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Thousands of people still in Boko Haram captivity- Victim

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•CDS commits to minimise civilian harm in conflict situations

•Stakeholders work towards adoption of national policy of protection of civilians in conflict situation

Jude Johnson

The ex-victim of Boko Haram abductions, Mrs. Amina Mohammed, has appealed to the federal government, Nigerian military and security agencies to help free hundreds of thousands of people still being held hostage by the terrorists.

This is as the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen. Abayomi Olonisakin declared the military’s readiness to further strengthen its approach to minimising civilian harm in conflict situations.

She made this call on Thursday in Abuja at a-one day workshop on the ‘Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Situations Towards a National Policy’, organised by the Centre for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) in collaboration with African Centre for Strategic Studies (ACSS).

Mohammed who has since regained her freedom narrated her harrowing experience at the hands of the terrorists who held her captive for almost two years.

She said that most of the hostages are afraid to come out or run away whenever opportunity presents itself because of possible reprisal attacks from the Boko Haram.

“We tried to escape many times but on several occasions, Boko Haram will still recapture us warning that we would never go beyond their reach. There was a particular time we managed to ran inside a military vehicle at the heat of the battle and yet they were able to drag us back. Luckily we managed to escape to Konduga where one Mallam accommodated and treated us for over a month before we were finally handed over to the military and on to the NYSC IDP Camp in Maiduguri.

“There are hundreds of thousands who are afraid to escape because Boko Haram has brainwashed them to believe they will always be recaptured. So I am appealing to the military to help rescue hundreds of thousands who are still in captivity,” she said through an interpreter.

According information provided by CIVIC and ACSS, Mohammed was born in Damboa Local Government Area (LGA) of Borno State. She is married with two children. She was taken away by Boko Haram during the attack in Damboa in 2014. She was held in captivity for one year and eight months until 2016 “when Amina and her friends escaped through Konduga LGA. Amina’s husband was killed by Boko Haram and since then she has been living in Maiduguri with her children at the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) Camp”.

She also revealed that while in the IDP Camp, hunger is the order of the day as they can go for almost a month without proper meal.

Meanwhile, the CDS Gen. Abayomi Olonisakin, has promised to strengthen military efforts towards protection of civilians and civilian harm mitigation in conflict areas in Nigeria.

Olonisakin who was represented by the Chief of Civil-Military Relations, Defence Headquarters (DHQ), Rear Admiral Stanford Enoch, said that the present draft of nation’s policy on protection of civilians and civilian harm mitigation is fully consistent with the military’s commitments and obligations under Nigerian and international laws.

According to him, “the national security strategy identifies the security and welfare of the Nigerian people as a core national interest”.

The CDS noted that the preventing and countering violent extremism framework states that respect for human rights must be prioritised, and recognises that grievances linked to abuses contribute to the spread of violent extremism.”

He said: “Indeed, effective protection of civilians is integral to the mission and crucial to the professional, disciplined reputation of Nigerian armed forces. As we strive to confront myriad security challenges, we stand ready to further strengthen our approach to minimising civilian harm through training, guidance and careful operational planning; investigating all reports of harm; and acknowledging and assisting those affected when it does occur.”

He reaffirmed federal government and the armed forces commitment to the protection of civilians in all security operations and recognised the value of developing a clear national policy on this.

Also, the President of ACSS, Maj-Gen. Shehu Yusuf (rtd), recalled that the National Policy on Protection of Civilians and Civilian Harm Mitigation was drafted in November 2016 in consultation with the federal government.

Yusuf noted that the policy was intended to guide key ministries whose portfolios touch on human rights, security operations and the protection of civilians.

The policy, he said, sets forth the federal government’s approach to reducing incidental harm, investigating allegations of harm and appropriately acknowledging harm with a view to assisting affected civilians.

Against this backdrop, the immediate past General Officer Commanding (GOC), 7 Division Nigerian Army, Maj-Gen. Ibrahim Yusuf, called for building of trust between the civil population and the security agencies to help free hundreds of thousands of people still held hostage.

Yusuf, who is currently the Executive Director Nigerian Army Consult at Army Resource Centre, also narrated the challenges being faced by the military in the protection of civilians in armed conflict situations in the North East.

He further called for trust building between the military and humanitarian agencies working in the conflict zones of the country.

Also, the stakeholders at the end of the workshop called for the formal adoption of the draft “Policy on Protection of Civilians And Civilian Harm Mitigation” in Nigeria.

The Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Mr. Anthony Ojukwu, who gave a wrap up of the discussions on the issue called for the buy-in of relevant government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

Ojukwu in agreement with the views of other stakeholders called for effective advocacy and sensitization efforts in driving the policy towards adoption by enlisting the support of key MDAs like the Ministries of Defence, Interior and Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) among others.

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