Nigerian army says It freed 236 possible Boko Haram captives - 131 of them are children

In addition to an economy battered by falling oil prices, Nigeria is also now facing the rise of violence in more parts of the country

THE Nigerian army said it rescued 236 people who may have been hostages of the Islamist militant group, Boko Haram, in the northeastern state of Borno.

Those picked up by the army include 131 children and are being screened to ensure they aren’t members of Boko Haram before they’re moved to camps for internally displaced people, army spokesman Sani Usman said in a statement. The security forces killed five suspected insurgents in the rescue operation, he said. Boko Haram has been fighting since 2009 to impose its own version of Islamic law in Nigeria.

The news came as President Muhammadu Buhari marked his first year in office. In addition to an economy battered by falling oil prices, Nigeria is also now facing the rise of violence in other parts of the country, which had been peaceful in recent years.

Trouble in the south

A separatist group campaigning for independence in the country’s southeast said troops killed more than 40 unarmed protesters on Monday in the city of Onitsha.

Supporters of the Indigenous People of Biafra who turned out in large numbers to mark the anniversary of the failed declaration of the Biafra Republic on May 30, 1967, were fired upon by security forces, IPOB said in a report on its website. 

Okechukwu Ali, the police spokesman in Anambra state, which covers Onitsha, said by phone he was unable to confirm the figures. “We struggled to ward off surging youths as hoodlums unleashed mayhem,” he said. 

 Africa’s most populous country fought a 30-month civil war from 1967 to 1970 after the  oil-rich southeastern region tried to break off and create the independent state of Biafra. As many as three million people are believed to have died in the war, which was prompted by a 1966 coup led mainly by ethnic Igbo officers against a government dominated by northern Muslims. 

That led to a revenge coup six months later and the massacre of tens of thousands of Igbos across northern Nigeria. Groups including IPOB and Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra renewed campaigns for the region’s independence after Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim, won presidential elections last year. IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu was detained by the state security police in October on allegations of committing treasonable offenses.

MEND attacks

In addition, in recent weeks rebels from the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) have staged attack on oil facilities responsibility and gas pipelines, compounding an electricity bad energy supply situation.

In early May, there was an attack on the Okan offshore facility operated by US oil major Chevron. Some 35,000 bpd of crude was lost, although some estimates have put the loss higher. 

 In February, Anglo-Dutch giant Shell declared “force majeure” after an attack on a pipeline feeding the Forcados terminal, which typically exports about 200,000 barrels a day. It is expected to resume sometime this month.

The renewed violence comes after Buhari began a crackdown on endemic corruption in the sector and rampant oil theft. 

The government has also said it would wind up an amnesty programme, which was introduced in 2009 and saw thousands of rebels swap violence for monthly training and education stipends. 

The upsurge in attacks since January has also been linked to multi-million-dollar corruption charges brought against Government Ekpemupolo, a former rebel leader nicknamed Tompolo.  He is accused of defrauding the government of some $225 million. The NDA is thought to contain his supporters although he has denied any links to the group.

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