New hostage release marks turning point in Nigerian army's war against Boko Haram

Nigerian soldiers patrol the north of Nigeria to snuff out Boko Haram militants.
Nigerian soldiers patrol the north of Nigeria to snuff out Boko Haram militants. AFP

The Nigerian army has freed 234 more women and girls from Boko Haram's stronghold in Sambisa forest, bringing the total number of hostages released to 700. About 500 women and children have already been rescued in the past few days   but not the missing Chibok girls   marking a revival of fortunes for the military.


More hostages have been freed in the past few weeks than they have in the six years of the Boko Haram insurgency, leading many observers to question why.

"It's thanks to a three-pronged approach," Nigeria army spokesman Colonel Sani Usman told RFI on Saturday. "Not only has the military received vital equipment, but we now have the support of the Nigerian people, who have given us valuable information to track down the insurgents. Finally the backing of our regional partners cannot be underestimated."'

Important as the assistance from Chad and Niger may be, this week's rescue operations were not down to them but to Nigerian troops, originally criticised for their inaction.

Getting the Nigerian people on their side seems to have made the difference in their being able to finally curb Boko Haram fighters. That is a reality which a few months back would have been unlikely given the military's appalling human rights record in the north-east.

The imminent arrival of President-elect General Muhammadu Buhari, who takes office on 29 May, appears to have ushered in a new sense of confidence. The former military strongman has effectively vowed to crush the Muslim extremists.

But as the assault on Boko Haram's stronghold in Sambisa forest continues, with the likelihood of more victims being released, activists are calling for adequate treatment to be put in place to deal with cases of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"It's really important that the victims receive immediate support from a medical and psychological point of view," Geneviève Garrigos, president of Amnesty International in France, told RFI. "Yet in the past, hostages have been detained for weeks on the grounds of security."

The military is still carrying out screening checks on the hostages released, as pressure mounts to find the missing Chibok girls who were abducted by Boko Haram in April last year. But so far there has been no confirmation that the women found are the Chibok girls.

Some local observers however have hit out at the lack of attention accorded to other missing victims.

"All along the world has been focusing on just a minimum number of 250 girls," said Hamsatu Allamin from the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme. "But hundreds of women and girls were abducted from Borno and another three states in the first three years and nobody talks about it."

Amnesty International estimates that at least 2,000 women and girls have been abducted by Boko Haram since the start of 2014.

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