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Military razes villages as Boko Haram attacks escalate —Amnesty International

Amnesty betrays lack of knowledge of the goings-on in the Northeast – Army

THE AMNESTY International (AI) on Thursday said the Nigerian military has burned and forcibly displaced entire villages in response to a recent escalation in attacks by the Boko Haram insurgents.

According to a report published by the global advocacy group, the military also arbitrarily detained six men that were held incommunicado from the displaced villages for almost a month and subjected them to ill-treatment, before their release on January 30 2020.

This, the AI described as a continuous pattern of violations throughout the country’s decade-long armed conflict in the Northeast.

In the report, four witnesses said as the military emptied Bukarti and Matiri and brought people to the trucks on 3 January; they separated six younger men and blindfolded them.

According to consistent accounts by relatives of two of the men and other witnesses,  soldiers did not seek the men out by name or otherwise appear to come looking for specific people.

Two of the detained men said, because they were blindfolded until reaching their cell, they did not know where they were being held until the release of all six of them on January 30, when they saw it was Maimalari military barracks in Maiduguri.

Speaking on the violation of the rights of civilians, Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria lamented that the repeat of a long-standing pattern of the Nigerian military’s brutal tactics against the civilian population should be stopped, adding that officials allegedly responsible for such violations must be suspended immediately and brought to justice.”

“These brazen acts of razing entire villages, deliberately destroying civilian homes and forcibly displacing their inhabitants with no imperative military grounds, should be investigated as possible war crimes,” said Ojigho,

The report, however, revealed that since December 2019, Boko Haram has increasingly carried out attacks in Northeastern Nigeria, particularly along the important road between Maiduguri and Damaturu, the capitals of Borno and Yobe states.

Satellite imagery on January 3 and 4, indicates signs of several large fires burning on and around the area from three villages near the Maiduguri-Damaturu road, between Jakana and Mainok in Borno State.

The imagery also revealed burning in neighbouring villages, showing that almost every structure was razed by fire in Bukarti, Ngariri, and Matiri.

Residents from Bukarti, consistently described scores of Nigerian soldiers arriving during the late morning of Friday 3 January.

They said soldiers went house to house and to surrounding farmland, forcing everyone to gather under a tree and by a graveyard between Bukarti and the main road. Soldiers also rounded up people from neighbouring Matiri and brought them to the same area.

The villages affected are Ngariri, Bukarti, Matiri. Witnesses said about 3 pm on January 3 they were forcefully loaded into the trucks, then some of the soldiers returned to Bukarti and set their village ablaze.

“We saw our houses go into flames,” recalled a 70-year-old woman from Bukarti. “We all started crying.”

The trucks then took more than 400 women, men, and children from Bukarti and Matiri to an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp near Maiduguri.

The next day, on 4 January, soldiers went to Ngariri, a village across the main road from Bukarti, according to three residents of Ngariri. Soldiers assembled older women and men, and forced them aboard a truck that took them to Maiduguri, Ngariri was then razed in flames.

Witnesses interviewed said they could not bring belongings with them, so they lost everything – their homes, jewellery, clothes, and, most devastatingly, the crops they stored after the harvest.

“Everything we harvested was destroyed, and some of our animals died,” said a farmer in his 60s. “I had a year (of harvest) stored – it’s what I would’ve sold to buy clothes and other things for my family.”

The report explains that ordering the displacement of the inhabitants of these villages for no security purpose, and burning of their homes, amount to war crime.

Nigerian army statements, reported by the media, indicate that soldiers from Brigades 5 and 29, along with Special Intervention Battalion 2, carried out the operations between Jakana and Mainok on 3 January. The army said it arrested six “suspects” and “rescued… 461 Boko Haram captives” from several villages, including Bukarti and Matiri.

Witnesses interviewed according to the report said Boko Haram had not been in their village and they were not saved from Boko Haram, and that they felt safer in their village than in the IDP camp where the military took them.

Numerous Bukarti and Ngariri residents said their village was so close to the main road that it wasn’t credible to think Boko Haram could have a base there. They said Nigerian soldiers came through the area regularly and spoke frequently with village leaders. Other witnesses said Nigerian soldiers staged photographs of the villagers walking to the trucks, to make it appear as if the military had ‘saved’ them.

“The Nigerian government must not brush these violations under the carpet. They must be investigated, and alleged perpetrators must be prosecuted. Necessary steps must also be taken to ensure that military operations do not further forcibly displace civilian populations,” said Osai Ojigho.

The military’s operations came amid a surge in Boko Haram activity in areas along the Maiduguri-Damaturu road. In its deadliest attack since the start of the year, on 10 February Boko Haram allegedly killed 30 motorists near Auno village. It was the armed group’s sixth assault on Auno in 10 months.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian military in response on Thursday described the report as baseless and false, accusing the Amnesty International organization of working with the terror group.

The military added that members of the public should discard AIs report, which is not a truthful representation of the troops’ counter-terrorism operation in the Northeast.

Acting Director of Defence Information, Onyema Nwachukwu, a Brigadier General, in a statement stated that AI must understand the fact that Nigeria is at war against terrorism in the Northeast adding that the troops have a constitutional directive to protect lives and property, even if it meant conducting an evacuation to save and secure lives of civilians in the conflict.

Onyema further explained that protecting civilians by evacuating them from the line of fire during combat is not a violation of the international law of conflict or a war crime and that the troops of Operation Lafiya Dole conducting counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations in the Northeast do not employ arson as an operational tactic.

He added that it is a well-known fact, going by the modus operandi of Boko Haram terrorists that they have more often than not involved in the brutal acts of looting and burning of villages, as well as destroying lives and infrastructures.

“The Defence Headquarters (DHQ) has taken cognizance of yet another falsified report by Amnesty International (AI) in a campaign of calumny targeting the Nigerian Military and deliberately supporting the callous acts of terrorism perpetrated by Boko Haram Terrorists (BHTs) and Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP),”Onyema added.

“The Defence Headquarters wishes to state unambiguously that the allegations being touted by AI are nothing but a betrayal of its lack of in-depth knowledge of the goings-on in the northeast theatre of operation.”

However, in June 2019, the Nigerian government in the same vein ordered thousands of people to leave the relative safety of their camp in Maiduguri to live in an unsafe area as pressure mounted to show progress in the war against militants ahead of elections, sources familiar with the situation said.

In September of the same year, the town where these people were kept was attacked, forcing the population to flee again.

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