Amnesty: Trigger-happy Nigerian Army Killed 150 Peaceful Pro-Biafra Protesters In Bloody Crackdown

Amnesty International has accused the Nigerian military of killing 150 peaceful pro-Biafra protesters “on a chilling campaign of extrajudicial executions and violence” in the southeast of the country.

In a report relewsed on Thursday, the human rights watchdog alleged that the analysis of 87 videos, 122 photographs and 146 eyewitness testimonies relating to demonstrations and other gatherings between August 2015 and August 2016 showed that the military fired live ammunition with little or no warning to disperse crowds.

It said it found evidence of mass extrajudicial executions by security forces, including at least 60 people shot dead in the space of two days in connection with events to mark Biafra Remembrance Day.

“This deadly repression of pro-Biafra activists is further stoking tensions in the south east of Nigeria. This reckless and trigger-happy approach to crowd control has caused at least 150 deaths and we fear the actual total might be far higher,” Makmid Kamara, its interim director in Nigeria said in the report.

“The Nigerian government’s decision to send in the military to respond to pro-Biafra events seems to be in large part to blame for this excessive bloodshed. The authorities must immediately launch an impartial investigation and bring the perpetrators to book.”

Extrajudicial executions

Amnesty International alleged that the largest number of pro-Biafra activists was killed on Biafra Remembrance Day on May 30 when an estimated 1,000 Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) members and supporters gathered for a rally in Onitsha, Anambra state.

It said a night before the rally, the security forces raided homes and a church where IPOB members were sleeping, and that on Remembrance Day itself, the security forces shot people in several locations.

It added that it had not been able to verify the exact number of extrajudicial executions, but it estimated that at least 60 people were killed and 70 injured in these two days.

The international rights group narrated how the husband of Ngozi, a 28-year-old mother of one, was killed by soldiers.

According to the group, Ngozi said her husband left in the morning to go to work but called her shortly afterwards to say that the military had shot him in his abdomen. He said he was in a military vehicle with six others, four of whom were already dead.

“He started whispering and said they just stopped [the vehicle]. He was scared they would kill the remaining three of them that were alive… He paused and told me they were coming closer. I heard gunshots and I did not hear a word from him after that,” Amnesty International quoted her as saying.

“The next day Ngozi searched for her husband and finally found his body in a nearby mortuary. The mortuary attendants told her that the military had brought him and six others. She saw three gunshot wounds: one in his abdomen and two in his chest, which confirmed her fear that the military had executed him,” it said.

“Amnesty International has also reviewed videos of a peaceful gathering of IPOB members and supporters at Aba National High School on 9 February 2016. The Nigerian military surrounded the group and then fired live ammunition at them without any prior warning.

“According to eyewitnesses and local human rights activists, many of the protesters at Aba were rounded up and taken away by the military. On 13 February 13 corpses, including those of men known to have been taken by the military, were discovered in a pit near the Aba highway.”

Commenting on the alleged killings, Kamara said: “It is chilling to see how these soldiers gunned down peaceful IPOB members. The video evidence shows that this was a military operation with intent to kill and injure.”

Deadly repression

Amnesty International claimed that eyewitness testimony and video footage of the rallies, marches and meetings showed that the Nigeria military deliberately used deadly force.

“In many of the incidents detailed in the report, including the Aba High School protest, the military applied tactics designed to kill and neutralise an enemy, rather than to ensure public order at a peaceful event,” it said.

“All IPOB gatherings documented by Amnesty International were largely peaceful. In those cases where there were pockets of violence, it was mostly in reaction to shooting by the security forces. Eyewitnesses told Amnesty International that some protesters threw stones, burned tyres and in one incident shot at the police. Regardless, these acts of violence and disorder did not justify the level of force used against the whole assembly.

“Amnesty International’s research also shows a disturbing pattern of hundreds of arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment by soldiers during and after IPOB events, including arrests of wounded victims in hospital, and torture and other ill-treatment of detainees.”

It reported that Vincent Ogbodo , a 26-year-old trader, said he was shot on Remembrance Day in Nkpor and hid in a gutter, and that when soldiers found him they poured acid on him.

“I covered my face. I would have been blind by now. He poured acid on my hands. My hands and body started burning. The flesh was burning… They dragged me out of the gutter. They said I’ll die slowly,” it quoted Ogbodo to have said.

The organisation said a man who was detained in Onitsha Barracks after the Remembrance Day shooting on May 30 while relaying his experience said: “Those in the guard room [detention] were flogged every morning. The soldiers tagged it ‘Morning Tea’.”

