WOMEN and children are suffering gruesome sexual abuse at the Maiduguri Maiduguri Maximum Security Prison, Borno State, and at the Giwa Barracks, a military detention facility where suspects accused of terrorism are being held.
This is according to investigations by Amnesty International (AI), a leading global human rights group, who questioned hundreds of former inmates and officials of the prison, as well as former detainees at the Giwa Barracks.
The investigation was a sequel to the harrowing revelation made by Charles Okah a convicted former Niger Delta militant who was found guilty of the carrying out the Abuja Bombing of October 1, 2010. Okah was sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2018 and was transferred from Kuje Prison, where he had been remanded during his trial, to the Maiduguri Prison.
His revelation, which was published by Sahara Reporters on March 23 detailed how children were being held in the same prison facility as adult inmates and how these children were being sodomised by the adult prisoners who even charge fellow inmates money in exchange for sex with the children. Okah also alleged that some prison warders run a business of forcing some of the female prisoners into sleeping with their male counterparts who are willing to pay for it.
Prompted by the report, Amnesty International launched its own investigations which confirmed that truly dozens of children are still being held at the Maiduguri Prisons and that they were sexually abused in the cruellest manner. The AI investigation also substantiated the allegation of forced prostitution by some of the prison officials.
“The findings confirm that dozens of children are being held in the maximum security prison in connection with the Boko Haram crisis. According to Amnesty International’s findings, the 68 boys held in Maiduguri prison were first detained without charge by the Nigerian military in Giwa Barracks before they were transferred between late 2016 and early 2017,” read a statement issued by AI on Monday.
AI said it obtained court documents, as well as interviewed former Giwa Barracks child detainees who identified 39 of these children as their former cellmates at Giwa; a list that included names of the three young boys detained in the same area with death row inmates mentioned in Okah’s report.
One of the former inmates of the Maiduguri Prison who spoke to AI via a contact person, to protect his identity, said that “it is not a secret in the prison what is happening with the little boys”.
“Sometimes, you see that a little boy goes into the toilet and immediately, an adult detainee goes after them, and when the boy comes out, you don’t need to be told what has happened to him,” he said.
Commenting on the development, Osai Ojigho, Amnesty International’s Nigeria Director, said the situation in the prison is a “sad and disturbing case of human rights violations against civilians caught up in the Boko Haram crisis in Northeast Nigeria.
“It is inexcusable that children are subjected to such vile treatment under government care, and likewise it is intolerable that women are once again bearing the brunt of abuse by the Nigerian security forces that are meant to protect them,” Ojigho said.
“The government has so far failed in its duty to protect these children and violated its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child,
“The Nigerian government must ensure the immediate transfer of all children from Maiduguri prison and those who have not been charged with a recognizable criminal offence must be released.
“Children suspected of criminal responsibility should only be detained in children’s facilities. The detention of children in the same cells with adults is unacceptable.”
Giwa Barracks, where female detainees become soldiers’ “girlfriends”
At the Giwa Barracks, a military detention facility where persons suspected to be members of Boko Haram are being held, female detainees narrate how soldiers demand sex in exchange for basic amenities such as food, toiletries, items of clothing and sometimes, promise to be released.
Three former female detainees told AI during separate interview sessions that they had witnessed the sexual abuse going on in the facility. Two of them said they were victims of such sexual abuse themselves. They identified 10 of the male soldiers responsible, five of whom worked in the health clinic of the barracks.
“We knew them, all the women befriended by soldiers. They always had things we did not have, like soap, detergent and wrappers [clothing items]. Some of the women… had as many as 15 wrappers each [given by soldiers]. The soldiers also bought bread, beverages and other food for their ‘girlfriends’,” one of the former detainees told AI.
Another former detainee narrated how the soldiers included the name of one of their “girlfriends”, who was two months pregnant, in the list of those to be released and she was freed the next day.
“Since [the soldiers] were the ones that would call the names of those to be released, it was easy for them to substitute some names. The women knew that the soldier’s girlfriend was two months pregnant. So a night before they released some women, the soldier did the documentation for her and the next morning her name was called among those to be released,” she narrated said.
Ojigho, however, said that though there were cases where the soldiers did not force the women into having sex with them, their actions constituted some form of rape.
“These acts constitute rape as the soldiers took advantage of a coercive environment in which the detainees had little choice but to have sex with them,” Ojighosaid.
“The soldiers held massive power over the women; they controlled much of women’s daily life in detention, they held the power to mete out arbitrary punishments on the one hand, or to provide desperately needed food and medicine on the other. And yet some abused this power. This is despicable behaviour and the soldiers involved must be held accountable.
“These latest testimonies follow a pattern of violation we have repeatedly documented in Nigeria’s prisons. It is time for President Buhari to act.”
When contacted by AI, the spokesperson of the Nigeria Prisons Service, Francis Enobore, denied the allegations of sexual abuse at the Maiduguri Prison. He said that an investigative panel set up to look into the allegations did not find any evidence of sexual violence.
His comments, however, suggested that the Prisons authorities were aware that children and adult inmates were being held in the same facility.
“Because of the nature of the crime, you may have people who are not supposed to be where they are. Maiduguri is an unusual situation due to the Boko Haram crisis,” he said.
Authorities of the Nigeria Army has consistently denied all allegations of human rights abuse levelled against it by Amnesty International, instead, the Army accuses the group as a terrorist-apologetic organisation that is out to undermine the anti-terrorism activities of the Nigeria Armed Forces.