Not too long ago, Amnesty International released a report titled: “Stars on their shoulder. Blood on their hands”. This report exposed the human right abuses committed by the military in the north-east in executing the fight against boko haram militants. According to the report, more than 7000 men and boys died in
military detention, more than 1,200 were rounded up and unlawfully shot, and more than 20,000(some as young as 9years) arrested and detained “in the most degrading, brutal, and inhuman conditions”. Amnesty International insist these human right abuses should be investigated and named some senior serving and retired military officers that should be investigated. The reason been that there are sufficient evidence from leaked military documents to prove that“…senior military officials were regularly updated on the high rates of deaths among detainees through daily field reports, letters, and assessment reports sent by field commanders to the defense and army headquarters”.
The military responded as expected. In the response signed by Director Defence Information, Major General,Chris Olukolade, the military denied all allegations and accused Amnesty International of blackmail, supporting or having a soft spot for the boko haram sect and on a deliberate mission to tarnish the imagine of the Nigerian military. For the military, it was a “bias and concocted report” that don’t deserve anybody’s attention. But President Buhari on the other hand thought otherwise as he confirmed receiving the report and promised to look into the disturbing allegations.
What surprised me the more was the response of ordinary Nigerians and some public commentators who were taking side with the military. They were everywhere from the television to online platforms arguing that the military has done nothing wrong. Some said it is war, so the military has done nothing wrong in killing people because American soldiers too killed Osama Bin Ladan and nobody said anything. I watched a man on Channels TV even accuse Amnesty International of envy and these are just some few crazy and strange arguments I heard from those supporting the military. They have certainly not been to the troubled north-east and don’t leave there, so they can easily say anything and move on. They can’t even remember that our history is stained with military recklessness.
Military recklessness is not new to us all. Just yesterday I saw in the news that the people of Zaki Biam were deserting their village immediately they heard a soldier was shot and killed in their village. If we all can still remember what happened in this same Zaki Biam(the Zaki Biam massacre) in 2001, then you will understand the fear of the villagers. For those of you who don’t know, it was on 22, october,2001, in a reprisal attack for the killing of nineteen soldiers, the military went on a three day killing spree in Zaki biam. Then too Amnesty International called for an inquiry but the military denied that any civilian was killed and that they only carried out operations to recover stolen weapons taken from their murdered soldiers.
Before Zaki Biam, it was the town of Odi, precisely on November 20, 1999, in a reprisal attack for the killing of twelve police officers, the Nigerian military leveled this town. After the operation about 2,500 civilians were killed and the only thing left standing in the town was the bank, the Anglican church and the health centre.
In the north-east too it happened in Baga on April 16, 2013, when on another revenge attack for a soldier that was killed in that village, the Nigerian military burnt down houses and shot villagers indiscriminately. The military still denied this too that only six civilians were killed( as if that is even acceptable) in their “successful” operation against boko haram and that anyone blaming them is sympathising with the boko haram sect.
The shocking thing is that with all these terrible atrocities committed by our military year in, year out. There is no soldier standing trial for all these henious crimes. There is no good reason for a right thinking Nigerian to believe that the military are not committing these terrible crimes in the north-east presently. They must have carried so many reprisal attacks because they have also lost so many soldiers there too.
Ahmad Salkilda, a reporter who can be regarded as an authority on the boko haram sect once narrated how he was judged guilty by association and almost executed in the government house in maiduguri. If not luck, he could have easily been counted in that report as one of the 1,200 rounded up and shot by the military. He also told a disturbing story about his encounter with a woman in Maiduguri whose husband and two brothers where killed by Nigerian soldiers right in front of her and the truama made her have a miscarriage. All the woman wanted from him was to give her number to the boko haram sect because she wanted to kill as many soldiers before they kill her. How many people in the north-east have been shot, detained, suffocated and strangled by the Nigerian military because they have been judged guilty by assumption? I guess only God knows. So many people in the north-east may be faced with the difficult decision of choosing between the military(government) and boko haram sect who are all killing them.
On 16th April 2011, Salisu Adamu, a 300Level student at the university of Maiduguri, came back from school,ate food and went to bed only to be woken up late in the night by the military and taken to Giwa barracks were he was detained for three years. His education was put on hold and it is only luck that preserved his life. There are certainly so many others like Salisu among the more than 20,000 detained in degrading conditions by the military, so why are some strange people saying the report of Amnesty International should be ignored?
For me society can only move forward when there is a system that reward good to encourage people and punish those who go wrong to discourage the act. In Odi, the murder of more than 2,500 civilians by the military was not investigated with a strange excuse that they were ambushed on their way. When the military killed more than 500 civilians in Zaki biam, nobody took another look into it with another excuse that it was an operation to recover weapons stolen from the soldiers that were murdered. In Baga,they called it a “successful” operation. And now that Amnesty International has accused the Nigerian military of killing more than 8000 people and unlawfully detaining 20,000, I still hear people saying we should forget about it because it’s war. Do we need this military recklessness to reach our doorstep before we say It is enough? If it is true that there can be no peace without justice, then the fight against boko haram will not be complete unless these senior retired and serving military officers and all other soldiers involved in these crimes against humanity are made to answer for the crimes they committed or allowed to happen under their watch. All men and women of goodwill must support our military in the fight against the boko sect but also insist that the rights of law abiding citizens are not violated.
Bemdoo Hulugh is an active citizen, he writes from Makurdi.
You can also interact with him on tweeter @bumy04.