By Tobi Soniyi
The Knifar Movement, a group of displaced women in the North-east Nigeria, representing more than 1200 men, women and children in military-run detention centres, has accused the Presidential Investigative Panel on Human Rights Abuses in the Military of denying it the opportunity to appear before it.
The group said it celebrated the establishment of the panel in August, 2017 because it believed the commission would help its members’ plight but expressed disappointment that it was denied the opportunity to appear before the panel in Maiduguri.
In a statement yesterday, Knifar said: “We were very happy when we heard a presidential panel had been set up to investigate cases of abuses committed by the military and we were glad to learn that the panel would be sitting in Maiduguri.
“We sent our own petition as requested and readied ourselves to appear before the panel in Maiduguri.
“The panel ended its sitting in Maiduguri earlier than announced and despite our appearance at the venue, we were denied the opportunity to state our case. Rather, we were told to go to Abuja if we insist on being heard.
This, the group said, was devastating to it, saying it came to the venue with 250 women but were not allowed to enter.
“How do they expect displaced women in our situation to go to Abuja when we can’t even afford to feed our children?” it asked, adding: “It is a daily struggle to find food and we don’t know where the next meal will come from. This is how we have lived.”
The group said in its letter of complaint to the panel, it explained that it hoped it would be supported financially to be in Abuja. “Instead, they replied, calling our complaints ‘uncharitable’ and saying we should bear every cost ourselves,” it said, regretting: “Obviously the refusal to hear us was a huge disappointment. We still believe that testifying before the panel is the best way to get access to justice.”
Among others, the commission, which was inaugurated in August by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo while acting as president, is to review compliance of the Nigerian Armed Forces with human rights obligations and rules of engagement, especially in local conflict and insurgency situations.
The commission is headed by Justice Biobele Georgewill of the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal.
Knifar said it had launched a fundraising campaign with the hope of generating enough resources to travel from Maiduguri to Abuja to present its case before the panel.
It said that relatives of their members were illegally locked up by the military and challenged the authority to charge them to court if there was a case against them.
The group said: “For years, we lived in silence, despair and frustration because our husbands, relatives and children are locked up by the military without reason. We have also lost our children in a military-run IDP camp in Bama due to malnutrition and diseases. Some of us were raped by soldiers and Civilian JTF.”
It asked the government to release all detainees held by the military who had not been charged with any criminal offence as well as release the list of all the people in military detention so that their relatives could locate them.
“We also ask the government to bring to justice those soldiers and CJTF responsible for the death of our children and elderly and for raping us, as well as the Boko Haram fighters who are responsible for killing and raping our people,” the group said.