The government may do well to investigate the claims
In what has become a familiar game, the presidency last week dismissed the Amnesty International (AI) latest report alleging human rights violation by the Nigerian military, including the rape of women and girls at the internally displaced persons’ (IDPs) camps in the country. “It ignores the fact of the existing mechanisms put in place by the military, as a self-correcting step and the high-level committee constituted by the presidency to examine any such claims,” countered Aso Rock while the Defence Headquarters accuses AI of a plot to destabilise the country.
Titled “They betrayed us”, AI reported “how the Nigerian military and Civilian Joint Task Force (Civilian JTF) have separated women from their husbands and confined them in remote ‘satellite camps’ where they have been raped, sometimes in exchange for food.” However, since these allegations of gross violations of human rights against our military are almost always dismissed and hardly ever investigated, a culture of impunity is fast becoming the order of the day, not only within the armed forces but in the country as a whole. That cannot be a right approach to dealing with what has become a serious problem that sullies the image of our country. We therefore urge President Muhammadu Buhari to adopt an open mind in dealing with the allegations contained in the AI report.
While we support our armed forces and commend them for their sacrifices, the authorities should not dismiss these allegations which many Nigerians believe to be true. “We expect the usual: denial, refusals and accusations of sabotaging the military, but we hope they will disappoint us and acknowledge these crimes instead,” argues Amnesty Nigeria’s director, Osai Ojigho who added, “these accusations are not new. But what we see here is a total lack of accountability, as well as a total lack of respect for the rule of law and human rights.”
To say that these allegations are not new is to state the obvious. In 2013, for instance, the AI issued two reports on Nigeria one of which riled the military authorities and helped to cause further friction between them. The first, “Our Job is to shoot, kill and maim,” was a catalogue of the atrocities of Boko Haram insurgents while the second, “Stars on their shoulders, blood on their hands,” revealed some of the extra-judicial killings by the Nigerian troops.
However, it is not only the AI that has been reporting human rights abuses by the military and the security agencies, especially in the management of the IDP camps. In January 2015, a report published by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) with support from Ford Foundation, detailed several cases of sexual exploitation of women and girls in exchange for food as well as trafficking of children at some of the IDP camps. So alarmed were many Nigerians that the federal government responded with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) constituting a committee to probe the allegation at the time. If the committee ever submitted a report, Nigerians are yet to be informed of its findings.
Therefore, dismissing the AI report and launching baseless accusations would not help in resolving the crisis of confidence that is fast eroding the credibility of our armed forces. We believe it is more productive for the federal government to investigate the claims, especially given the serious issue of rape of women and forcing them to trade their dignity for food. Beyond the shame that rape inflicts on the victim, nothing can be more traumatic than for a person living under distress to be subjected to such blatant criminality.
As we have stated several times on this page, no one expected that the relief camps across the country to be a model for shelter and security. But that cannot be an excuse for bad behaviour from our military men. Unfortunately, these infractions will continue for as long as we have internal security challenges that necessitate the drafting of soldiers for a role that is constitutionally that of the police.
Beyond the shame that rape inflicts on the victim, nothing can be more traumatic than for a person living under distress to be subjected to such blatant criminality