Amnesty International has accused the Nigerian military of human rights abuses, saying that it arbitrarily detained 240 Boko Haram suspects, including 29 children at Giwa Barracks who later died in overcrowded cells.
The international group made this known in Abuja while presenting its annual report on Nigeria for the year 2016.
Chairman, Board of Amnesty International (Nigeria), Auwal Rafsanjani, disclosed that government arrested and detained 10 journalists and bloggers in 2016 without trial.
According to the report, “The past year has seen a disturbing rise in arrests and intimidation of media professionals and activists in Nigeria. At least 10 journalists and bloggers were arrested in 2016, some for alleged connections to Book Haram, in a crackdown that appears to have been orchestrated to suffocate freedom of expression.
“In August, Abubakar Usman, a blogger, was arrested in Abuja, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and accused him of contravening the Cyber Crimes Act. The commission did not point out the specific provisions the blogger had contravened.
“In January, members of the Nigerian Army raided the editorial offices of Premium Times and arrested journalists- Dapo Olunrunyomi and Evelyn Okaku. They were subsequently released but the move sent a clear message to Nigerians that the government was out to intimidate journalists and the media.
“The military arbitrarily arrested thousands of young men, women and children who fled to the safety of recaptured towns, including Banki and Bama, Borno state. These arrests were largely based on random profiling of men, especially young men, rather than on reasonable suspicion of having committed a recognizably criminal offence.
“In most cases, the arrests were made without adequate investigation. Other people were arbitrarily arrested as they attempted to flee from Boko Haram. Those detained by the military had no access to their families or lawyers and were not brought before a court. More than 1,500 detainees were released throughout the year.
“The mass arrests by the military of people fleeing Boko Haram led to overcrowding in military detention facilities. At the military detention facility at Giwa barracks, Maiduguri, cells were overcrowded. Diseases, dehydration and starvation was rife.
“At least 240 detainees died during the year. Bodies were secretly buried in Maiduguri’s cemetery by the Borno State environmental protection agency staff. Among the dead were at least 29 children and babies, aged between newborn and five years.
“At Giwa barracks, children under five were detained in three overcrowded and insanitary women’s cells, alongside at least 250 women and teenage girls per cell. Some children were born in detention.”
Reacting swiftly to the allegations, the Defense Headquarters yesterday denied the accusations by Amnesty International, saying its report was filled with falsehood.
Director of Defence Information, Brig Gen Rabe Abubakar said the report was another premeditated attempt by AI to bring disrepute to the Nigerian military.
His words: “The report published by the Amnesty International (AI) alleging death of 240 people including babies in Borno and 177 pro-Biafran agitators was yet another in its series of spurious fabrications aimed at tarnishing the good image of the Nigerian military.
“Without mincing words, the allegations contained in the said report are not only inconceivable, but have no place in the Nigerian military.
“The report is another contrived lie orchestrated to blackmail and ridicule the Nigerian Armed Forces which they have unsuccessfully tried to do in the past.
“It is on record that Amnesty International embarked on a series of such false allegations against the Nigerian military and other security forces as far back as the inception of the military action against terrorists in the North East.
“Amnesty International only encourages the activities of non-state actors who take up arms against the state, killing, maiming and destroying public property, and always accuses the security forces who are sacrificing everything to restore peace and normalcy.”