…Presidency, military fault report
Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye and Molly Kilete, Abuja
Amnesty International (AI) has unveiled gory details of how Nigerian soldiers and militia rape starving women while posing as their rescuers.
According to the group in its recent report, displaced women confined to remote camps (Internally Displaced Persons) were forced to become “girlfriends” of military in exchange for humanitarian assistance.
The report also stated that thousands have died of starvation in the camps.
“Thousands of women and girls who survived the brutal rule of the Boko Haram armed group have since been further abused by the Nigerian security forces who claim to be rescuing them,” the report titled: “They betrayed us” revealed.
It unveiled how the Nigerian military and Civilian Joint Task Force (Civilian JTF) – a militia who work alongside them – have separated women from their husbands and confined them in remote “satellite camps” where they have been raped, sometimes in exchange for food.
“It is absolutely shocking that people who had already suffered so much under Boko Haram have been condemned to further horrendous abuse by the Nigerian military,” said Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria.
“Instead of receiving protection from the authorities, women and girls have been forced to succumb to rape in order to avoid starvation or hunger.”
The report added that in some cases, the abuse appeared to be part of a pattern of persecution of anyone perceived to have a connection to Boko Haram. In fact, women were reported being beaten and called “Boko Haram wives” by security officials when they complained about their treatment.
“As Nigeria’s military recovered territory from the armed group in 2015, it ordered people living in rural villages to the satellite camps, in some cases indiscriminately killing those who remained in their homes. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled or were forced from these areas.
“The military screened everyone arriving to the satellite camps, and in some locations detained most men and boys aged between 14 and 40 as well as women who travelled unaccompanied by their husbands. The detention of so many men has left women to care for their families alone.”
AI added: “Scores of women described how soldiers and Civilian JTF members have used force 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.”
Five women reportedly told AI that they were raped in late 2015 and early 2016 in Bama Hospital camp as famine-like conditions prevailed.
“Ama (not her real name), 20, said: “They will give you food but in the night they will come back around 5pm or 6pm and they will tell you to come with them… One (Civilian JTF) man came and brought food to me. The next day, he said I should take water from his place (and I went.) He then closed the tent door behind me and raped me. He said I gave you these things, if you want them we have to be husband and wife.
“Ten others in the same camp said that they were also coerced into becoming ‘girlfriends’ of security officials to save themselves from starvation. Most of these women had already lost children or other relatives due to lack of food, water and healthcare in the camp. The sexual exploitation continues at an alarming level as women remain desperate to access sufficient food and livelihood opportunities.
“Women said the sexual exploitation follows an organised system, with soldiers openly coming into the camp for sex and Civilian JTF members choosing the ‘very beautiful’ women and girls to take to the soldiers outside. Women reported they were too afraid to refuse demands for sex.
“Sex in these highly coercive circumstances is always rape, even when physical force is not used, and Nigerian soldiers and Civilian JTF members have been getting away with it. They act like they don’t risk sanction, but the perpetrators and their superiors who have allowed this to go unchallenged have committed crimes under international law and must be held to account,” said Ojigho.
The report also stated that people confined in the satellite camps faced an acute food shortage from early 2015 until mid-2016, when humanitarian assistance was increased.
AI stated that its research further revealed that hundreds of women along with their children have been held in the notorious Giwa Barracks detention centre since 2015. While most have been released, an unknown number remain in military detention.
Many of those detained since 2015 had been victims of abductions or forced marriages by Boko Haram and were detained by the military for being so-called “Boko Haram wives” instead of being rescued, the report said.
AI said it received five reports about sexual violence in Giwa barracks, while seven women said they gave birth inside their dirty, overcrowded cells without any medical assistance.
At least 32 babies and children, and five women, have died in detention since 2016.
The report also captured Boko Haram abuses.
Media Manager, Amnesty International Nigeria, Isa Sanusi, said the report is the result of an extensive investigation involving more than 250 interviews and covers satellite camps established by the military in seven towns in Borno State, including Bama, Banki, Rann and Dikwa.
Amnesty International said it shared its findings with the Nigerian authorities but, at time of publication, no response has been received.
But in a swift response, the Presidency and the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) faulted the report.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, in a statement said, the report “is inherently battling with credibility, falling vehemently short of evidential narration.
“It is short on credibility because it does not contain factual leads that could have laid the foundation for investigative actions.”
According to the statement, “findings are attributed to people but proper description of such people constituting the source of information is not provided.
“Engagement was claimed to have been made with Nigerian authorities but which authority is it, is not provided with clarity. This then is just a wild goose chase report, in essence.”
On its part, DHQ accused AI of planning to destabilise and destroy the country.
Director Defence Information, Brigadier General John Agim said the rights group planned to achieve its plan by releasing a false report on fictitious rape incidents in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs’) camps in the North East part of the country.
“This malicious trend by AI is becoming a frequent ritual and it is rather unfortunate,” Agim said.
adding that it “will abide by all Human Rights Regulations as entered into by Nigeria and also go the extra mile in ensuring that the territorial integrity of our nation is well protected.”