Some 250 people who were arrested and held on suspicion of links to Boko Haram Islamists have been released and given $10, Nigeria’s army said on Monday.
“Yesterday (Sunday), a total of 249 cleared suspected Boko Haram terrorists and accomplices were released… as approved by the chief of army staff in Maiduguri,” said army spokesman Sani Usman. Colonel Usman said in a statement that those released included 169 men, 46 women and 34 children.
They were handed over to the Borno state government in northeast Nigeria and told “to remain law-abiding and go about their lawful business”, he added.
“Each of them was given a token of N3,000 (naira, $10.4, 9.4 euros),” he said. It was not stated how long they were all held in custody.
Most of those held were from Borno, epicentre of the violence that has claimed at least 20,000 lives and made more than 2.6 million homeless since 2009.
But one came from Lagos, 1,200 kilometres (760 miles) away in the southwest, and two from neighbouring Cameroon.
Nigeria’s military has been repeatedly criticised for the arbitrary detention of civilians during the seven-year Boko Haram insurgency in the remote region.
Human rights groups have accused the army of keeping suspects in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions and have said many have died from disease, hunger, dehydration and injury.
In May this year, Amnesty International called for one military detention facility in Maiduguri to be shut down after nearly 150 people, among them babies and children, died in custody.
Troops have also been accused of carrying out torture and summary executions.
Security analysts say arbitrary detention has robbed the military of key on-the-ground intelligence from local people as sweeping arrests have led to hostility and resentment.
In February, 275 detainees were freed, including 50 children. Amnesty said none had been brought before a court or allowed access to lawyers while in detention.