It is difficult to pick which statistics stand out in the overwhelming dark scorecard released by Amnesty International on the human rights abuses carried out by members of the JTF and soldiers of the Nigerian Army in Borno state.
In a report titled ‘They betrayed us”, the rights watch group report that scores of women allege the “use of force” by soldiers and civilian members of the Joint Task Force (JTF) “and threats to rape women in satellite camps, including by taking advantage of hunger to coerce women to become their ‘girlfriends’, which involved being available for sex on an ongoing basis”. The alleged raping activities described are said to have occurred from late 2015 till early 2016.
Also disturbing are the allegations of mistreatment of women and children in satellite camps, leading to the deaths of about “at least 32 babies and children, and five women” since 2016. There have also been deaths due to hunger in the camps; one estimate by a woman in one of the camps putting the frequency at 15 deaths per day, a figure Amnesty says is corroborated by satellite imagery. It adds up to an absolutely undesirable and contemptible revelation, and any remote possibility that these are indisputable facts should be deeply repulsive, at least.
It would not be the first time Nigerian soldiers and JTF members will appear heavenly under a cloud of gross misdemeanor in the books of Amnesty International. The group’s assessment and research on the alleged December 2015 massacre and mass burial of 350 members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN, or Shiites) by the Nigeria Army was the high mark of the description of horrors attributed to the Army, until now. Rather predictably, the Army rejected Amnesty’s claims about the events in Zaria, with a spokesperson saying to Amnesty: ““If they have proper evidence let them bring it out for all to see. We cannot confront law-abiding citizens.” Referring to the matter as of national security interest, a formal statement was published by the Army branding the IMN’s activities as “reminiscent of Boko Haram which has become a menace and security concern not only to the Nigeria, but also the Lake Chad Basin region and the entire world”. The report was regarded as “[lacking] conformity to both local and international best standards on evidence gathering”.
The strenuous attempt at denial was anything but convincing to Nigerians and foreign governments continue to indict the Buhari administration for lacking the interest in addressing issue of abuse in the military.
Failing to adequately sway opinion on those issues, how will the Army handle the fresh allegations of crimes perpetrated against arguably more defenseless people, crimes which, with the accounts rendered, are just as insidious and wicked as the alleged Zaria massacre?
The Army has referred to the new Amnesty report as the development of “a malicious trend by AI is becoming a frequent ritual and it is rather unfortunate”. It has accused the rights watch group as failing to be partners with it in fighting Boko Haram, choosing instead to “[engage] in falsehood, maligning the military and painting it in bad light at any slight opportunity,’’
A terse rejection will not cut it if there is no objective will to undertake an inquiry into its ranks on the conduct of its officers operating in the camps. You will not see many springing to the defence of the lifestyle of Nigerian soldiers as standards for morality, but that does not make them automatically guilty. However, the very unfortunate accounts of the number of deaths and violations of women rendered cannot be dismissed with another statement on a lack of conformity on evidence gathering methods.
This report will be a distraction to the Army in the still on-going war against Boko Haram even as morale is gauged high with the approval of purchase of more military equipment by President Buhari. An editorial by The Guardian this week extolled the past and present of the Army citing its significant achievements in maintaining the territorial integrity of the state. It would be more than unfortunate that while Nigerians are willing to praise them for rescuing young girls on their backs away from points of danger, they proceed with a savior complex to knock down doors where they are not welcome to satisfy out-of-control orgies.