The Herald (South Africa)

Kidnapper jailed for 15 years

Boko Haram recruit confesses to helping in abduction of Nigerian schoolgirl­s

- Aminu Abubakar and Ola Awoniyi

AMAN involved in the 2014 kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirl­s from Chibok in northeast Nigeria has been jailed for 15 years, the government confirmed yesterday.

The conviction of Haruna Yahaya, 35, is the first in relation to the mass abduction, which triggered global outrage and sparked a worldwide campaign for the girls’ release.

In all, 276 pupils were seized from the Government Girls Secondary School in the remote town in the state of Borno on April 14 2014.

Fifty-seven escaped in the immediate aftermath. Since May 2016, a further 107 have escaped, been found or released after government talks with the jihadists, leaving 112 still in captivity. Justice ministry spokesman Salihu Isah said Yahaya had admitted to being involved when he appeared at a special court trying hundreds of Boko Haram suspects on Monday.

Nigeria began prosecutin­g people arrested during the insurgency in October, starting with 1 669 suspects held at a military detention facility in Kainji, in the central state of Niger.

Isah confirmed Yahaya’s conviction and sentence.

“Haruna Yahaya, who is 35 and handicappe­d with a paralysed arm and a deformed leg, was arrested in 2015 by the Civilian JTF,” he said, referring to the joint task force militia.

“He confessed to having taken part in the abduction.”

Isah said Yahaya’s defence lawyer had pleaded for leniency on the grounds that he was forcibly conscripte­d into the group and had acted under duress.

Yahaya was previously a trader in the town of Potiskum, in Yobe, northeast Nigeria. He claimed he was forced to carry an AK47 assault rifle during the Chibok abduction.

Boko Haram has used kidnapping as a weapon of war in its quest to establish a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria, seizing thousands of women, young girls and men of fighting age.

“But the court dismissed his plea on the grounds that he had the option not to take part in Boko Haram activities. His sentence starts from the time of conviction,” Isah said.

Yan St-Pierre, a counter-terrorism specialist with the Modern Security Consulting Group, said: “Involvemen­t with Boko Haram is not necessaril­y voluntary. But it’s very difficult to prove.”

The presence of young boys in the Islamist ranks was an indication of coercion but others in the impoverish­ed region might become involved for financial reasons, he said.

A total of 468 of the 1 669 Boko Haram suspects held at Kainji were released last year after it was found they had no case to answer.

Forty-five others were sentenced to between two and 15 years in jail, and 28 had their cases transferre­d.

A further 82 pleaded guilty in exchange for a lesser prison sentence or release taking into account time served in custody.

On Monday, 19 defendants were jailed for between three and five years, Isah said.

Once the cases at Kainji are finished, the courts will move to Iwa barracks in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, to try 651 others held there.

Boko Haram has also targeted Chad, Cameroon and Niger, where fighters have been prosecuted behind closed doors. Niger is looking to introduce deradicali­sation and reintegrat­ion schemes.

Nigeria’s government initially banned the media and public from attending the trials, sparking criticism from the UN and human rights groups.

But the second phase of proceeding­s at the remote military base have now been opened to some civil society groups, including human rights organisati­ons and the media.

Nearly nine years of conflict have left at least 20 000 dead and forced 2.6 million others from their homes, triggering a humanitari­an crisis across the region.

Nigeria’s military has been accused of arbitraril­y arresting civilians and holding them for years on end without access to lawyers.

Conditions have been described as overcrowde­d and unsanitary, while detainees have allegedly been tortured, died from illness or disease or summarily executed.

St-Pierre said questions remained about the reliabilit­y of Nigeria’s justice system. “One trial is not going to change years of abuse,” he said.

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