…say soldiers, civilian JTF trade sex for food
‘We are silent witnesses of immense suffering’
Some women in Borno State have accused soldiers fighting terrorists of arresting their husbands and children after tagging them Boko Haram members.
According to them, 1,269 people, who are either their children or husbands, are being held in military detention facilities across the state after being tagged Boko Haram members. The about 1,300 women, who petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari, also accused members of the Armed Forces of raping some of them and forcing them to trade sex for food in camps. In the four-page petition dated March 1, the displaced women said they were not allowed to leave the camps and not given enough food but instead asked to pay for extra food.
They said: “When we did not have anything left, they asked for sex.” According to the petitioners, who are mostly wives or mothers of Boko Haram suspects languishing in military detention centres across the state, young women are forced to have sex with members of the Civilian-Joint Task Force (CJTF) and soldiers to be able to feed their children.
But the spokesman for the military at the Theatre Command Headquarters of the Operation Lafiya Dole, Col. Onyema Nwachukwu, denied the allegations which he described as unfounded and a calculated attempt to dampen the morale of soldiers.
However, in their petition, the women, under the aegis of Knifa Movement, called on the Federal Government to free their husbands who, according to them, were wrongly arrested and detained.
While promising to participate in investigation of the terrorists, the women claimed that the military was sending Boko Haram members held at Operation Safe Corridor in Gombe State to their communities.
They wrote: “How can those criminals who killed and raped our people be allowed to live among us again, while our husbands, who are innocent, are still being detained. “We want to offer our best cooperation to prosecute the real Boko Haram members. But no one has asked us for our statement on what happened in the past years. We are pleading with you to give all victims of these conflicts the opportunity to testify before a court of law.”
According to them, their husbands and children were arrested between July and December 2015 and had since been in detention at Giwa barracks detention centre and the Maiduguri Maximum Security Prisons.
According to Premium Times, the displaced women from Bama Local Government Area claimed that apart from the psychological trauma they suffered owing to the long absence of their husbands, the military kept them in locked camps where they and their daughters were forced to trade sex for food.
Wondering why their husbands and children were kept for such a long time without trial, the women claimed they were starved and forced to sleep with soldiers in exchange for food. The petition reads in part: “Our story is a story of suffering.
In 2015 and 2016, we were kept in the horrific conditions in Bama Hospital camp, which was at that time run by the military and CJTF. We were not allowed to leave the camp and were not given enough food but instead, asked to pay for extra food.
First, we sold our jewellery. Then we sold our clothes. When we didn’t have anything left, they asked for sex.
“Young women were to have sex with the Civilian- JTF members and soldiers to be able to feed their children. Rape by the Civilian- JTF and soldiers were rampant.
“We were starved and forced to give our bodies in exchange for food. We saw our children die and there was nothing we could do. Hundreds of people lost their lives in Bama Hospital camp – we in our group alone know 799 people who died. We were the silent witnesses of immense suffering.
“In the last months, many of us have gone out of the camps to farm and collect firewood to earn a living. But there have been several attacks by Boko Haram nearby. One of our members lost her husband who went out to collect firewood. He had been released from the Giwa Barracks some months ago. We are scared to go out of the camp but we do need to eat.
“Most of us lived with Boko Haram for months and we know what they we are capable of. They killed our relatives, abducted our sons, raped our daughters. We consider ourselves lucky that we came out alive. Living under Boko Haram was hell.”
But Nwachukwu said those in military detention were real terrorists
He said: “We don’t keep people’s relatives in custody; those that we have in custody are terrorism or insurgency suspects. “If anyone is not culpable after our investigation, they are released. But those who have been found to have either actively or passively participated in terrorism activities by bearing arms or providing other forms of supports to aid terrorism and insurgency are those in custody and would be prosecuted.”
Nwachukwu urged the women to appropriately channel their demand to the Federal Ministry of Justice. He added: “Trial of suspects lies with the judiciary and I believe that they are handling it accordingly. We are all aware that the Fed eral Government had instituted some special courts to try the suspects. It is not our responsibility to try any of them.
But if somebody is found wanting after our investigations, it is not our duty to pronounced him guilty or not guilty. But we tender our reports as the case may be to those that will be prosecuting them.
The spokesman also said it was not the military which was responsible for the women’s suffering. He said: “The public must know that it was not Operation Lafiya Dole that initiated that suffering.
“In as much as we sympathise with their unfortunate situation, their misfortune was not orchestrated by the Operation Lafiya Dole troops; rather it was by Boko Haram terrorists who had been killing, and abducting their children; using their men and kids as foot soldiers, burning their houses.
“We have been the ones paying the price to protect these women and their families. We are the ones that have been at the forefront to ensure their safety, at the expense of our own lives. We have gone out of our line of duty to provide aid support to these people. We have opened schools in the camps to ensure that their children whose schools were burnt down and denied access to learning get educated. Our soldiers teach them in the schools in camps! We have brought measurable succour to these people.
We have carried out several medical outreaches to help them remain healthy. “So they should not see us as their adversary; they should face the issue squarely, Boko Haram is their enemy and a common enemy.”
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