Human Rights, Justice and Nigeria’s Security Sector: Will 2017 see the change that is needed?

January 25, 2017

Protestors gather in Nkpor, Onitsha on 30 May 2016, Nigeria.

By Adotei Akwei and Miho Mitobe

In late November AI released a report on human rights violations committed by Nigerian security forces in the southeast of the country. The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) had conducted largely peaceful marches as part of an effort to establish an independent state, and the response was brutal and depressing in its familiarity. 

It is not the first time that AI has called on the Nigerian government to investigate possible crimes against humanity by the security forces. In fact, before and since taking office, President Buhari frequently reiterated that Amnesty reports would be read and human rights violations by the security forces would be investigated. Yet by the end of 2016 no concrete progress had been made to address the ongoing human rights crisis, which contrary to public perception, is not limited to the counter insurgency effort against Boko Haram in the north eastern part of the country but is also flaring up in the south eastern part of the country

Since August 2015, the Nigerian security forces killed at least 150 IPOB members and injured hundreds more during peaceful assemblies and marches. The reported numbers include many unlawful killings by the security forces which were documented through approximately 200 interviews including eyewitness and victims’ accounts of these human rights violations as well as analysis of a number of videos and photographs.

The report shows that the security forces failed to comply with international and regional human rights obligations including as set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.

The Charter, which was incorporated into the Nigerian constitution, requires states to respect and uphold the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of association and expression. However, some states (Anambra, Rivers and Abia) have issued statements banning assemblies for IPOB protests. On top of that, in spite of the face that most of the assemblies were peaceful, several officials in these states have classified the protests as violent in order to justify the use of force to crack down on them.

The report documents seven cases in which Nigerian military and police used excessive force to impede assemblies. It also highlighted the fact that the security forces have required hospitals to refuse to treat people without a letter of authorization from the police-even if they have sustained life-threatening wounds. This goes against the both the African Charter and the ICCPR as well as Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

There are also many testimonies that the security forces and the police went to the hospitals to arrest critically wounded people. AI found that those who were arrested were charged with treason, which is defined as“Any person who levies war against the State, in order to intimidate or overawe the President or the Governor of a State The definition does not refer to a particular type of act, nor does it refer to a particular circumstance wherein use of force is justified.

The government of Nigeria has yet to investigate the cases mentioned in this report. There has been no justice, truth or reparation for those extra judicially executed by the security forces, and their families have not been officially informed of their loved ones’ deaths.

In response to the threat of the Boko Haram insurgency, Congress passed a bill (S. 1632) which is focused on facilitating the development of   an effective regional strategy. The bill not only highlights improving the capacity and performance of the regional military force known as the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) assembled to defeat Boko Haram, but also requires partner countries to “investigate and prosecute human rights abuses by security forces and promote respect for the rule of law within the military.”

It will be up to U.S. Congress to ensure that U.S. support for the Nigerian military and the MNTJF prioritizes the issues of justice, accountability and human rights in 2017.