though, we are still having this issue of occasional attack, but definitely, the emergency rule has helped,’’ he said.
Mr. Jonathan disclosed that the recent attack by Boko Haram in Maiduguri confirmed that the group has international backing adding that the operations of the sect had gone beyond the local militia group which it was earlier classified.
“Initially, we felt that they were local and as such, some people advocated that because of poverty, these locals carried weapons against the State. So you expect that sophistication will be minimal and you will be able to contain it easily. But looking at the calibre of weapons they have, you will find out that they have gone beyond the local expectation.
“For instance, this last attack in Maiduguri, they came with about 15 to 20 Hilux vehicles and each of them was mounted with two to four rocket launchers. They were over 100 and some of them were carrying assault rifles and other weapons.
“The question then is that, where do they get the weapons?
“Definitely, these weapons cannot come from the locals, they are coming from somewhere,’’ he said, in reference to the attack that led to the damage of five military aircraft by the insurgents.
The President, who said that the government is already working on available clues to unmask the external supporters of the sect, appealed to the international community to assist the government in tracing the sources.
“We believe that a lot of assistance is coming from outside the country.
“We have not been able to pin down the sources and that is why we are talking to our friends that we should collectively work together to get the source of their funding.
“A terror on any part of the world is a terror on all of us because terrorists attack any target and anybody can be a victim,’’ he said.
He, however, noted that government has not foreclosed the option of dialogue with the sect if that would end the insurgency. He added that while government will keep the lines of dialogue open, the military will continue to carry out its operations to protect the lives and properties of the citizens.
On the kidnapping of a French priest in Northern Cameroon and reportedly taken to Nigeria, the President said he was yet to receive a comprehensive report the issue.
The 42-year-old priest, Georges Vandenbeusch, was kidnapped a week ago near Koza, in Northern Cameroon.
“No comprehensive information yet on this. But what we know is that it is quite worrisome that the issue of commercial hostage taking is now a global business.
“Though, we got the information, but I cannot give any categorical statement. But, we know that the tradition of hostage takers is mobility because when they are being tracked, they move,” he said.