It was a sunny afternoon in the year 2014, wailing and crying could be heard from far away in the city of Maiduguri followed by the sound of bullets which created a picture of a war movie acted by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mothers were scrambling around looking for their sons, wives however were longing for their husbands as young children became fatherless due to the merciless bullets of the Nigerian Army – men that were allegedly mistaken for terrorists were murdered in cold blood.
Earlier before these scenario, the Boko Haram sect had launched an attack on Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri, smokes from detonated bombs filled the air as terrorists broke a jail where their members were locked up by the Nigerian Army. The Boko Haram sect claimed the attack and said they had freed about 2,000 of their brothers in jail, some of whom recounted at length their experience at the facility, alleging torture by the military.
A report by the Amnesty International disclosed that between 2012 and 2014, about 1200 men and boys had been unlawfully-executed by the military. It further reveals that more than 7,000 people have died in military custody since March 2011 as a result of appalling conditions. “When we were thirsty, we drank urine, and watched fellow inmates die after our cells were fumigated with chemicals meant for killing mosquitoes,” a Boko Haram detainee said.
The aggrieved persons had leveled several charges against the Nigerian army – regarding gross misconducts on the line of duty. Unfortunately, the charges were swept under the carpet. However, the case of the 640 men and boys who were allegedly murdered and buried in silence but still shrouded in mystery.
According to Amnesty International (AI), in March 2014, the Nigerian military slaughtered about 640 men and boys in cold blood after a jailbreak in Maiduguri in northeastern Nigeria. The incident stirred debates within the time of its occurrence, but two years later, no one has been held accountable for the mass murder and a colossal violation of the rights to live and to fair hearing.
The inappropriate revenge Reports affirm that the terrorists fled the city with many detainees who wanted to join the group. The Nigerian military allegedly responded to the assault on Giwa barracks with murder.
About 1600 of the detainees who broke out were said to have been arrested via some “screening” operations in which entire communities in and around Giwa were rounded up and young males were picked out, without any evidence of having committed a crime.
Once back in custody, soldiers shot some of them in cold blood on the streets, and took the rest out of town and murdered them. Investigations reveal that bodies of the victims were buried in multiple mass graves.
From Giwa to Zaria, and down to Biafra The cry for Justice over the 640 men and boys slain in Maiduguri, is one of several cases of extrajudicial killings leveled against the army and other Nigerian security agencies.
It would be recalled that the State Security Service (SSS) on Monday, March 31, 2014, were made to face questions on how 21 detainees were killed during an attempted jailbreak from their headquarters in Abuja.
In recent times, there are several claims to the lives of innocent people who were murdered by the military – many observers also believe that Nigeria has been gripped by a cycle of impunity.
Shiites, military clash in Zaria
There is a recent case of bloodbath in Zaria, in which the army clashed with members of the Shiite sect. The incident which took place on Saturday, December 12, 2015, recorded the death of over 1,000 Shiite faithfuls. Like the case in Maiduguri, there are claims that the army went out of order burying the deceased Shiites in some mass graves located in Mando Kaduma cemetery along the Birnin Gwari road near Hajj camp area of Kaduna state.
Similar claims of unlawful killings have been made by pro-Biafra agitators in the southeastern region of Nigeria, with international rights agencies berating the federal government for allowing Nigerian security forces to use excessive force against the Biafran agitators.
Reactions There have been several reports following investigations by several rights groups, prominent among these, is a report released by Amnesty International last year. The investigative report documented war crimes committed on a mass scale by the Nigerian military. The report disclosed that between 2012 and 2014, about 1200 men and boys had been unlawfully-executed by the military.
It further reveals that more than 7,000 people have died in military custody since March 2011 as a result of appalling conditions.
Detainees described being so desperately thirsty that they drank urine, and watched fellow inmates die after their cells were fumigated with chemicals meant for killing mosquitoes.
Several calls have been made, pleading that the federal government takes urgent action as to set up proper investigations into the several claims of misconduct by security operatives. However, such pleas tends to have fallen on deaf ears.
A promise pending too long In June 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari promised that he will look into reports and claims made by various rights groups. The president pledged to investigate, saying: “This administration will leave no stone unturned to promote the rule of law, and deal with all cases of human rights abuses.” However, two years have passed and nothing has been said regarding the war crimes, as perpetrators of the “unlawful killing” still roam free. According to AI, President Buhari is yet to show any sign that he plans to pay anything more than lip service to the many allegations against the army and other security agencies.
Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s research and advocacy director for Africa has stressed that “a lack of urgently needed reform means the Nigerian army continues to use unjustified lethal force against innocent civilians,” a development which would see the nation receive certain sanctions from the international community and threaten Nigeria’s relationship with international partners who may need to reconsider the consequences of their military support.
Many nations, including the UK and the US, provide arms, training and advice to the Nigerian military. However, such assistance would be denied if it does run an overriding risk of facilitating serious violations of international human rights or humanitarian law.
It would be recalled that the US Leahy Law which prohibits the US Department of State and Department of Defence from providing military assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity, was the main reason the US government refused to sell weapons to the Nigerian army in 2014 and even went ahead to stop Israel from selling Cobra helicopters to Nigeria. Apart from Nigeria, other countries that have been affected by this law include; Bangladesh, Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia and Pakistan.
Nigerians long for an end to the horrific acts committed by Boko Haram, the world cannot wait to have the perpetrators of the terror acts punished for their crimes. But while the war against the group lingers, the sect’s hideous acts cannot and should not be used to justify the Nigerian military’s impunity and violations of human rights. All seem to be settled, Nigerians have moved on. The memory of the dead lingers on the minds of their loved ones. The Military seem to be free as justice looked like a food which will never be served.
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