Abuja - Nigeria said on Wednesday that 500 people who were arrested during security operations against Boko Haram militants in three north-east states should be put on trial for terror offences.
The 500 are among nearly 1 400 detained in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states between July and September, the country's defence spokesman, Chris Olukolade, said in a statement.
Human rights groups have criticised what they said were arbitrary detentions as well as torture and deaths in custody, calling for suspects to either be put on trial or released without charge.
Olukolade said that “high-profile suspects, some of whom were training other terrorists in weapon-handling, as well as those who confessed to being trained in Mali and other countries for the purpose of perpetrating terror in Nigeria” were among those recommended for trial.
Others included “a medical doctor, paramilitary and other individuals who offered direct logistics support to the terrorists”, he added.
Human rights lawyer Jiti Ogunye described the move as “significant” but voiced concern that the military may simply be using the justice system to rubber stamp the indefinite detention of purported insurgents.
“If you look at our criminal justice system, there are problems handling just one terrorism case. How can the system cope with a load of 500?” he said.
“My concern is that these people are just going to be brought to court so a judge can issue a remand order” and they may not face trial for many years, he told AFP.
Nigeria's government imposed emergency rule on Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states in May this year and in November won approval from parliament for a six-month extension of special powers.
Thousands of people have lost their lives during the insurgency either in Boko Haram attacks or as a result of the military response.
The defence ministry said that 167 detainees had been recommended for release from facilities in the cities of Maiduguri, Yola and Damataru, while the cases of 614 individuals should be reviewed.
Some of those held should be tried for other offences, including armed robbery, murder and drug offences, the statement added.
Nigeria appointed a team to look at the cases of those detained in July this year with the aim of easing overcrowding in detention facilities in the northeast as well as leading to the prosecution of terror suspects.
The team included military officials and police, representatives from state and federal justice ministries, immigration, prisons and customs officers.
Their report has been sent to President Goodluck Jonathan, while the country's national security adviser is considering the recommendations for prosecution with the attorney general, the statement added.
Nigeria's chief of defence staff, Admiral Ola Saad Ibrahim, said that “the recommendations will be treated with dispatch after due consultations with appropriate authorities”.