by Nicholas Ibekwe,
Amnesty International, AI, in its annual State of the World’s Human Rights report, which analyses the states of human rights in 159 countries, has expressed worry over Nigerian government’s brutal response to security fears.
“In Nigeria specifically, we witnessed government responding to legitimate dissent with extreme measures that had devasting impacts on civic space,” said AI’s Nigeria media manager, Isa Sanusi.
The report highlighted cases of heavy-handedness by agents of the Nigerian government especially the military and its response to Boko Haram insurgency in the north-east and pro-Biafra agitation in the south-east.
AI noted that the six-year-old Boko Haram insurgency has claimed thousands of lives and directly affected 14.8 million others.
“Boko Haram continued to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity in the northeast, affecting 14.8 million people. The group continued to carry out attacks and small-scale raids throughout the year,” the report stated.
It however frowned at the brutal response of the government to security breaches like the Boko Haram insurgency. AI said the military carried out mass arrest of men, women and children, detained and tortured them in a dehumanising detention centre inside Giwa Barracks in Borno, where many died of diseases and starvation.
“The military arbitrarily arrested thousands of young men, women and children who fled to the safety of recaptured towns, including Banki and Bama, Borno state. These arrests were largely based on random profiling of men, especially young men, rather than on reasonable suspicion of having committed a recognizably criminal offence.
“In most cases, the arrests were made without adequate investigation. Other people were arbitrarily arrested as they attempted to flee from Boko Haram. Those detained by the military had no access to their families or lawyers and were not brought before a court. More than 1,500 detainees were released throughout the year.
“The mass arrests by the military of people fleeing Boko Haram led to overcrowding in military detention facilities. At the military detention facility at Giwa barracks, Maiduguri, cells were overcrowded. Diseases, dehydration and starvation was rife.
“At least 240 detainees died during the year. Bodies were secretly buried in Maiduguri’s cemetery by the Borno State environmental protection agency staff. Among the dead were at least 29 children and babies, aged between newborn and five years.
“At Giwa barracks, children under five were detained in three overcrowded and insanitary women’s cells, alongside at least 250 women and teenage girls per cell. Some children were born in detention.”
The report also frowned at the deployment of soldiers in situations that require the presence of the police. For instance, it berated the military and the State Security Service, SSS (also called DSS), for their treatment of pro-Biafran agitators, which reportedly left 117 people dead.
“The military deployment to police public gatherings contributed to the number of extrajudicial executions and unlawful killings. Since January, in response to the continued agitation by pro-Biafra campaigners, security forces arbitrarily arrested and killed at least 100 members and supporters of the group Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). Some of those arrested were subjected to enforced disappearance.
“On 9 February, soldiers and police officers shot at about 200 IPOB members who had gathered for a prayer meeting … in Aba, in Abia State. Video footage showed soldiers shooting at peaceful and unarmed IPOB members; at least 17 people were killed and scores injured.
“On 29 and 30 May, at least 60 people were killed in a joint security operation carried out by the army, police, Department of State Security (DSS) and navy. Pro-Biafra campaigners had gathered to celebrate Biafra Remembrance Day in Onitsha. No investigation into these killings had been initiated by the end of the year.”
The report also frowned at police torture and extrajudicial killings. AI specifically memntioned the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), of the police which it blamed for “frequently committed torture and other ill-treatment during interrogation.”
“In September, the Inspector General of the police warned SARS against committing torture and encouraged them to follow due process of law.
“On 18 May, Chibuike Edu died in police custody after he was arrested for burglary and detained for two weeks by the SARS in Enugu. The police authorities were investigating the incident; no one had been held accountable for his death at the end of the year.
“The National Assembly was yet to pass into law the anti-torture bill which seeks to further prohibit and criminalize torture. In June, it passed its first reading in the Senate. It had earlier been passed by the House of Representatives and was revised by the Nigeria Law Reform Commission. The revised version was to be debated at the Senate.”
Freedom of Association
It berated the government over the killings of hundreds of members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria and the continued detention of several others members and the leader of the Shi’ite sect, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky.
“Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), remained in incommunicado detention without trial since his arrest in December 2015. Between 12 and 14 December 2015, soldiers killed more than 350 protesters and supporters of IMN at two sites in Zaria, Kaduna state.
“Hundreds of IMN members were arrested and continued to be held in detention facilities in Kaduna, Bauchi, Plateau and Kano states.
“On 11 April, the Kaduna State authorities admitted to a Judicial Commission of Inquiry that they had secretly buried 347 bodies in a mass grave two days after the December 2015 massacre.
“On 15 July, the Commission presented its report to the state government indicting the Nigerian military for unlawful killings. In December, the Kaduna state government published its white paper on the report, Amnesty International Report 2016/17 281 which rejected most of the Commission’s recommendations.”
Clampdown on freedom of expression
The report also pointed out at the increasing clamp down on freedom of speech such as the increasing arrest of bloggers and journalists.
“In August, Abubakar Usman, a prominent blogger, was arrested in Abuja, the capital, by the anti-corruption agency Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and accused of contravening the Cyber Crimes Act. The Commission did not point out the specific provisions the blogger had contravened; he was released without being charged. In September, Jamil Mabai, was arrested and detained by the police for posting comments on Facebook and Twitter that were critical of the Katsina state government.
“In early September, the publisher Emenike Iroegbu was arrested in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state, over alleged defamation.
“On 5 September, Ahmed Salkida, a Nigerian journalist based in the United Arab Emirates, was declared wanted by the military and later arrested by the state security services on arrival in Nigeria. He was among three people arrested and briefly detained for alleged links to Boko Haram and for facilitating the release of a Boko Haram video on the abducted Chibok girls. He was later released; his passport remained confiscated.”
The Nigerian military has condemned the AI report describing it as fabricated.