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Panel inaugurated to investigate human rights violations by military and other security operatives in northeastern Nigeria

13 February 2023
Reading time: 8 minutes

NigeriaThe federal government and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) have set up a special investigative panel to probe alleged cases of human rights violations by members of the counterinsurgency forces in northeast Nigeria.

This is in response to demands for restitution by victims and their families, as well as an international outcry over stories about horrific abuses published by Reuters news agency.

Mohammed Ali Kubulle, a resident of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, told RNI that he was a peace activist and he abhorred human rights violations whether by security operatives, insurgents or civilians. “My family’s human rights were violated when my brother was killed for no reason at all. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It hurt our family badly. My brother was killed by security operatives in Maiduguri some years ago during the May 29 celebrations [see below]. My brother was a trader and he went to sell his products at the market. Unknown to him the military had imposed a curfew at that time. He was shot dead. It soon became apparent that apart from my slain brother, many innocent people were killed in Baga Road and other places in Maiduguri on that day.

“We were not allowed even to see his dead body and could not give him a proper and dignified burial. Now his children are without a father and his widow is struggling to care for their children.”

Kubulle said he was pleased to hear about the panel and hoped it would investigate all human rights violations not only in Borno state but also in the whole of the northeast and the rest of Nigeria.

“I hope there will be justice for all the victims who were brutalised, injured or killed by the military and other security operatives.

“I urge members of the panel not to play politics in the process of investigating such human rights violations. Rather, it is imperative for the members to work diligently to ensure justice for the victims and their families by fishing out the culprits or perpetrators and bringing them to book publicly through all the various media organisations, such as radio, TV, newspapers and online.”

Shettima Maidugu, also known as Shettima Banga, welcomed the decision to set up a panel to investigate human rights violations.

“Setting up such a panel is a good development and it is necessary if the government truly wants to investigate cases of human rights violations by those in the ongoing counterinsurgency operations. Those of us who have been abused will give maximum cooperation to the members of the NHRC panel to ensure that all victims receive justice.

“I’m not sure what success – if any – the panel will have with cooperation from the military and other security operatives because most of these human rights violations were carried out by them.

“Some of my relatives and friends were killed by security operatives when we were chased from our hometown in the Marte Local Government Area by Boko Haram [Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’way Wa’l-Jihād – JAS] insurgents. Innocent people, such as Mallam Ya Karamaye, Goni Gambo and Abba Gambo, among others, were killed. They did not belong to Boko Haram or any other insurgency group. Up until today we have never seen their corpses. I hope the families of these slain innocent people and other victims get the justice they deserve.”

Yahaya Alhaji Dunoma, an independent legal practitioner in Maiduguri and a volunteer member of Amnesty International, said the NHRC was established by the federal government as an extrajudicial mechanism to ensure all people respect and enjoy basic human rights.

“It also provides avenues for public enlightenment, research and dialogue to raise awareness on human rights issues.”

He said the panel was officially inaugurated on Tuesday, February 7, to investigate alleged cases of human rights violations committed during counterinsurgency operations and carried out by the military and other security operatives.

“The panel will be diligent in their work and all investigations, dialogue and discussion with the victims of human right violations and their families will be done in a transparent manner and publicly just like the investigative panel organised for victims of end-SARS protests [see below].”

“I urge all victims to write an affidavit and sign petitions on every case of human rights violations so that the panel will get concrete evidence and will investigate and get justice for victims. This could result in victims’ loved ones getting compensation. People must know that the members of the panel are here to work, not to joke. It is imperative for the people to trust the panel and give them maximum cooperation,” Dunoma said.

News agency Reuters quoted eight sources familiar with the NHRC’s past work who said the panel “still faced challenges”.

The state-funded NHRC did its best to press officials to act in the interest of citizens whose rights had been violated, the sources said, but, even though the inquiry was supported by the government, amid an international outcry, the NHRC was hobbled by a lack of authority to compel military leaders and other officials to prosecute or punish anyone.

Reuters said none of these people, who included rights lawyers and researchers, was aware of any major cases handled by the commission that had led to the prosecution of senior Nigerian officials, although it had secured financial restitution for some victims of abuse.

The agency quoted Ikemesit Effiong, head of research at Lagos-based consultancy SBM Intelligence, who has followed the commission’s work, as saying :

“Nigeria does not have a decent track record at holding its own accountable. That is even more stark if the stakeholders are the military.”

And it quoted human rights lawyer Nelson Olanipekun, founder of Gavel, a nonprofit promoting justice, as saying that despite the “brave, serious” people on the commission, a government referral to the NHRC translated to “let’s bury the matter”.

“The commission-appointed panel, headed by a former Supreme Court justice and including a former major-general, is investigating two Reuters articles published last year. The news agency reported on December 7 that the army ran a secret programme of coerced abortions in the country’s northeast, where it has been battling Islamist insurgents since 2009.

The programme had ended the pregnancies of at least 10,000 women and girls freed from insurgent captivity, according to witness accounts and documents. “On December 12, again citing dozens of witnesses, Reuters reported that the army intentionally killed children in the war, under a presumption they were, or would become, terrorists. Nigerian military leaders said the abortion programme did not exist and that children were never targeted for killing.”

Commission executive secretary Tony Ojukwu, a veteran human rights lawyer and activist, urged Reuters in WhatsApp messages to “exercise caution” so as not to prejudice people against the NHRC.

A Reuters spokeswoman said the news agency stood by its reports on military abuses, adding: “We are committed to covering events in Nigeria in an impartial and independent way, as we do around the world.”

The NHRC had the ability to recommend prosecution. But only the attorney-general, the police inspector-general or prosecutors could launch criminal proceedings. To pursue alleged wrongdoing by the military, an officer would have to initiate a court-martial, Reuters said.

The commission’s budget had doubled since 2015 to about ₦3 billion in 2021. But its caseload had grown faster, tripling in the same period to about 1.7 million. It had in the past complained of insufficient funding. In its 2018 budget request, it noted that if it were to spend just ₦5,000 on each complaint, it would need ₦5 billion annually to handle that year’s caseload, the news agency said.


• May 29 was initially the official Democracy Day in Nigeria, marking the day that the newly elected Olusegun Obasanjo took office as the president of Nigeria in 1999 and ending multiple decades of military rule that began in 1966. May 29 was a public holiday in Nigeria.

Democracy Day was changed to June 12 by Muhammadu Buhari’s administration in honour of Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, popularly referred to as MKO Abiola, a businessman, publisher and politician. He contested for the presidency in the 1993 Nigeria elections and was widely regarded as the winner although the final results weren’t released.

In 1994, he was arrested and detained in prison on charges of treason after declaring himself the president of Nigeria. MKO Abiola died on July 7, 1998, the day he was due to be released from prison. His death was trailed by suspicious circumstances, although an official autopsy stated that he died of a heart attack. General Sani Abacha’s chief security officer said Abiola was beaten to death.

In remembrance of the life, exploits and legacy set by Abiola, the Lagos state government through governor Akinwunmi Ambode unveiled the MKO Abiola Statue on June 12, 2018 – exactly 25 years after he won the June 12, 1993, presidential election – in Ojota, a suburb of Lagos. The governor said the statue would remain a memorial of Abiola’s legacy and the greatness that he represented to Nigeria’s political landscape. When Buhari became president, he changed Democracy Day to June 12.

• #EndSARS was a decentralised social movement that held a series of mass protests in 2020 against police brutality in Nigeria.


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