By Tukur Mamu
It is now becoming very clear to many, including the international community that the activities of the Joint Task Force (JTF), particularly in Maiduguri, Damaturu and Potiskum under the leadership of the Nigerian Army leave much to be desired.
Allegations of cases of flagrant atrocities and outright violation of human rights and killings even worse than that of the members of Boko Haram sect have been uncovered. Uprising against selected targets and persons across the Northern part of Nigeria became the order of the day. In most media interviews and opinion sampling, residents of the volatile areas preferred to live under the occupation of the dreaded sect than what they are being subjected to on a daily basis by members of the JTF.
DESERT HERALD can confirm that within Maiduguri, Damaturu and Potiskum there is hardly a single family that did not record casualties due to killings and torture allegedly by the members of the JTF. Observers are unanimous that the JTF have inflicted on the people more damages and destruction on their lives and properties than the radical Boko Haram sect.
Detention centres of the JTF in Damaturu and Maiduguri according to those that were lucky to have survived is like a hell and to many they preferred to be killed other than to be subjected to such method of torture; to what they experienced in the brutal hands of those that are supposed to do justice to them. According to two survivors at the notorious Giwa Barracks and Presidential Lodge JTF detention centres in Maiduguri and Damaturu that preferred not to be mention: “If you are a suspect and caught during raids (not in a battle field) you don’t have right to anything. They feed us only once in two days. We don’t have access to water not to talk of electricity. Many of us were infected with a lot of diseases. In fact, it is a place one will become more radical and prefer to be a member of the Boko Haram even if you are not one. I don’t know how to describe the manner they used to torture us. If you survive it is only by the grace of God. They used to put us inside a drum and ignite a fire under the drum. Many of us didn’t survive it. That is why as you can see every part of my body is burnt. Believe me if they did not incapacitate me I will join the Boko Haram free of charge and fight back. Don’t forget the soldiers killed my father and elder brother and set our house ablaze”, one of the surviving victim of the JTF impunity at Gwange in Maiduguri lamented.
“My family had to pay N200, 000.00 in addition to the torture and the killing of my father and brother before the JTF released me. The unfortunate thing is that once you are caught the JTF is not investigating suspects to ascertain their culpability or not, you will just be subjected to all kinds of brutality and torture not permitted by law. Even if investigation has confirmed that you are a Boko Haram member no international or Nigerian law permit the army to kill you. But they are killing people mostly innocent people with impunity and the governors are not doing anything about it”, another surviving victim in Damaturu revealed.
DESERT HERALD investigations revealed that the governors of the two volatile states of Borno and Yobe are helpless about the wanton violation of the rights of their citizens and the rampant killings allegedly by the JTF members. The governors, investigation revealed depends largely on “misleading intelligence” being brought to them by the security forces and do not have any internal mechanism that can verify claims of the security forces and justifications of killing mostly innocent people. Governors Kashim Shettima and Ibrahim Gaidam have also woefully failed in protecting the lives of innocent citizens in the hands of the overzealous JTF and did not do anything to check excesses of gross human rights violation at the notorious detention camps that led to inhuman torture and in most cases resulted in the death of many.
Prominent citizens of the two states in an interview with this reporter said the JTF alone cannot be responsible for the gross human rights violations in Maiduguri, Damaturu and Potiskum and that the chief security officers of the two states should be held culpable by the citizens and the international community because if they had insisted in following due process of law and preserving human dignity and rights the JTF could not afford to do what they and what they are still doing. They said Shettima and Gaidam are very weak and considered their relationship with top commanders of the army and the police more important than the value of lives of their impoverished citizens. They lamented that before blaming the JTF the governors should be held responsible for any human rights abuses under their watch as executive governors and representatives of the people and their interests.
In what has by implication confirmed the claims and allegations of skeptics that the federal government and all those security agencies and politicians at the executive level that are benefitting from the war against the Boko Haram insurgency through the so called security votes and other multi billion naira provisions for security by the federal government, the JTF in Maiduguri responded to the purported call for ceasefire by the members of the Jama’atul Ahlis Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad popularly called Boko Haram without giving them the benefit of doubt with arrest and alleged killing of 48 young men barely 24 hours after the peace offer by the sect representative. Whether those that were killed hours after the peace offer was made were members of the Boko Haram sect or not, the move has fueled more crisis and suspicion in the minds of the few liberal members of the radical sect that are reportedly committed to peace and has raised more questions than answers about the commitment of the federal government to preserve and protect the lives of her people by accepting the peace offer and make sacrifices like it did with the Niger Delta militants for the sake of human lives. So far, the leadership of the Boko Haram sect has not officially disassociated itself from Abu Muhammad Ibn Abdul’aziz the man that gave the press briefing last week.
In what looks like an apparent retaliation to the killing of 48 young men in one day which resulted in the wiping out of a single family, a father losing four of his children and confirming the insinuation that the killing of the young men is deliberate and to provoke continuation of the attack by the sect to make reconciliation impossible for economic reasons, a respected retired army General Mamman Shuwa and an influential member of the Borno Elders Forum, a Forum that has committed itself over the years to ensure peaceful resolution of the Boko Haram saga, was allegedly killed by the sect in his Maiduguri residence. Lt. Col. Sagir Musa the spokesman of the JTF while confirming the killing of Shuwa said the retired general was killed by four men who were initially thought to have been his guest for the Jumaat prayer. The nagging questions are as a retired general, Shuwa’s house is being secured by armed military men and there is checkpoint and active JTF security metres away from his house. If the gunmen succeeded in getting their way to the house without the army on guard checking them how did the gunmen conveniently escape after killing the general? Where are the JTF men on duty that are close to his house? Why did the army initially claim ignorance of the killing of 48 people hours after the peace offer by the Boko Haram sect? Why was Governor Shettima silent and apparently incapacitated to check the excesses and wanton impunity of the JTF?
