The nightmare of some young Nigerians who fled the fighting in war-torn Central African Republic (CAR) is much worse now after Nigerian State Security Service (SSS) officials arrested them for allegedly belonging to the violent militant Islamic group Boko Haram. But the Nigerian security officials have denied the allegation.
The detainees, most of whom are said to be between the ages of 18 and 27 and hail from the Nigerian northeastern town of Maiduguri, Borno State (seat of the Islamist Boko Haram sect), were part of over 1,350 Nigerians whom the government evacuated from CAR on January 8, 2014 as sectarian violence left hundreds of central Africans dead in the landlocked country in the last two months.
The arrest of the returnees came shortly after President Goodluck Jonathan, in a state broadcast, told Nigerians that his administration was poised to wipe out any trace of the deadly group in the country.
Iroko Magazine gathered that SSS agents arrested the Boko Haram suspects as they alighted from the aircraft at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. A source said as the returnees disembarked from the plane, they were separated from the rest and later whisked off to the SSS headquarters in Abuja.
Admitting the detention of the returnees in an interview with journalists in Maiduguri, some family members corroborated another source by alleging that the suspects were being subjected to torture by the security as a way of extracting information from them and getting them make confessions during their investigation.
“The way they are going about it, I don’t think these young men could be useful to themselves if they are through with them,” the source said.
The relations said they did not know the intention of the SSS when they separated the returnees from the others and later moved them to the SSS office, adding that they had no further news about their arrested relatives, except the fact that they were being held as Boko Haram suspects.
Contacted for comment about the story by Daily Trust, a northern Nigerian daily newspaper based in Abuja, SSS spokesperson Marilyn Ogar refuted the allegation, simply saying in a text message that, “It is not true pls.”
It is worth noting that over 4,000 Nigerians are estimated to be living in CAR, many of them involved in the mining of gold and diamond. Most of them have been there from childhood or were born there such that they speak little or no English or their mother tongue, except broken French.