Women who live in refugee camps after surviving Boko Haram attacks have narrated how Nigerian and Cameroonian security officials maltreated them.
The women spoke on Thursday in Abuja at an event organised by Amnesty International (AI) to present its latest report on the situation in camps meant for internally displaced persons (IDPs).
PREMIUM TIMES published details of the report which showed several women were raped and blackmailed by soldiers who offered food in return for sex after starving them.
Both the Nigerian government and the military have since rejected the report, saying no such things happen in IDP camps.
Few of the women spoken to by Amnesty International, who were willing to come on record, spoke to journalists on Thursday.
Kella Haruna, one of the victims, said it has been a terrible experience in IDP camps. She said both the military and Joint Task Force (JTF) violated the rights of the women.
Mrs Haruna, who spoke in Kanuri language, said many women were exploited sexually, and forced to trade sex for food.
“After liberating Banki, in fact the authorities were in Banki but we in the villages were left in the authority of Boko Haram,” she said. “We have nothing to do but to resolve to prayers which we continuously did until we were eventually rescued.”
“So when we were pushed to the Cameroonian territory, we were humiliated there too. Because we were stripped almost naked by the Cameroonian soldiers. We were later transferred to Banki. We were in Banki for four days; no food, no water, until we were eventually transferred to Bama camp.”
Mrs Haruna said she believed none of the atrocities she and other women later suffered would have happened if their husbands were present.
“It was at Bama that our husbands were blindfolded and then packed into a lorry and brought to Maiduguri, and we were told we would be taken to where our husbands are. And up till today, we have never seen nor heard from our husbands.
“The military then announced that ‘where are the women, we are going to take you to where your husbands are.’ So we just took whatever pieces that we have and then came out. When we came out, they just picked us and then dumped us in the same Bama, in the general hospital at Red Camp.
“In the Bama Camp, honestly there were no food, no water; and when you complain, they will beat you up and then our money have already been even taken by the soldiers so we were just left with nothing.”
It was that situation that the soldiers preyed upon to demand sex from many of the women, she narrated.
Another victim, Fatima Bukar, expressed sadness about the fate of her husband, sons and brothers who she said were detained by soldiers.
She said the families have not been provided with any official information on the detained male relatives.
“In fact, before separating us, they brought them out, washed them up and then they tied their eyes and then transported them to Maiduguri before in fact taking us to the Bama Camp,” she said.
She pleaded with President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene and end their sufferings.
The Nigerian military has in the past said arrested men were vetted to confirm if they were part of the Boko Haram or not.
Scores of those who were later found innocent have been released by the military. Hundreds more, who are yet to be tried for any offence, are however believed to still be in detention.
GOVERNMENT MUST ACT
Hamsatu Allamin, founder of Allamin foundation for peace in Borno State, who also spoke at the event, said it is painful that soldiers and members of the Civilian JTF, a government funded vigilante, are abusing the women sexually.
“Even if it’s just a soldier, or just a JTF that raped any of the women in the camps, he must be brought to book,” she said. “Even though these women are scared of what will happen to them for speaking out, but I believe all these women have the right to speak out if they are being raped.”
According to Mrs Allamin who also translated the Kanuri language spoken by the victims to English, about 1600 women have been molested and beaten in these IDP camps. She said about 437 husbands are missing.
“Some of these Nigerian military are worse than Boko Haram. We are not talking about hundreds of husbands, but thousands. The wind of change needs to blow across the nation. I believe the military should not be angry with this, but look for possible ways for solution.
“Lots of effort are going on by the human rights commission, military and law enforcement to protect and enhance the lives of people affected with insurgency,” she said.
The Director of Protection and Investigation at the National Human Rights Commission, confirmed the receipt of a complaint indicating that 437 men were arrested and have not been seen.
“I wrote to the Nigerian Army, forwarded the list to them and they responded saying none of the 437 names are on the list of those in all their facilities in Borno State.
“I even called our officers in Borno State to meet with the petitioners, but the army said they do not have the names in detention.”
For Saudatu Mahdi, a founding member of Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG), the scale of disaster Nigeria is dealing with in the North-east is beyond human imagination.
“Recently, we had a dialogue. But we cannot hold Boko Haram accountable at this particular point in time because the war is still going on; they are still in the bushes; and then the government has not initiated any move to declare formal ceasefire with Boko Haram,” Mrs Mahdi, whose BBOG has been demanding the release of girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram, said.
“When Dapchi girls were abducted,” she said, “we keep communicating with the non-violent ones who can reach out to the violent ones. Believe you me, one week ceasefire was declared so that Boko Harm will return Dapchi Girls; and they did.
“If we can declare one week ceasefire, why can’t we declare final ceasefire? So that the war will end and every other person can come out. What is stopping us for goodness sake?
Over 100 of the kidnapped Dapchi girls were released by the terror group. However, one of the kidnapped teenage students, Leah Sharibu, is still with the insurgents who refused to release her after she allegedly refused to rescind her Christian religion.
Mrs Mahdi said she believes this is the right time to seek for accountability for the atrocities committed by the few culpable soldiers and Civilian-JTF members.
In his remark, Auwal Rafsanjani, chairman, Advisory board, Amnesty International (AI) Nigeria, said AI is helping citizens to raise the consciousness and awareness of their rights.
“Amnesty International is not in competition with anybody; we are not politicians and we are not there to bring down the government. AI is there to ensure that rights of Nigerians are protected,” he said.
He said the protest by some groups against Amnesty International was organised by people who do not want to protect human rights in Nigeria.
“Based on the evidences we have, we had to bring in, physically, people who have been abused by this rights violation.
“Why will people say we are destabilising the country? We are only calling on the government to be responsible and proactive in promoting the rights of Nigerians,” he said.
Sani Zoro, the chairman of the House of Representatives committee on IDPs, Refugees and Initiatives on North-east, said all conflicts and wars have always been resolved through negotiation.
“Since we have not been able to take these guys down for over five years, we have no option than to embrace the pacifist option, the peaceful option,” he said at the event.
He complained about the communication deficiency among institutions that need to work together to resolve the insurgency.
“We’ve gotten up to 9 to 10 referrals saying there is gender based violence and lack of food in these camps and billions of naira are being appropriated for the survival of these people. We really need to be accountable.”
“Do you think the generalised violence we are witnessing in Kaduna State, the one consuming Zamfara State does not have a link to Boko Haram? On the map, Nigeria is competing with Syria in terms of displacement,” he said.
For a senator, Shehu Sani, the AI report should not be condemned by government.
“Women are becoming the target for atrocities and it is alarming. This report is not indicting, it is a copy of what we are in this country,” the senator representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District said.
He said it is sad that people in power may not even read the report at all as their focus has been shifted to election.,
“If a serving governor can say the rate of killings in Nigeria is being exaggerated, then there is a problem.
“As far as the North-east is concerned, there is no seriousness on the part of the government at all. If the captives were sons and daughters of a senator, minister or government official, they would have been released even if warrants spending all the money in Central Bank,” he said.