As part of its National Army Day, Nigeria released 182 prisoners Monday–men, women, and children, all suspected of having ties to the radical jihadist group Boko Haram. Military officials confirmed that they were released in northeastern Borno state, birthplace of Boko Haram, and that they had been cleared of wrongdoing.
The prisoners, notes SaharaReports, were being held in Borno’s capital, Maiduguri, and released to Borno state, meaning they were no longer under control of the military, but of civilian law enforcement. The report identifies the group as “40 boys, 24 women, and 18 children,” as well as about 100 men.
In addition to celebrating with the release of cleared prisoners, the army opened a new military center in the northeast, as part of a campaign promise made by President Muhammadu Buhari to relocate the intelligence centers of the military to Borno in an attempt to focus entirely on eradicating Boko Haram. Ceremonies awarding Purple Hearts to soldiers who have engaged Boko Haram in gunfights and free medical treatment were also on the schedule.
Nigeria’s Daily Post received a confirmation from Lt. Gen Kenneth Minimah, Nigeria’s chief of Army Staff, that the military had declared that the freed prisoners were not a threat to the safety of civilians. “They have been thoroughly investigated and acquitted of any involvement in the activities of Boko Haram,” he told the newspaper, adding that the military has “decided to hand them over to the Borno state government.”
While Buhari gained election to the presidency with a campaign vowing the swift eradication of the terrorist group, Boko Haram has orchestrated an increasing number of attacks in the past two weeks, taking advantage of the holy month of Ramadan to exploit highly populated mosques and blow them up. On Monday, more than 60 people were killed as Boko Haram bombed a mosque during services provided by an Islamic cleric with a reputation for moderate, anti-Islamist sermons, as well as twin suicide bombings in the city of Jos.
In addition to bombings, Boko Haram jihadists have razed numerous villages in the northeast. Last week, an estimated 148 people were killed in Kukawa, a village now almost entirely razed to the ground.
A senior adviser to President Buhari told the BBC last week that the Nigerian government “can’t rule out” negotiating with Boko Haram if an opportunity arises. “If they were willing, why not?” said adviser Femi Adesina, warning that previous attempts to negotiate with the terrorist group had failed, thus making the government more wary of such attempts. Since the last negotiations, which occurred in 2014, Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to Islamic State terrorist head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and renamed itself the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). This would likely change the dynamic of any negotiation attempts.