It is well known fact that late Gen. Shuwa has never engage the Boko Haram in the manners others are doing and to many even though he is an ex-military man the sect may not target him. Some people suspect a motive behind the killing of Shuwa because according to them he is a consistent advocate of calling on the authorities to remove the soldiers from the streets of Maiduguri and criticizing the JTF conduct and alleged acts of impunity.
The alleged human rights violation of the JTF has now taken the attention of international community with concerns that the Nigeria government under Mr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is not only authoritarian, despotic and brutal in the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency but is acting in a calculated attempt that will prolong the violence, more bloodshed and ultimately and by implication win sympathy and support for the Boko Haram fighters across the northern part of the country.
Already public perception and opinion about the JTF had change from bad to worse. Opinion sampling conducted by Amnesty International revealed that residents of the troubled areas like Potiskum, Borno and Damaturu preferred to be left at the mercy of the Boko Haram members than the JTF. They said the JTF has committed more atrocities to them and their families and businesses than the Boko Haram fighters. So far according to investigations by foreign media about 3000 people mostly innocent civilians have died since 2009 when the crisis begun and that most of them are victims of either police or army killings. As in previous raids that resulted to the killing of many, security forces descended on the city’s poorer neighbourhoods under cover of darkness, entering houses and grabbing young men — indiscriminately, critics contend — and then shooting them. “They accused the young persons of being Boko Haram members, with no evidence,” said Maikaramba Sadiq, an activist with Nigeria’s Civil Liberties Organization.
“In the presence of parents, they killed the children,” he said. “They told the parents to turn back and look in a different direction, then they killed the children. “This is military criminality,” Mr. Sadiq argued. “They killed people without any evidence or offence.”
Mr. Sadiq said at least 70 people were killed, ranging in age from 18 to 25. Hospital workers in Maiduguri said about 39 bodies had been deposited at their hospital. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have released reports recently saying that the country’s security services do precisely that: randomly kill civilians with no apparent connection to Boko Haram. The reports have either been ignored or angrily denied by officials. Security forces “have killed hundreds of Boko Haram suspects and random members of communities,” even gunning down men on crutches, Human Rights Watch said in its recent report. Amnesty International detailed one episode in which security forces opened fire on customers and workers at a filling station in Kano, killing a number of them. The station happened to be near a police station that had been attacked. These acts are carried out with near total impunity. Nigeria’s political elite, far from condemning them, invariably defend the security forces’ conduct.
In an interview with the BBC last week, following the Amnesty International report’s release, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s respected finance minister, who was recently a leading candidate for World Bank president, said, “Every day our security forces are putting their lives on the line to fight this issue,” rejecting the idea that the security forces were “heavy handed.”
A guard at the city’s morgue, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said bodies were taken there early Thursday “in military pickup vans,” adding, “The refrigerators in the mortuary are filled with dead bodies.” In what appears to be an international indictment of the Nigerian Army, the highly credible and respected Amnesty International said they have received credible reports that between Tuesday evening and Thursday morning of last week scores of men were taken out of their houses by the Joint Task Force (JTF) and the younger men were then shot. According to information received by Amnesty International at least 30 bodies have been deposited at Maiduguri teaching hospital morgue with gun shot wounds.
One eye-witness told Amnesty International that on Thursday she saw dozens of bodies on the floor of the morgue with bullet wounds. Some burials took place on Friday morning. These reports were received as Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Salil Shetty, led a high level mission to Nigeria. He had presented the findings of Amnesty International’s latest report to members of the government and met with civil society members. “These reports from Maiduguri are shocking,” said Salil Shetty as he prepared to leave Nigeria.
“They underline the importance of Amnesty International’s call for thorough investigation into all reports of human rights violations.”
“As Amnesty International’s report, launched this week, already emphasized, the security services must act within the law. You can’t build security through creating insecurity.”
Amnesty International met the Attorney General of the Federation following the launch of the report where he, on behalf of the President, made commitments to investigate all reports of human rights violations by the security forces and said that any state actor found responsible will be brought to justice.
Prior to the public launch on 1 November, the findings of the report were shared in a confidential, written briefing to the relevant government bodies in August.
It was sent to the Minister of Police Affairs, the Minister of Interior, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, the Inspector General of Police, the Office of the National Security Adviser, the Chief of Defence Staff and the Commissioners of Police for Borno and Kano states. The document contained an appendix with the details of each case documented by Amnesty International, including the names, locations, the name of the relevant security agency involved, and requesting further information and an investigation into the reports.
The identities of some people were withheld from the final report – a public document with a global readership – to protect their safety. “As a leading actor on the African and international stage, Nigeria must address the inherent problems with its security forces and show real respect for the rule of law,” said Shetty.
On the same day Amnesty International launched the report, delegates were granted permission to visit Special Anti-Robbery Squad police Headquarters in Abuja to visit Ibrahim Umar, who remains detained there despite a court order for his release issued in August.
The delegates were told by the SARS police officers that he had been transferred to another station. After their departure, Amnesty International received information that Ibrahim Umar had, in fact, been taken to a different location within the station. “It looks as though Ibrahim Umar was hidden from us with the express intention of concealing his whereabouts. It would be a significant step if the police could now release this man, respecting the court order,” said Shetty.
“We urge the government to act on its commitment to bring to justice all those responsible for human violations. A vital first step is to introduce a witness protection programme that makes those who are victims of human rights violations feel safe when they call on the police for protection.”
What worries most Nigeria’s is that what the elected representatives and the government refused to see and are denying has not only being exposed by those that are outside the country but they shown more concern about the difficulties and the crisis ordinary people are facing than the leaders elected to protect and preserve such rights.