“…other detainees who posed no danger to the DSS or its operatives, or, who, in fact made no attempts to escape from detention were fired at…”
A human rights group, Access to Justice, has called on the Nigerian government to constitute an independent inquiry into the killings that occurred at the headquarters of the State Security Services, SSS, in Abuja last Sunday.
In a statement on Wednesday signed by its Executive Director, Joseph Otteh, the group urged the government to make the results of the inquiry public. It is also asked that any persons found to have killed without lawful justification be brought to justice.
About 22 detained Boko Haram suspects were feared killed during a Sunday morning fierce shootout that lasted for hours.
The insurgents were said to have been shot after they escaped from their cells and engaged the operatives in a fierce gun battle.
In their account of the incident, which happened less than 30 meters from the Presidential Villa, the SSS spokesperson, Marilyn Ogar, said that the gun battle began after a detainee disarmed an operative and tried to effect a jailbreak.
She stated, “At 0715 hours, the Service suspect handler went to the detention facility within the Headquarters to feed the suspects.
“One of the suspects attempted to disarm him by hitting him at the back of his head with his handcuff. His attempt to escape drew the attention of other guards at the facility who fired some shots to warn and deter others.
“The gun shots attracted the attention of the military with which we have an understanding of mutual assistance in the event of any threat.
“The Army immediately deployed a team to reinforce our perimeter guards to forestall any external collaborators. The situation has since been brought under control.”
But the official account did not say whether the handcuff had been locked around the detainee’s wrist or was open, according to Access to Justice.
“The official statement did not say the extent to which the actions of the detainee threatened the life or safety of the operative, and whether the detainee succeeded in dispossessing the operative of his weapon if s/he carried one. The statement said that shots were fired at the detainee, but did not say what other detainees did to deserve being killed.
“Some media reports quote Ms. Marilyn Ogar as saying that ‘… the attempt by the detainee to escape made other SSS operatives on guard to fire shots to prevent others from escaping from the facility.’
“A literal interpretation of this statement is that other detainees who posed no danger to the DSS or its operatives, or, who, in fact made no attempts to escape from detention were fired at to prevent them from even contemplating the possibility of fleeing.
“There is no clear justification provided by the DSS or the Nigerian State for the killing of such a multitude of vulnerable persons. Many questions arise: Where were the suspects when they were fired at? Outside of their enclosures or within? Within the precincts of the DSS facility or outside? How were they fired at? To incapacitate them from escaping or annihilate them?
“Then, who fired at them? The DSS or the soldiers who came to assist them? Were they fired at to avoid political embarrassment? There has been no clear, forthright, convincing and consistent statement from the DSS, SSS or government to justify such gruesome and large scale taking of human life.
The human rights group further stated that given the horrifying atrocities attributed to the Boko Haram sect, the negative perception renders both their members and even those wrongly associated with them so vulnerable to be silenced or violated capriciously.
“The death of anyone associated with this sect must be subject to the highest scrutiny to avoid people getting away with clear homicides only by the sheer unpopularity of the victim’s ascribed label, particularly when it is remembered that military and security forces fighting terrorism in Nigeria have repeatedly acted with impunity and committed grave crimes against many innocent people, in a largely unchallenged way,” said Mr. Otteh.
“The Nigerian government is under a constitutional and international responsibility to thoroughly and impartially investigate the deaths of any persons who die in custody. No 34 of The United Nations Body of Principles for the Protection All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment provides that:
‘Whenever the death or disappearance of a detained or imprisoned person occurs during his detention or imprisonment, an inquiry into the cause of death or disappearance shall be held by a judicial or other authority, either on its own motion or at the instance of a member of the family of such a person or any person who has knowledge of the case. When circumstances so warrant, such an inquiry shall be held on the same procedural basis whenever the death or disappearance occurs shortly after the termination of the detention or imprisonment. The findings of such inquiry or a report thereon shall be made available upon request… ‘”
“Access to Justice calls on the Nigerian government to immediately constitute an impartial and independent inquiry into the killings that took place at the SSS headquarters on the 30th of March 2014.
“This inquiry must be free from external influence or control, and\ undertaken by people of unquestionable integrity,” Mr. Otteh added.
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