© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Nigerian Govt. Knew About Rape Cases in IDP Camps But Failed To Act
By Chikezie Omeje
A report by the Human Rights Watch, HRW, indicating that Nigerian government officials and security agents have sexually exploited women and girls in the Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camps, has forced President Muhammadu Buhari to order a full investigation into the sexual abuse allegation.
But most of the findings of the HRW were a confirmation of an investigative report published by icirnigeria.org on January 19, 2015 on the rampart cases of rape and child trafficking in IDPs camps across the Northeast.
The story, entitled : “ Grim Tales Of Rape, Child Trafficking In Displaced Persons Camps, chronicled sad tales told by victims and some aid workers in the IDPs camps but it was dismissed by the government, which said that there was no evidence even after setting up an investigation panel.
In the federal government’s reaction to the new disclosures by HRW, senior special assistant to the president on media and publicity, Garba Shehu said President Buhari was “worried and shocked” by the report.
The statement reads, “The welfare of these most vulnerable of Nigerian citizens has been a priority of his government. “Nigerians and the international community can rest assured that the allegations raised in the HRW are not being taken lightly.
“President Buhari has instructed the Inspector General of Police and the state governors of the affected states to immediately commence investigations into the issue.
“Their findings will determine the next course of action for the government and define an appropriate response.”
In its report released on Monday, HRW said it recorded 43 cases of women and girls in IDP camps in Maiduguri who had been abused by camp leaders, vigilante groups, policemen, and soldiers in July this year.
HRW said in the report that four of the victims were drugged and raped, while 37 were coerced into sex through false marriage promises and material and financial assistance.
According to HRW, many of those coerced into sex said they were abandoned if they became pregnant and they and their children have suffered discrimination, abuse, and stigmatization from other camp residents.
Eight of the victims told HRW that they were previously abducted by Boko Haram fighters and forced into marriage before they escaped to Maiduguri.
HRW told a story of how a 17-year-old girl said that just over a year after she fled the frequent Boko Haram attacks in Dikwa, a town 56 miles west of Maiduguri, a policeman approached her for “friendship” in the camp, and then he raped her.
“One day he demanded to have sex with me,” she said. “I refused but he forced me. It happened just that one time, but soon I realized I was pregnant. When I informed him about my condition, he threatened to shoot and kill me if I told anyone else. So I was too afraid to report him.”
The HRW’s findings are similar to our investigative report in which many aid workers in the IDP camps alleged that there was a conspiracy of silence among state officials which encouraged unscrupulous camp officials, including police, military and health officials to continue to exploit displaced persons, especially women and girls.
The ordeal of this 17-year-old is similar to what 16-year-old Laraba told the icirnigeria.org in Gombe that an official of the state emergency relief agency named Ibrahim took her from the camp where she was to his home on the pretext that she would be helping the wife with household chores.
“I was happy leaving the camp, but when we got to his house, there was no wife. He raped me continuously for three nights, locked me inside his house for days and threatened me.”
She continued, “I managed to escape and came back to the camp. I got pregnant. An old woman we call ‘Kaka’, gave me some leaves. I was bleeding for almost two weeks and smelling.”
Laraba said she had to suffer in silence as she could not tell anyone because she thought nobody would believe her and for fear of being sent away from the camp.
The investigative story by icirnigeria.org also contained the stories of other girls who were raped and sexually exploited by the camp officials and security agents.
HRW pointed out that victims of rape and sexual exploitation may be less likely to seek health care, including psychological counselling, due to the shame they feel, noting also that men used their positions of authority and gifts of desperately needed food or other items to have sex with women.
The icirnigeria.org story of nearly two years generated a lot of anger, particularly among international humanitarian agencies, forcing the government to set up a probe panel comprising members from the Department of State services, DSS, National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, National human Rights Commission, NHRC, Journalists against Disaster, JAD, among others.
Interestingly, officials of some of these same agencies form the bulk of those accused of sexually abusing girls and women in the camps.
Curiously, the panel in its report which has never been made public said that there is no evidence to prove such cases of abuse in the camps.