By Obinna Anyadike, Editor-at-Large
Nairobi — An Amnesty International report accusing the Nigerian military of the murder of thousands, and demanding the investigation of senior commanders for war crimes, has been welcomed by Nigerian pro-democracy activists.
“Stars on their shoulders. Blood on their hands: War crimes committed by the Nigerian military,” says more than 7,000 young men and boys were starved, suffocated and tortured to death in military detention from 2011 in the war against the Boko Haram insurgency.
The report, based on hundreds of interviews and leaked military documents, said since 2012 more than 1,200 people have been extrajudicially executed by the military and the vigilante Civilian Joint Task Force in the three conflict-affected states of the northeast.
“The report outlines the roles and possible criminal responsibilities of those along the chain of command – up to the Chief of Defence Staff and Chief of Army Staff – and names nine senior Nigerian military figures who should be investigated for command and individual responsibility for the crimes committed,” Amnesty said.
The accusations in the report will be an early test for Nigeria’s new president, Muhammadu Buhari, who on his swearing-in last week stressed that the military – which has a history of abuse – must be committed to human rights in its battle against the jihadist insurgency.
Nigerian civil society activists have been quick to comment on the report. Here is what they told IRIN:
Jibrin Ibrahim, fellow at Centre for Democracy and Development:
“I think it’s appropriate that people are charged for their crimes whoever they are. Numerous reports over the years have shown these crimes have been committed in a systematic manner. Impunity has always been a problem in the war against Boko Haram.
“The problem is we train the army for a war where you kill the enemy that you can see. But [in this insurgency] you are fighting an unknown enemy – the army don’t have the intelligence to know who-is-who.
“We need a completely new philosophy and doctrine. It’s not just in the northeast. The army is deployed in 32 out of 36 states in the country. The first thing is we need human rights training, and much greater focus on intelligence. Now Boko Haram is cornered, it is returning to asymmetrical warfare where the military has always struggled.”
Clement Nwankwo, executive director at Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre:
“The level of abuse is shocking. It certainly necessitates a judicial commission of inquiry. It is important that the government takes the initiative to investigate, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude a role for the International Criminal Court.
I think it’s a test for Buhari’s ability to bring the military to account and under his control. He said in his inaugural speech that issues of human rights would be a priority for him. Nigeria’s human rights community has consistently raised concern over the magnitude of violations the military has committed. They can’t be allowed to go scot free.”
Idayat Hassan, director at Centre for Democracy and Development:
“This report cannot be swept under the carpet if this new government wants to end the insurgency – it must take cognisance of the human rights violations by the security forces since the start of the insurgency. Mass atrocities have been committed in the northeast.
“It’s very obvious the service chiefs will have to go. The defining character of the Amnesty report is that they have been able to name and shame – which hasn’t been done before.
“The insurgency has been seen as northerners killing northerners. [Buhari] has promised a Marshall Plan for the northeast in his first 100 days. That expenditure must be seen [by Nigerians] as in the national interest. Everyone should be concerned – this conflict in the northeast affects us all, and impacts on the development of the country as a whole.”
Chidi Odinkalu, chairman, Governing Council, National Human Rights Commission:
“Have there been atrocities on the side of the Armed Forces? Absolutely, I think so. But I don’t want to get caught up on numbers.
“There has been an attempt by the Nigerian army to seek accountability over those accused of atrocities. I’m not saying that this is adequate or sufficient.
“There has been a build-up of trauma in the military, with men serving on the frontlines not properly equipped or relieved. No human being is constructed to take that amount of trauma without dealing some back. We need programmes that provide treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”