Original article by Kingsley Nwezeh
Three orphans born to Nigerian Islamic State fighters were handed over to Nigerian officials in northeast Syria on Friday, the first repatriation of children of Africans who travelled to join ISIS.
This is coming as the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai weekend charged officers and men of the Nigerian Army to avoid being on the wrong side of the law by adhering to the army code of conduct in its operations.
Some western nations have repatriated children or female ISIS members from Syria.
They include Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Uzbekistan, and the United States, but others, such as the United Kingdom, have refused.
The Nigerian children, aged eight, six and four, were handed over in Qamishli to Musa Habib Marika, a representative from the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday, the Syria-based Rojava Information Centre said.
A United States-based publication, The Defence Post, reported that a Nigerian foreign ministry delegation visited the autonomous region of North and East Syria on Tuesday, where they met with the co-chairs of Department of Foreign Affairs, Abdulkarim Omar and Emel Dada, as well as the chair of the Women’s Committee, Cihan Xidro.
At the meeting, the Nigerian delegation requested the handing over of the three Nigerian orphans, all from the same family, whose parents had joined ISIS.
Though the name of the family was not mentioned, the report cited the Rojava Information Centre (RIC) as saying it was the first such repatriation to an African country.
Marika had requested for the names of all Nigerian citizens in prisons and camps in northeast Syria, ANHA reported.
Marika was said to have declared that Nigeria would only agree to repatriate women and children.
“Nigeria is also affected by the same thing, Boko Haram. We are also fighting them. The Nigerian government is against ISIS everywhere. Whatever they (Syria) decide to do to fight ISIS, for example, the international court, of course we support that,” Marika reportedly said.
There is currently no information available on how many Nigerians are in North and East Syria, the RIC said.
The publication recalled that the US-led Coalition against Islamic State and Syrian Democratic Forces announced the recapture of ISIS caliphate in March after a gruelling months-long battle for the last territory along the Euphrates river in eastern Syria.
Thousands of women and children believed to be ISIS adherents and their children remain in detention by the authorities of the Autonomous Region of North and East Syria.
Despite the loss of its territory in Iraq and Syria, ISIS remains active in both, and has affiliates in Asia and Africa, including Nigeria.
A faction of Boko Haram – which has been active in Nigeria as a violent jihadist group since 2009 – pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2015, becoming the group’s West Africa Province.
ISWAP is one of ISIS’s most deadly branches, regularly attacking military targets in northeast Nigeria and neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, the report said.
When contacted, Spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Ferdinand Nwonye, said the ministry was yet to receive any report on the repatriation of the orphans.
“We have not received any official report on the repatriation from them, so we have no official reaction. Our Embassy in Syria has been moved to Lebanon”, he said.
Son of former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Ibrahim Uwais, had joined the terrorist group in Syria with his two wives and children in 2015.
His secret movement triggered a bedlam in security circles, which discovered to their chagrin through further investigations that many Nigerians were making secret trips to join the group in Syria.
Ibrahim Uwais and his wives were later killed by US-led air strikes targeting ISIS camps in Aleppo, Syria.
It was not clear whether the orphaned children belong to Ibrahim Uwais.
Meanwhile, the Chief of Army Staff Lt General Tukur Buratai, weekend charged officers and men of the Nigerian Army to avoid being on the wrong side of the law and adhered to the army code of conduct in its operations.
Buratai, represented by the Chief of Policy and Plans Army, Lt. Gen Lamidi Adeosun, at an army physical exercise in Abuja, urged troops to be disciplined.
“We should not forget our calling as officers and soldiers. Discipline is the watchword. Anything we do without discipline will not only rubbish whatever we are as individuals, body or as an institution, so we keep up our discipline, dedication, regimentation and physical wellbeing to face our duties seriously as expected of us,” he stated.
He also called on soldiers to maintain the integrity, image and reputation of the Nigerian Army.
Buratai had last week warned that soldiers found culpable in the shooting of policemen in Taraba State would be decisively dealt with.
In a related development, insurgents have ramped up attacks on military positions in the North-east in the past two weeks, killing 19 soldiers.
The attacks also elicited fierce response from the troops resulting in the death of many insurgents and recovery of weapons. The Nigerian Air Force had also within the period pounded terrorist positions, killing scores of insurgents while the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) destroyed some gun trucks belonging to the Islamic State in West African Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram.
The insurgents have in the past two weeks attacked Gubio, Magumeri and Gajiram Local Government Areas. They have also attacked Monguno and Kumuya village as well as other military bases in the state.
ISWAP had claimed in a release last week that it killed 10 soldiers of the Nigerian Army and injured many others in Gamjira in the Lake Chad area last week. The Nigerian Army Headquarters has not reacted to the claim.
Boko Haram had penultimate week killed eight soldiers in Gubio and Magumeri Local Government Areas during an attack on military bases located there but the Nigerian Army in a statement admitted that only three soldiers were killed.
The group had last week opened fire on the convoy of outspoken Governor of Borno State, Prof. Babagana Zullum.
The governor had been critical of the super camp war strategy adopted by the military in the state. He said rather than protect the people, the concept had opened up communities for attacks by insurgents following withdrawal of troops in the Gubio and Magumeri.
Community leaders had also written President Muhammadu Buhari expressing loss of confidence in the military’s ability to contain the insurgents, a situation that drew the ire of Defence Headquarters (DHQ), who claimed that the military had liberated many communities in the state and chased the terrorists to the fringes of Lake Chad.
Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magashi (rtd), had during a tour of military formations in the North-east, said the military liberated 22 local government areas of the state since 2015.
Gajiram, 70 kilometers from Maiduguri, the state capital, has been an epicenter of repeated attacks by ISWAP since June, killing 12 soldiers and burning military vehicles though military sources said over 15 soldiers were killed in an encounter with the group in June.
The insurgents attacked the town some days later, killing four more people, abducting 21 women and carted away military vehicles.
“In one of the attacks by ISWAP, many soldiers were killed, military vehicles including some mine resistant vehicles were burnt while some were carted away. They burnt several police stations on that day and killed many civilians,” a military source told THISDAY.