The Global Amnesty Watch (GAW) has exonerated the Nigerian government from the alleged use of child soldiers in the counter-insurgency war in the northeaster part of Nigeria.
GAW said the claim by the United States 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report that accused the Civilian JTF of recruiting children in the fight against Boko Haram is false.
Recall that the organisation had vowed to investigate allegations of the use of child soldiers in the counter-terrorism war in the North-Eastern part of the country, saying it categorically contravened the Child Soldier Prohibition Act 2008.
However, after rigorous investigations, the Human Rights and humanitarian organization said the report was not only misleading, but a deliberate attempt to belittle the efforts of the Nigerian military in its fight against insurgency.
Mrs Helen Adesola, the Country’s Representative of Global Amnesty Watch said the instances of underage persons or children being conscripted to fight in the crisis was limited to Boko Haram, which abducts children, brainwash them, ply them with drugs and send them out to fight.
Below is the full report of the investigation.
The United States 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report accused the Civilian JTF of recruiting child fighters and therefore placing minors in hostile environment in contravention of the Child Soldier Prohibition Act, CSPA, 2008. The accusation was expanded to imply that the Nigerian government and military authorities were responsible for recruiting these children even when the vigilante group operates voluntarily.
A likely consequence of this is further unveiling of sanctions and measure against Nigeria that could tilt the balance in favour of terrorists as opposed to safeguarding the wellbeing of the civilian population that had been forced in the past to adopt desperate ploys to stay safe. It became pertinent that far reaching decisions are not taken on the strength of faulty report or flawed research.
The Global Amnesty Watch commissioned an investigation to establish the veracity or otherwise of the US report in line with its stated objective of monitoring and observing adherence to human rights issues in areas with ongoing conflicts. The Global Amnesty Watch has worked in Nigeria’s northeast and has teams of researchers and experts that were dispatched for the assignment.
BACKGROUND (CIVILIAN JTF)
The seven years of Boko Haram terrorists activities have greatly impacted Nigeria especially in the northeast of the country where Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and Bauchi experience the brutality of insurgent. Being the birthplace of the terror group, Borno remain the epicenter that has suffered the harshest form of depravity the group’s fighters have unleashed.
Counter –insurgency efforts were largely ineffective in the period before February 2015 when the start of military operations against Boko Haram were cited as reason for postponing the General Elections by six weeks. Nigeria was faced with arms embargo at about this time which limited the ability of the military and its leadership as constituted then to effectively fight the terrorists.
In the period beginning since 2009, Boko Haram freely attacked villages and communities in and around Borno often sacking entire districts, pillage and burn markets, kill residents and abduct children and women.
In 2013 youths in their thousands “armed with sticks, swords, bows, arrows, and in rare occasions Dane guns” formed vigilante groups to repel Boko Haram attacks. The lose vigilante groups came to be known as Civilian JTF (Joint Task Force).
Over the years, the Civilian JTF has contributed to the counter-insurgency war by deploying their knowledge of the terrain and familiarity with the locality to hunt down Boko Haram suspect, apprehend them and hand them over to security agencies.
The state government has streamlined the activities of the group through screening, training and absorbing some of them into state employment schemes. It must be emphasized that none of these schemes is opened to minors and in most cases those that got these assignments are above 24 years of age.
The Global Amnesty Watch investigated the allegations of the recruitment and use of children or underage persons as fighters in by the Civilian JTF using various methodologies to ensure that all possible areas are covered. These include:
Content analysis of records to which members of the Civilian JTF are subscribed.
Content analysis of media reports of the activities of Civilian JTF. Review of field reports from Global Amnesty Watch researchers and experts. Witness interviews.
Content Analysis of Records:
The Borno State Government has carried out intervention programmes like empowerment schemes and training for members of the Civilian JTF. These programmes required them to register and provide personal details that include Date of Birth (DoB). These details are available in record archives of the state.
The finding from analyzing these records is that even when the 2013 formation year of Civilian JTF is factored in the DoBs on record showed that those that were captured were of age, being older than 18 years old at the time of joining the group. Other information like educational level support this fact because many of them being at holders of at least a basic diploma of having completed one form of apprenticeship or the other post-secondary school, were well past the minimum age before becoming part of the Civilian JTF.
Content Analysis of Media Reports:
A review of media report indicated that this is not the first time that the Civilian JTF has been accused of recruiting child fighters in their war against Boko Haram. A pattern was however established that showed that each time such reports are issued and Civil Society Organizations question them the authors were usually unable to defend their claims and in many instances simply disappear such that nothing is heard from their claims again.
The claim that Civilian JTF are using child fighters is usually given weight by tying it to the forced recruitment of abducted children as Boko Haram fighters by the terrorists. This strategy simply globalize the forced engagement of children in the war without zeroing down on the party that is primarily responsible for the act, which makes it possible to blame the Civilian JTF for the atrocities committed by Boko Haram.
Publish potographs and videos were also reviewed, which raised the prospect that the victory gatherings that follow successful operations against Boko Haram could have been misconstrued since children would usually mix up with Civilian JTF members in the course of Civilian JTF members in the course of cheering them on the streets. No video or photographic evidence were found of minors engaging Boko Haram fighters.
Review of Field Reports:
Experts working for Global Amnesty Watch had undertaken several field investigations and reports in the number of years that the organization has been working in tracking human rights issues in the counter-terrorism operations against Boko Haram in the northeast of Nigeria.
The use of minors has been a red flag that our experts and researchers look out for in the course of gathering information. These reports have been reviewed to collate secondary data on the use of child soldiers. The instances of underage persons or children being conscripted to fight in the crisis was limited to Boko Haram, which abducts children, brainwash them, ply them with drugs and send them out to fight.
The Global Amnesty Watch sent researchers to conduct interviews that span across the Civilian JTF’s chain of command – vertically and horizontally. The questionnaire included items that interrogated the age at which the witness joined the Civilian JTF, if they knew of any child that was recruited as part of their batch at the point of joining the vigilante group, whether joining the group was mandatory or voluntary, and whether members are forced to remain in the Civilian JTF against their will.
Researchers interviewed 148 respondents between the ages of 21 and 45. It was discovered that the persons of the lower age (21 –24) had wanted to join the fight against Boko Haram since the formation of the vigilante group but were constrained to wait until they are older. Those that were older then 24 years old were able to join the group right from when it was formed. From the responses, membership of Civilian JTF is not forced so those that joined are able to live at their choosing.
Consistent with the poverty that was blamed for fueling the insurgency, some of the persons in the Civilian JTF might have had stunted growth as children which could account for the difficulty in placing their age by mere visual appraisal.
Boko Haram was and is still solely responsible for the use of child fighters. Since neither the Civilian JTF or a larger number of Boko Haram fighters wear uniforms, the likelihood is high that children compelled to fight by the terrorists could have been counted on the side of the Civilian JTF.
There was no case of the use of child fighters established against the Civilian JTF, whose members rather fight to protect women and children from terrorists attacks.
Accusations of engaging child fighters is not new and are often repeated from time to time even when there has never been any proof to continue repeating the claim.
Its status as a loose assemblage of vigilante groups makes the Civilian JTF lack the capacity to counter the allegations of using child fighters, which raises the prospect that it is being targeted for other reasons other than stated by the organizations making the allegations.
This report found allegation that the Civilian JTF recruited children as fighters to be an outright falsehood, and lies that mark a descent to an unacceptable low for any reputable organization or entity to make.
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