The president said those reportedly fleeing to Niger are not Nigerians.
Dozens of youth in northeast states, seeking out and handing over Boko Haram insurgents to soldiers, are “new national heroes” whose collaboration with the military, enforcing emergency rule in the area, has proven critics of the operation “clueless”, President Goodluck Jonathan said Sunday.
Mr. Jonathan denied mostly foreign media reports that thousands of Nigerians were fleeing to Niger, to escape harsh tactics by soldiers sent into Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states under the emergency rule he declared a month ago.
“The bulk” of those displaced to neighbouring Niger, are nationals of that country who are simply retuning home, the president claimed in a statement by his spokesperson, Doyin Okupe, on Sunday.
“Also contrary to a report in some media that 8,000 Nigerians were fleeing to Niger Republic as a result of the emergency rule, the National Emergency Management Agency and the Borno State government have confirmed that only 126 Nigerians have so far been displaced by the operations and that the bulk of the refugees referred to in the report were Nigeriens returning to Niger,” the statement said.
The president said his decision to declare state of emergency in the three states was “timely, effective and strategically unassailable” as it was clear the war on extremist fighters responsible for thousands of deaths, was being won.
That success, to a large extent, was possible with the cooperation of residents who have reportedly taken upon themselves to hunt insurgents and turn them over to security offices, he added.
Dozens of youth now bandy together as vigilante groups, armed with sticks, iron bars, and axes, as they go about searching for Boko Haram members. Many of their quarries, surrendered to the soldiers, are reportedly summarily executed.
During a recent revenge mission, the insurgents concealed arms in a coffin to evade military checkpoints, before launching an attack on some members of the vigilante. The fighting left more than a dozen people dead, reports say.
In his first reaction to the development, Mr. Jonathan praised the bravery of the youth, calling them “heroes”.
“Without doubt, these youths are the new national heroes who have risen up to the occasion in an unprecedented patriotic fashion to work together with their government by going after their tormentors. This is heart-warming and clearly indicative of an awakened consciousness of civic responsibility,” the president said.
He said a prove to the restoration of normalcy in the affected areas is the reopening of markets, schools, and that sacked communities are being re-inhabited while commercial activities in major towns in the affected states are approaching pre-insurgency period.
The president launched attack on critics who condemned the emergency declaration and his recent proscription of Boko Haram and Ansaru.
“The results have proven that the opposition political leaders who opposed the decision on the emergency rule as well as the proscription of terrorist groups are actually clueless and unfortunately blinded by their political pursuits,” the statement said.