Amnesty International (AI) has called on the federal government to investigate and persecute some military personnel alleged to be behind the burning of some villages and forcible displacement of residents in response to the recent attacks by Boko Haram in the Northeast.
In a report published on Friday, AI alleged that the military burned villages and detained six men from the displaced villages at Maimalari military camp for about a month after which which they were freed without any charge.
“The men were held incommunicado for almost a month and subjected to ill-treatment before their release on 30th January 2020,” the report said.
Amnesty in the report said the military had continued the pattern of violations which it had documented throughout the country’s decade-long armed conflict in the Northeast, based on interviews with affected villagers in Borno State and satellite data analysis.
The Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, said, “These brazen acts of razing entire villages, deliberately destroying civilian homes and forcibly displacing their inhabitants with no imperative military grounds, should be investigated as possible war crimes. They repeat a longstanding pattern of the Nigerian military’s brutal tactics against the civilian population. Forces allegedly responsible for such violations must be suspended immediately and brought to justice.”
The report stated that AI interviewed 12 women and men forced to flee their homes on January 3 and 4, 2020 from three villages near the Maiduguri-Damaturu road, between Jakana and Mainok in Borno State.
The organization also revealed that it reviewed fire data from remote satellite sensing, which indicates several large fires burning around January 3 in that area. Satellite imagery of Bukarti, Ngariri, and Matiri showed almost every structure was razed.
“Residents from Bukarti consistently described to Amnesty International scores of Nigerian soldiers arriving during the late morning of January 3. They said soldiers went house to house and to surrounding farmlands, forcing everyone to gather under a tree and by a graveyard between Bukarti and the main road. Soldiers also rounded up people from neighbouring Matiri and brought them to the same area,” the report said.
“The Nigerian government must not brush these violations under the carpet. They must be investigated, and alleged perpetrators must be prosecuted. Necessary steps must also be taken to ensure that military operations do not further forcibly displace civilian populations,” said Osai Ojigho.
But reacting to the report, the Defence Headquarters in a statement by the Acting Director Defence Information, Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu, accused Amnesty International of circulating a false report in another campaign of calumny against the Nigerian military.
Alleging that the AI is supporting acts of terrorism, Nwachukwu said allegations of the military burning villages and unlawful detentions by troops was reminiscent of AI’s usual habit of disparaging the Nigerian military.
The statement said the allegations were nothing but a betrayal of AI’s lack of in-depth knowledge of the happenings in the Northeast theatre of operation.
“AI must understand the fact that Nigeria is at war against terrorism in the NE and that the troops have a constitutional mandate to protect lives and property, even if it means conducting an evacuation to save and secure lives of civilians in the conflict. Protecting civilians by evacuating them from the line of fire during combat is not a violation of the international law of conflict or a war crime. It is rather a commendable effort by the troops to prevent collateral damage during combat. Our troops should therefore be commended for making deliberate efforts to evacuate civilians in order to protect their lives and property,” the statement said.
The statement urged AI to stop its reckless distortion of facts in its desperate bid to “satisfy its puppeteers by undermining Nigeria’s Military campaign against terrorism in the Northeast.” It also urged the members of the public to debunk the AI claim.