Photo shows hostages rescued by Cameroonian special forces, not Nigerian troops in Abia

·2 min read

African neighbours Nigeria and Cameroon are battling separatist movements with ongoing military campaigns that have been marred by accusations of human rights violations. Recent Facebook posts have claimed to show an image of Nigerian soldiers “harassing” a group of elderly farmers in a jungle in southeastern Abia state. But the claim is false; AFP Fact Check found the photo showed people who were rescued by special forces in southwest Cameroon in October 2020.  

This is how the #Nigeria soldiers are Harrassing, killing and maiming our fathers that went to farm. This happened in Abia state today 24/08/2022 (sic),” reads a post published on August 24, 2022. 

A screenshot of the false Facebook post, taken on September 2, 2022

The post has been shared more than 650 times and includes a picture showing soldiers standing guard over a group of people sitting on a bush path.  

The Facebook account that published the photo has a history of sharing anti-Nigerian government rhetoric and posts sympathetic to the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).  

The photo was also published here by another pro-IPOB account.  

The claim that it was taken in Nigeria, however, is false.  

Cameroon rescue operation  

AFP Fact Check conducted a reverse image search and found that the photo was one in a series published on Facebook on October 16, 2020.  

A screenshot of the Facebook post, taken on September 6, 2022

The post described how 11 people, including a Catholic priest, were rescued by Cameroon’s Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) from a “terrorist camp” in Lebialem, a district in southwest Cameroon.

A video published separately on the same day by the same account showed the rescued hostages with more soldiers wearing bulletproof vests with “BIR” on them.  

On October 19, 2022, Yaoundé-based Cameroon Tribune reported on the rescue and published the same picture now being circulated in the false posts. Government-owned broadcaster CRTV published a similar report on the rescue but without a picture.  

A screenshot of the report published by Cameroon Tribune, taken on September 5, 2022

Lebialem is one of the battlegrounds for Ambazonian separatists who are pushing for the independence of the anglophone region of Cameroon. The separatists declared the region, which shares borders with Nigeria, independent in 2017. More than 6,000 people have been killed in the conflict, with about a million displaced.  

Although Cameroonian troops have entered Nigerian territory while pursuing the rebels, such incursions did not happen in Abia, one of the conflict zones between Nigerian forces and IPOB. 

Founded in 2012, IPOB is pushing for the separation of the southeast from Nigeria. Formed by Nnamdi Kanu, IPOB began a more violent campaign in 2015, with deaths recorded on both sides. Kanu is on trial facing terrorism charges.