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Amnesty International Calls for Release of More Military Detainees in NE Nigeria

Hundreds of military detainees released this month in Nigeria’s Borno state are trying to settle back into camps and their communities. But rights group Amnesty International is calling on Nigerian authorities to free hundreds more it says have been held for years without trial.

Musa Adamu was working on a farm in Monguno, Borno state, in May 2017, when he said he and many other farmers in the nearby village of Gwoza were picked up by the military and labeled as members of the Islamic militant group Boko Haram.

Adamu said they were first detained at a military barrack and later transferred to the maximum-security prison in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital, where they were held for more than four years without trial.

"We are usually given one sachet of water each to last us for three days. We suffered. Food was not easy to come by," he said.

Adamu is one of the hundreds freed by Nigerian military authorities this month after increased calls by rights groups. Among them was the Knifar Women, a coalition of displaced women campaigning for the release of their husbands and sons from military detention.

The group has been assembling informally since 2012, but their voices gained more recognition after Hamzatu Alamin, a popular human rights activist, founded a non-governmental organization in 2017 to help amplify complaints their sons or husbands disappeared following military raids.

She said at least 6,000 mothers have come forward to register their missing sons and thousands of others say their husbands are missing.

"They now started speaking confidently. In fact, we supported them to write petitions and then hand over those petitions. We have made a database of the missing and the disappeared. We have about 6,400 of the mother's whose sons were missing and then for the Knifar Women whose husbands were missing, we have over 7,000 of them," said Alamin.

The Nigerian military too often has been accused by rights groups of profiling and unlawful arrests of citizens perceived to be members of Boko Haram.

Alamin said through their advocacy, the military is changing tactics and becoming more careful.

In July, the Nigerian army freed 1,009 Boko Haram suspects after profiling and acquitted them of any involvement with the armed group. Alamin said years of advocacy are paying off.

"Eventually the military has responded, they're releasing them bit by bit and then those in prison also are being released. Eventually our relationship became very, very good," she said.

While Amnesty International praised authorities for the release of the detainees, spokesperson Seun Bakare said many more face uncertain futures in various military camps.

"We are aware that hundreds more are still in unlawful detention, and they've never stood trial and they're actually being illegally detained. And of course, we know that this situation puts their lives in danger," said Bakare.

Musa Adamu is yet to reunite with his long-separated family seeking shelter at a separate camp. He wants to get back to work so he can send his children to school.

For Alamin and the Knifar Women, the struggle to free more men will continue.