This is not the first but probably the most gruesome of such accusations against the Nigerian military.
Amnesty international, AI, on Monday released video footage it claimed showed soldiers slitting the throats of men accused of being members of Boko Haram.
The soldiers were aided by members of the government sponsored militia commonly known as Civilian JTF.
The bodies of the killed men were dumped into a mass grave.
Amnesty said it got the footage, which may be evidence of war crimes committed by the Nigerian military, from numerous sources during a trip to Borno State.
“This shocking new evidence is further proof of the appalling crimes being committed with abandon by all sides in the conflict. Nigerians deserve better. What does it say when members of the military carry out such unspeakable acts and capture the images on film?” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“These are not the images we expect from a government which sees itself as having a leadership role in Africa. The ghastly images are backed up by the numerous testimonies we have gathered which suggest that extrajudicial executions are, in fact, regularly carried out by the Nigerian military and CJTF,” he added.
According to Amnesty, one of the footage allegedly taken on March 14, 2014, showed what appeared to be soldiers and members of the civilian JTF using a blade to slit the throat of several detainees and dumping their bodies into an open mass grave.
“The video shows 16 young men and boys seated in a line. One by one, they are called forward and told to lie down in front of the pit. Five of them are killed in this way; the fate of the remaining detainees is not shown on video, but eyewitness accounts confirmed that nine of them had their throats cut while the others were shot to death.
“Additional footage featuring some of the same perpetrators, taken earlier that day at the same location, shows two detainees digging a grave under armed guard before the killing is carried out. One is told to lie down in front of the pit, where his legs and head are held by what seem to be CJTF members. The individual, who appears to be the commander of the group puts his right foot on the man’s side, raises his knife, kisses it and shouts “Die hard Commando” and cuts the throat of the restrained young man. All other military and CJTF shout “Yes oga [boss], kill him,” Mr. Shetty said.
Amnesty explained that witnesses confirmed that the videos were taken on March 14, 2014 the day Boko Haram fighters attacked Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri and freed its members being held in detention. The organisation claimed that about 600 other prisoners who were set free by the Boko Haram fighters were rounded up at various locations in the town by soldiers and members of Civilian JTF and subsequently killed extra-judicially.
“The detainees in the video were rearrested by the CJTF in Giddari Polo, near the Barracks, where various sources have confirmed that a number of other recaptured detainees were shot and killed by soldiers after being handed over to the military. The military then took the corpses and the detainees to a location outside Maiduguri, near Giddari, where the executions are reported to have been carried out and recorded on camera,” a statement by AI explained.
Further evidence from the video suggests that the extra-judicial killing might have been carried out by soldiers from the Support Company of the 81 battalion of the Nigerian army.
“No buildings, roads or other infrastructure can be seen in the video but the noise of cars confirms that it is near a road. Several of the armed captors are wearing military uniforms, one of which has the words “Borno State Operation Flush” emblazoned on the front. The ID number on one of the guns is also clearly identifiable (81BN/SP/407). According to military sources, the rifle belongs to the Support Company of the 81 Battalion and it has not been reported missing.”
Similarly, AI also claimed that it uncovered evidence of mass killing in Bama, a town that has been in the centre of the insurgency. It claimed at after a “screening” exercise in a market on July 23, 2013, 35 men accused of being Boko Haram members were beaten with sticks and machetes before being taken to the nearby barrack.
On July 29, the men were brought back to their community and shot several times and their bodies dumped at different locations in the town.
“At that time everyone was aware that these people [had been] killed, [and] started running to look. We found [our relative] near Bama bridge. Plenty of people were with us. They [had] shot five of them [in that location alone]. There were five bodies including [my relative]. He had a bullet hole in his chest and no clothes, only trousers. We took the body and buried it. There is no death certificate; Bama hospital is not functioning. There is no place to complain; the town has restricted movement. Everybody left what happened to God,” a relative of one of the men told AI.
The Nigerian military has a history of human rights violation against civilians. Though this is not the first time the allegation of large-scale extrajudicial killings will be trailing the Nigerian military, this ranks among the most gruesome.
In May 2013, Human Rights Watch, HRW, alleged that the military carried out widespread raid of Baga Town destroying over 200 houses and killing more than 180 civilians. HRW called on the Nigerian government and military authorities to investigate its claim and prosecute those found culpable.
Apart from issuing blanket denial, neither the Nigerian military nor government has shown any interest in thoroughly investigating these allegations.
The military has always denied its soldiers were culpable of extra-judicial killings. In a statement on Tuesday, the Defence Headquarters restated that claim.
“The Defence Headquarters considers these allegations too grievous to be associated with Nigerian troops, considering the doctrinal and operational contents of the training imparted to personnel on a continuous basis; emphasising the importance of respect for Human Rights and dignity of human person as well as observance of humanitarian laws. Rather, the scenes in that video clip clearly depict a pattern consistent with the atrocious operations of the terrorists,” said Director of Defence information, Chris Olukolade, a Major General.
“Respect for the sanctity of life is always boldly emphasized in our doctrinal trainings. Indeed, that level of barbarism and impunity has no place in the Nigerian military. It must thus be reiterated that the Nigerian military is a very well organized professional body of troops whose conducts in war and peace times are guided comprehensively by law,” he added.
Mr. Olukolade later in a press briefing pledged that the military would investigate the new video allegations.
Boko Haram raids
AI also condemned the incessant unchallenged raids in Bama and its environs by Boko Haram where scores of civilians accused of cooperating with the military are specifically targeted.
“Boko Haram staged its most deadly assault on the town over the course of several hours early in the morning of 19 February 2014, which locals report left almost 100 people dead and more than 200 injured. Improvised explosive devices and grenades were used to destroy huge swathes of the town.”
A resident told AI that the insurgents “had a field day killing, burning and demolishing”.