Nigeria’s ministry of defence said it will investigate military misconduct in the remote northeast of the country where a Joint Task Force (JTF) has been criticised for its handling of attacks by a radical Islamist sect.
A woman was shot dead on Wednesday in clashes between soldiers and youths in Biu, a town in the northeastern Borno state, after authorities arrested clerics and suspected members of Boko Haram.
Boko Haram, which means “western education is sinful”, has claimed responsibility for months of attacks in and around Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state. Strikes mainly target the police, churches and outdoor drinking areas, Reuters reports.
Local residents said the actions of the military on Wednesday were unjustified and burned a church in protest.
Defence Minister Bello Mohammed said he has asked the chief of defence staff to investigate all incidents of military misconduct.
“Presently our Armed Forces are doing a very good job in the protection of lives and property of Nigerian citizens in the various theatres of internal security and peace keeping operations,” he said in a statement.
“However, a few bad eggs amongst them sometimes over-react to situations and create discontent amongst the civilian population thereby dragging the name of the military to disrepute.”
He encouraged any disgruntled Borno residents in the northeast to raise issues with a committee set up by President Goodluck Jonathan to investigate violence by Boko Haram and reprisal attacks by the JTF.
The committee was set up after a meeting between Jonathan and local Borno leaders, who have said the military has done more harm than good in reacting to attacks in the region.
Amnesty International has said brutalisation by security forces, unlawful arrests, killings and disappearances have been the operating practice in Maiduguri for months.
Thousands fled the city in recent weeks after clashes between security forces and Boko Haram intensified.
Bomb blasts in the north have replaced militant attacks on oil facilities hundreds of kilometres (miles) away in the southern Niger Delta as the main security threat in Nigeria.
Boko Haram strikes have spread further afield in recent months, including a bomb in the car park of national police headquarters in the capital Abuja last month.
The group’s views, which include wanting sharia (Islamic law) more widely applied across Nigeria, are not backed by most of the country’s Muslim population, the largest in sub-Saharan Africa.
Separate violence in the country’s “Middle Belt”, where the mostly-Muslim north meets the largely-Christian south, is threatening to add to already heightened security concerns across Africa’s most populous nation.
Tensions are rooted in decades of resentment between indigenous groups, mostly Christian or animist, who are vying for control of fertile farmlands and for economic and political power with migrants and settlers for the Muslim north.