Nigeria: AI - 115 Civilians, 21 Police Officers Killed in South East in Four Months

Kaduna State (file photo).
5 August 2021

A global watchdog, Amnesty International, yesterday, alleged that a body count exercise revealed that 115 civilians had been extra-judicially killed by security forces, currently on a peace mission in the Southeast.

In a statement, the Nigerian mission of the organisation also alluded to an official headcount by the Nigerian authorities, which showed that 21 police officers had been lost to the raging insecurity in the geo-political zone.

The killings were allegedly perpetrated in four months.

Nigerian security forces, long suspected to be carrying out alleged human rights abuses in the course of restoring peace to the zone, were accused by the body of committing a catalogue of rights violations, captured under international law.

In opening the screamer of a statement, AI said: "Nigerian security forces have committed a catalogue of human rights violations and crimes under international law in their response to spiralling violence in Southeast Nigeria, carrying out a repressive campaign since January, which has included sweeping mass arrests, excessive and unlawful force, and torture and other ill-treatment."

Nigeria's Country Director, Osai Ojigho, was also quoted as saying, "The evidence gathered by Amnesty International paints a damning picture of ruthless excessive force by Nigerian security forces in Imo, Anambra and Abia States."

Detailing its field intel gathered in the course of the months under review, AI further claimed that, "Nigeria's government has responded with a heavy hand to killings and violence widely attributed to the armed group calling itself Eastern Security Network (ESN), the armed wing of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a pro-Biafra movement.

"According to government officials, the ESN killed dozens of security operatives and attacked at least 10 public buildings, including prisons and police stations, from January to June. In response, security forces comprising military, police, and Department of State Services (DSS) have killed dozens of gunmen, as well as civilians, where attacks have been committed.

"Eyewitnesses told Amnesty International that the security forces have engaged in excessive use of force, physical abuse, secret detentions, extortion, burning of houses, theft, and extrajudicial executions of suspects.

"Human rights groups estimated that the death toll of violence between January and June 2021 in Anambra, Imo, Abia, and Ebonyi States might run into the hundreds. The police said ESN fighters killed 21 of its personnel in Imo State alone.

"Amnesty International carried out an extensive investigation to document the human rights violations and crimes under international law in Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi and Abia States from January 2021. The organisation documented 52 incidents of unlawful killings and 62 cases of arbitrary arrest, ill-treatment and torture.

"Media reports, video and audio recordings reviewed show that the Nigerian security forces also employed excessive force and other unlawful means to address the rising violence."

Linking its findings, the group said, "From January 2021, gunmen suspected to be ESN militants launched a series of attacks on government infrastructure, including prisons and public buildings, killing several police officers. Amnesty International condemned these attacks and called on authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.

"Nigerian security forces launched security operations in June, primarily targeting ESN militants or those perceived as such to decimate the group. Amnesty International documented at least 115 persons killed by security forces between March and June 2021.

"Many relatives of the victims told Amnesty International that they were not part of the militants that were attacking security agents. Many of the victims were deposited at government hospitals in Imo and Abia States. According to several hospital sources, all the victims deposited by the police had bullet injuries."

Amnesty spoke of two cases, among others, documented as victims of official murder, without justification.

"For instance, in two of the cases documented by Amnesty International, the victims were targeted with no apparent justification: Uguchi Unachukwu, a Germany-based businessman was killed by soldiers on 31 May at a checkpoint near Owerri airport on his way out of the country. The police are yet to investigate the crime.

"Mathew Opara, a 45-year-old businessman, was shot by soldiers on 25 May 2021 in Orji, near Owerri. Witnesses told Amnesty International that he was returning from work when he ran into a team of soldiers in an armoured vehicle and Hilux vans shooting at residents. He was shot in the chest and could not receive immediate medical help because of the violence. His family said the military acknowledged the killing but did not launch an investigation or offer any apology."

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