Again, Amnesty International this time, had accused the military of human rights abuses of arbitrarily detaining 240 Boko Haram suspects, including 29 infants at Giwa Barrack who later died in congested cells.
The international rights group also accused staff of the Borno State Environmental Protection Agency of secretly burying the suspects at a cemetery in Maiduguri.
Amnesty disclosed this in Abuja while presenting its annual report on Nigeria for the year 2016.
However, the Defence Headquarters (DHQ), in a quick reaction, dismissed the report, accusing Amnesty International of fabricating its findings.
The Amnesty report also claims Boko Haram terrorists have continued to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity in the North-east, affecting 14.8 million people, adding that it continued to carry out attacks and small-scale raids throughout the year.
It noted that in its response to the Boko Haram attacks, the military continued to carry out arbitrary arrests, detentions, ill-treatment, and extrajudicial executions of people suspected of being Boko Haram fighters.
The report also revealed that the military arbitrarily arrested thousands of young men, women and children who fled to the safety of recaptured towns, including Banki and Bama in Borno State.
These arrests, according to the report, were largely based on random profiling of men, especially young men, rather than on reasonable suspicion of having committed a recognisable criminal offence, adding that in most cases the arrests were made without adequate investigation.
The report said other people were arbitrarily arrested as they attempted to flee from Boko Haram, while those detained by the military had neither access to their families nor lawyers and were not brought before a court.
The report stated: “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 were 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 infants and babies, aged between newborn and five years.
“At Giwa Barrack, 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.
“In May, 737 men detained as Boko Haram suspects by the army were transferred to the prison in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State.
“They were charged for being ‘incorrigible vagabonds’, which carried up to two years imprisonment and/or a fine.”
The report revealed further that there was continued lack of accountability for serious human rights violations committed by security officers.
It said no independent and impartial investigations into crimes committed by the military had taken place despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s repeated promises in May.
“Moreover, senior military officials alleged to have committed crimes under international law remained uninvestigated; Major General Ahmadu Mohammed was reinstated into the army in January.
“He was in command of operations when the military executed more than 640 detainees following a Boko Haram attack on the detention centre in Giwa Barracks on 14 March 2014,” the report noted.
The amnesty report also put the crackdown on the media into perspective, saying that government arrested and detained at least 10 journalists and bloggers without trial.
It said: “In August, Abubakar Usman, a prominent blogger, was arrested in Abuja, the capital, by the anti-corruption agency, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and accused of contravening the Cyber Crimes Act.
“The commission did not point out the specific provisions the blogger had contravened; he was released without being charged.
“In September, Jamil Mabai, was arrested and detained by the police for posting comments on Facebook and Twitter that were critical of the Katsina State Government.
“In early September, a publisher, Emenike Iroegbu was arrested in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, over alleged defamation.
“On 5th September, Ahmed Salkida, a Nigerian journalist based in the United Arab Emirates, was declared wanted by the military and later arrested by the State Security Services on arrival in Nigeria.
“He was among three persons arrested and briefly detained for alleged links to Boko Haram and for facilitating the release of a Boko Haram video on the abducted Chibok girls. He was later released; his passport remained confiscated.”
The report fingered also the security forces for disrupting and in some cases violently and with excessive use of force, peaceful protests and assemblies.
The report recounted that “on 6th September, police stopped members of the Bring Back Our Girls Movement (BBOGM). They had given notice of the protest and gathered peacefully outside the office and residence of the president in Abuja to demand the release of the abducted Chibok girls”.
“On 22 September in Abuja, police fired tear gas canisters to disperse a peaceful protest by the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, resulting in some minor injuries.
“A number of supporters of Biafran independence were in detention – many of them since late January – for attempting to hold or participate in peaceful assemblies. On several occasions, security forces used excessive force against pro-Biafran activists across southeastern Nigeria,” it said.
The report maintained that the deployment of military to police public gatherings contributed to the number of extrajudicial executions and unlawful killings.
It said since January, in response to the continued agitation by pro-Biafra campaigners, security forces arbitrarily arrested and killed at least 100 members and supporters of the group Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), noting that one of those arrested was subjected to enforced disappearance.
However, DHQ yesterday denied the allegations 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.
Abubakar said: “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.”
He said that the Nigerian military acknowledges and respects the views and constructive criticism of individuals, groups or even international organisations including those of Amnesty International, “but it will neither fall for nor accept the deliberate falsehood that has no bearing with the facts or reality on the ground”.
“The truth is that the Nigerian military has always been open in its operations and does not hide its activities from the probing eyes of the public.
“Amnesty International chose to bandy fabricated reports and concocted stories instead of seeking clarifications from the relevant authorities.
“The Defence Headquarters runs an open door policy in terms of information on its activities in the North-east or elsewhere and is ever ready to provide clarifications on any issue.
“On a number of times, the National Human Rights Commission has sent its delegation to seek clarification on issues they are not comfortable with, and on each occasion, the DHQ always obliged them with the information they sought.
“Amnesty International would rather contrive their report to suit their intention which is to cast a slur on the image and integrity of the Nigerian military.
“It smacks of mischief for Amnesty International to insist on publishing unverified and unsubstantiated reports as they alone know why they have embarked on such a dishonorable venture over a period of time.
“The Nigerian military rejects this report in its entirety and appeals to all well-meaning Nigerians to disregard the report and discountenance its contents as it was meant to paint Nigeria in bad light.
“We reassure our citizens of our commitment to ending these security challenges facing our country, irrespective of the unfounded reports and cheap blackmail by AI,” Abubakar said.