Chris Steven, Abuja
An international human rights group, Global Amnesty Watch (GAW) says the United States government report on alleged use of child soldiers as Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF) in the anti-terrorism war in Nigeria’s Northeast is a false exaggeration of the situation
The group said it arrived at such conclusion after carrying out an independent investigation of the allegation.
It noted that its investigation revealed that the Civilian JTF operates independently and voluntarily, despite the impression created by the US report about the complicity of the Nigerian government on the issue.
Addressing journalists in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, Helen Adesola, Country Representative of Global Amnesty Watch Nigeria, said investigation revealed that in 2013 youths in their thousands who were tired of the incessant attacks on their villages by the ravaging Boko Haram terrorists decided to arm themselves with sticks, swords, bows, arrows, and in rare occasions dane guns and formed vigilante groups to repel Boko Haram attacks.
She said, “The loose vigilante groups came to be known as Civilian JTF (Joint Task Force).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 supports this fact because many of them being 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.”
She said the US government and other world powers who deliberately denied in the Nigerian military access to military hardware in the height of the Boko Haram crisis, should feel obliged to render unreserved apologies to the families of the innocent Nigerians who were killed by the terrorists.
According to her, 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.