Abuja — The bomb blast in the Borno State capital, Maiduguri, on January 14, 2014, illuminates the price citizens are paying in the intensifying unrest in northern Nigeria, Human Rights Watch said today. The bombing, which appears to have been directed at local residents by the Islamist insurgent movement, Boko Haram, is an assault on the basic tenet of the right to life. It killed about 40 people and wounded 50.
The car bomb went off at about 1:30 p.m. in a busy commercial area known as the GSM Market, near the state television offices and Maiduguri post office. There appeared to be no clear target beyond the people out on what was apublic holiday in Nigeria to mark the Prophet Mohamed's birthday. Witnesses quoted by international and local media said that at least 40 bodies were brought to the morgue at a local hospital. Another 50 people were injured, and numerous vehicles and market stalls were destroyed. The victims included roadside and ambulatory vendors, parents and their children, motorists, and a police traffic warden.
"This abhorrent act is yet another example of mass and premeditated murder of local people," said Corinne Dufka, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "There is never any justification for violence directed at those simply going about their daily lives."
In responding to the bombing attack, security forces should respect the human rights of everyone involved.
The blast appeared to be the latest in a string of horrific attacks by Nigeria's homegrown Islamist insurgent movement, Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad, popularly known as Boko Haram. While no one has claimed responsibility for this bombing, Boko Haram has carried out frequent attacks on residents of northern Nigeria since July 2009 and as a result is widely believed to have been behind the January 14 attack.
Some 2,000 northern Nigerian residents have been killed in bombings, assassinations, and attacks on villages, towns, schools, colleges, places of worship, and highways. Boko Haram is waging a violent campaign against the government in its effort to establish an Islamic legal code. The pace of attacks has intensified since May 2013, when the federal government imposed a state of emergency in the northern states of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe.
In a November research mission to Maiduguri, Human Rights Watch documented how Boko Haram carried out dozens of attacks after it was pushed out of its stronghold in Maiduguri. The attackers killed hundreds of people, mutilating and decapitating many of them, and abducted scores of women and girls.
The attacks have continued, including the December 28 attacks on a wedding party in the village of Tashan Alede and on the nearby village of Kwajjafa, which killed 12 people. In recent months, Boko Haram has also looted and burned shops and vehicles, and used children as young as 12 in hostilities.
In a 2012 report, "Spiraling Violence," Human Rights Watch analyzed the pattern and scope of the violence that has engulfed communities in northeast and central Nigeria.
Human Rights Watch has also documented how, in responding to the attacks, the Nigerian Security Forces have at times used excessive force and carried out mass arrests, seemingly arbitrarily rounding up hundreds of young men from markets, mosques, and other locations. During Boko Haram's four-year insurgency, the government has failed to account for hundreds of the men and boys who remain forcibly disappeared. The Nigerian government should account for the disappeared and ensure that all law enforcement operations are conducted in full accordance with international human rights standards.
"Understandably, the Nigerian security forces will feel under immense pressure to respond to the recent attacks and ensure security for the frightened population," Dufka said. "But the flawed logic of committing abuse in the name of security only adds lethal fire to Nigeria's cycle of violence, and may well fuel the violent militancy of groups like Boko Haram."