No action by authorities to ensure accountability

Amnesty International expressed worry that “despite this overwhelming evidence that the Nigerian security forces committed gross human rights violations including extrajudicial executions and torture, no investigations have been carried out by the authorities.”

“Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the government of Nigeria to initiate independent investigations into evidence of crimes under international law, and President Buhari has repeatedly promised that Amnesty International’s reports would be looked into. However, no concrete step has been taken,” Kamara said.

It lamented that in rare cases where an investigation is carried out, there is no follow up, and that as “a result of the apparent lack of political will to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of such crimes, the military continues to commit human rights violations and grave crimes with impunity.”

“In addition to investigations, the Nigerian government must ensure adequate reparations for the victims, including the families. They should end all use of military in policing demonstrations and ensure the police are adequately instructed, trained and equipped to deal with crowd-control situations in line with international law and standards. In particular, firearms must never be used as a tool for crowd control,” it advised.

The rights group said it shared the key findings of its report with the federal minister of justice and attorney-general, chief of defence staff, chief of army staff, ministry of foreign affairs, minister of interior, inspector-general of police and the director-general of the Department of State Services on September 30, but that only the attorney-general and inspector-general of police responded without answering the questions raised in it.

Meanwhile, the Nigeria army has refuted the report, describing it as unfounded.

In a statement, Sani Usman, army spokesman, accused Amnesty International of having a heinous intent and of dabbling in Nigeria’s internal security issues.

He claimed that IPOB had become violent, but that the army had always adhered to the rules of engagement in dealing with them.

“The attention of the Nigerian army has been drawn to a planned release of a report by Amnesty International on an unfounded storyline of mass killings of MASSOB/IPOB protesters by the military between August 2015 and August 2016. We wish to debunk the insinuation that our troops perpetrated the killing of defenceless agitators. This is an outright attempt to tarnish the reputation of the security forces in general and the Nigerian army in particular, for whatever inexplicable parochial reasons. For umpteenth times, the Nigerian army has informed the public about the heinous intent of this non-governmental organisation which is never relenting in dabbling into our national security in manners that obliterate objectivity, fairness and simple logic,” he said.

“The evidence of MASSOB/IPOB violent secessionist agitations is widely known across the national and international domains. Their modus operandi has continued to relish violence that threatens national security. Indeed between August 2015 and August 2016, the groups’ violent protests have manifested unimaginable atrocities to unhinge the reign of peace, security and stability in several parts of the southeast Nigeria.

“A number of persons from the settler communities that hailed from other parts of the country were selected for attack, killed and burnt. Such reign of hate, terror and ethno-religious controversies that portend grave consequences for national security have been averted severally through the responsiveness of the Nigerian army and members of the security agencies.

“These security agencies are always targeted for attack by the MASSOB/IPOB instruments of barbarism and cruelty. For instance, in the protests of 30 – 31 May 2016, more than five personnel of the Nigeria police were killed, while several soldiers were wounded, Nigeria police vehicles were burnt down same as several others of the Nigerian army that were vandalised.

“The strategic Niger Bridge at Onitsha came under threat thus leading to disruption of socio-economic activities. In the aftermath of the encounter that ensued between security agencies and MASSOB/IPOB militants many of own troops sustained varying degrees of injury. In addition, the MASSOB/IPOB recurrent use of firearms, crude weapons as well as other cocktails such as acid and dynamites to cause mayhem remain a huge security threat across the region.

“In these circumstances, the Nigerian army under its constitutional mandates for Military Aid to Civil Authority (MACA) and Military Aid to Civil Powers (MACP) has continued to act responsively in synergy with other security agencies to de-escalate the series of MASSOB/IPOB violent protests.

“Instructively, the military and other security agencies exercised maximum restraints despite the flurry of provocative and unjustifiable violence, which MASSOB/IPOB perpetrated. The adherence to rules of engagement by the military has been sacrosanct in all of these incidents.”

Usman added that it was unfortunate that the Amnesty International had allowed itself “to be lured into this cheap and unpopular venture that aims to discredit the undeniable professionalism as well as responsiveness of the Nigerian army in the discharge of its constitutional roles.”

Since August 2015, there has been a series of protests, marches and gatherings by members and supporters of IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) who have been seeking the creation of a Biafran state. Tensions increased further following the arrest of Nnamdi Kanu, IPOB leader on October 14, 2015. He remains in detention.

IPOB emerged in 2012 and campaigns for an Independent Biafran state. Almost fifty years ago, an attempt to establish Biafra state led to a civil war from 1967 to 1970.

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