Amnesty International has called on the federal government to immediately release thousands of Nigerians who have been subjected to enforced disappearance and held in secret detention facilities across the country without charge or trial.
In a statement wednesday to mark the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the group said the Nigerian government has used the tactics to silence critics and instill fear in civilian populations facing the double threat of Boko Haram and military operations against them.
According to the Director, Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, many families were still searching for loved ones who have not been seen for many years.
He said: “In some cases, families live with the pain of not knowing whether their loved ones are alive or dead. It is time the government did the right thing –and either release these detainees or charge them with a recognisable criminal offence in a fair trial without recourse to death penalty.
“Some detainees have been held incommunicado for up to nine years or more, without access to family or lawyers. Others have received court judgements ordering their release from custody, but security agencies have continued to defy these court orders.”
He said an example is the case of journalist Abiri Jones, who was held in the Directorate of Secret Services (DSS) detention for two years without access to family members or lawyers, adding that at the beginning, the government denied detaining him, only to later release him following pressure from civil society organizations.
He said it was unacceptable that many families were going through the same turmoil Abiri’s family went through.
“Hundreds of people suspected of belonging to or being associated with Boko Haram or its affiliates, the Niger Delta agitators or pro-Biafra activists in the southeast of the country, have been arbitrarily arrested and unlawfully detained by DSS in recent years.
“Although the new leadership of the DSS has started releasing some detainees, the authorities must ensure that hundreds of other detainees are quickly released or charged in court,” the director noted.
He mentioned that according to figures provided by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), the whereabouts or fate of at least 600 of their members has been unknown since clashes with the military in December 2015 in Zaria, Kaduna state, noting that more than 350 people were believed to have been unlawfully killed by the military in the violence.
The international body therefore called on the government, as a matter of urgency, to end unlawful arrests and incommunicado detentions, adding that enforced disappearance was an instrument of intimidation that grossly violates human rights.