A cattle market that was burnt in Potiskum amid attacks blamed on Boko Haram
By Tokunbo Adedoja, Senator Iroegbu, Yemi Akinsuyi and Zacheaus Somorin
Amnesty International has passed a damning verdict on Nigeria’s approach in dealing with the wave of terror unleashed on the country, especially in the North by Boko Haram.
The global human rights group accused the Federal Government of embarking on a series of human rights abuses in its anti-terror campaign.
It said in a report released yesterday that “there is a vicious cycle of violence currently taking place in Nigeria” and that “the Nigerian people are trapped in the middle.”
However, the military and the police have debunked Amnesty International’s claims on Nigeria’s terror war, saying the report is at variance with the situation on ground in the country.
In the report titled: ‘Nigeria: Trapped in the Cycle of Violence’, the group documents the atrocities of Boko Haram and also catalogued what it called, “the serious human rights violations carried out by the security forces in response, including enforced disappearance, torture, extrajudicial executions, the torching of homes and detention without trial.”
The 76-page report, released at an event in Abuja, faulted the strategy employed to tackle the nation’s security challenges, adding that security operations against Boko Haram had been conducted with little regard for the rule of law or human rights.
“Many have remained in detention for lengthy periods without charge or trial, without proper notification of family members, without being brought before any judicial authority, and without access to lawyers or the outside world. A significant number have even been extra-judicially executed.
While agreeing that grave human rights abuses had been committed by Boko Haram, it also said Federal Government must take responsibility for its own failings where it had not deployed adequate measures to prevent abuses and hold those responsible to account.
The report said many of the anti-terror operations involved serious violations of human rights, adding that “by virtue of its international obligations, Nigeria is specifically required to investigate without delay and, where there is sufficient admissible evidence to prosecute those responsible in fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.”
It also said research by Amnesty International indicated that in some cases, Nigeria might not be responding to attacks by Boko Haram with the due diligence required.
The report said it found out that only few of the hundreds of people arrested and detained by the security forces in Northern Nigeria had been formally charged, while many others are languishing in police, military or SSS detention for months while “investigations are ongoing.”
It tasked government on the need to recognise that the population would not be truly secured until everyone in Nigeria could be confident, not only that the risk of attacks from Boko Haram had been reduced, but also that they would not face human rights violations in the hands of state security forces mandated with their protection.
Amnesty International also urged Nigeria to take effective action to protect its population against Boko Haram’s campaign of terror within the boundaries of the rule of law.
It, however, sympathised with security agents killed in the frontline, adding that the failure of Federal Government to properly equip and train the police reduces their ability to ensure their own and other people’s safety.
The report also sets out key recommendations which include that Federal Government takes measures to prevent and protect civilians from attacks, investigate all such crimes, bring perpetrators to justice and ensure that rights violations are not perpetrated by security agencies in the name of national security.
Amnesty International Secretary General, Salil Shetty, who addressed journalists at the presentation of the report, said: “People are living in a climate of fear and insecurity, vulnerable to attack from Boko Haram and facing human rights violations at the hands of the very state security forces which should be protecting them.”
Also, the police in statement by the Force spokesperson, Frank Mba, a Chief Superintendent of Police, said they were studying the report “with a view to establishing its veracity and relevance vis-à-vis our contemporary security challenges and needs.”
Meanwhile, the Defence Headquarters has also debunked the report. Speaking to THISDAY Thursday in Abuja, the Director of Defence Information, Col Yerima, dismissed the allegations, saying that they were baseless and unfounded.
Yerima, however, stated that the Nigerian security forces had not gone outside the law in the discharge of their duties.
He said: “The story is baseless because we have not violated any law or human rights violation. We have not gone outside the law.
The Defence spokesman also explained that their officers understand the rule of engagements guiding such operations and that the only way through which some of the kill Boko Haram suspects might be killed is during gunfights if they refuse arrests and have never been in execution style.
Also, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, has denied the allegations against the military, calling on the international watchdog to demonstrate greater objectivity and openness in its reports on Nigeria.
In his response, the Ashiru categorically stated that Nigeria has had and would continue to have a very good working relation with AI, emphasising that this fact does not support the allegation of Nigeria’s refusal to cooperate fully with the body.
The minister stressed that while terrorism was new to Nigeria, government had adopted a multi-track approach, anchored on robust law enforcement, military strategy, indirect dialogue, including constructive engagement with religious leaders as well as the implementation of the Transformation Agenda.
Ashiru further enumerated government’s efforts in addressing the menace of Boko Haram and other national challenges. These include the establishment of Almajiri schools in the North, Skills Acquisition Centres, agricultural farms, youth enterprise with innovation in Nigeria.
He underscored the strong conviction that the success of government’s Transformation Agenda would assist in addressing the root causes of terror in terms of wealth and job creation as well as mass education of the people.
Ashiru stoutly denied allegations of mass extra-judicial killings, arguing that the security forces have been very restrained in their response to the complex challenge posed by the insurgents, many of who remained faceless and brutal in their tactics.
He recalled that members of Nigeria security forces had fallen victims to Boko Haram in the course of carrying out their lawful duties and urged AI to be more circumspect, nuanced and balanced in their assessment of the situation in the country.