The United States yesterday released a damming report on human rights abuses by security agencies in Nigeria. It also accused officials of the Nigeria Prisons Service of routinely extorting money from inmates as fees for food, prison maintenance, and sometimes to secure their release from prison.
The officials have also been accused of various other abuses, including rape of female prisoners under their custody. The report also accused the Nigerian Armed Forces, Nigeria Police and the Department of State Services (DSS) of human rights abuses in their operations in different parts of Nigeria.
The allegations were contained in a document tagged: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015 which was authored by the United States Department of States, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour.
It focused essentially on human rights abuses by governments and agencies of governments across the world. According to the report, only prisoners with money or support from their families had sufficient food as the officials routinely stole money provided for prisoners’ food. Poor inmates, the report said, often relied on handouts from others to survive while officials, police, and other security personnel often denied inmates food and medical treatment to punish them or extort money from them.
It revealed that the condition of prisons and detention centres across Nigeria were harsh and life threatening. The report claimed that prisoners and detainees, the majority of whom had not been tried, were reportedly subjected to extrajudicial execution, torture, gross overcrowding, food and water shortages, inadequate medical treatment, deliberate and incidental exposure to heat and sun, and infrastructure deficiencies that led to wholly inadequate sanitary conditions that could result in death.
“Authorities sometimes held female and male prisoners together, especially in rural areas. Prisons had no facilities to care for pregnant women or nursing mothers. Infants born to inmate mothers usually remained with the mother until weaned. Prison authorities often held juvenile suspects with adults. The government often detained suspected militants outside the formal prison system. It also revealed that Nigeria operated some unofficial military prisons including the Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri, Borno State, the Sector Alpha (aka “Guantanamo”) and Presidential Lodge (aka “the Guardroom”) facilities in Damaturu, Yobe State, among others.
Amnesty International had, in a separate report released in May 2015, alleged that these unofficial prisons were havens for cases of extrajudicial killings, inhuman and degrading treatment, beatings, torture, starvation, and illegal detention of persons. The report accused the Nigerian government and its agents of committing numerous arbitrary and unlawful killings. It said that the Nigeria Police, Nigeria Army and other security services committed extrajudicial killings and used lethal and excessive force to apprehend criminals and suspects as well as to disperse protesters.
“Authorities generally did not hold police, military, or other security force personnel accountable for the use of excessive or deadly force or for the deaths of persons in custody. State and federal panels of inquiry investigating suspicious deaths did not make their findings public.
“Security force use of excessive force, including live ammunition, to disperse demonstrators resulted in numerous killings during the year. For example, on December 12, army troops killed an undetermined number – possibly hundreds according to some credible reports – of members of the Shia group Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) in Zaria, Kaduna State, following an altercation at a roadblock that disrupted the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff.
IMN leader, Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, remained in government custody, while institutions, including the Kaduna State government, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the National Assembly, and the Nigerian Army launched or pledged to launch inquiries into the incident.
“Security forces were allegedly responsible for extrajudicial killings, often arbitrarily executing many individuals at one time. In May, following the killing and mutilation of six soldiers by cattle rustlers, army troops killed dozens of civilians and razed scores of houses in Wase District, Plateau State. Community leaders accused the military of storming several villages at night and firing indiscriminately,” said the report.
The report singled out the activities of the Boko Haram as the most serious human rights abuses in the country. It observed that the terrorist group conducted numerous attacks on government and civilian targets that resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries, widespread destruction, the internal displacement of an estimated 1.8 million persons, and the external displacement of 220,000 Nigerian refugees to neighbouring countries.
“In its response to Boko Haram attacks, and at times to crime and insecurity in general, security services perpetrated extrajudicial killings, and engaged in torture, rape, arbitrary detention, mistreatment of detainees and destruction of property.
“The country also suffered from widespread societal unrest, including ethnic, regional, and religious violence. Other serious human rights problems included vigilante killings; prolonged pre-trial detention, often in facilities with poor conditions; denial of fair public trial; executive influence on the judiciary; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; and restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement,” the report.
The US report said that the Nigerian government took only a few steps to investigate or prosecute officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity remained widespread at all levels of government. It said that although President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration began initial steps to curb corruption, authorities did not investigate or punish the majority of cases of police or military abuse.