from Africa in Transition , Africa Program , and Nigeria on the Brink

Amnesty International and Nigerian Civilian Deaths in Military Custody

Human rights campaigner looks on during the release of an Amnesty International report in Abuja, Nigeria on May 16, 2017.
Human rights campaigner looks on during the release of an Amnesty International report in Abuja, Nigeria on May 16, 2017. Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters

December 17, 2020

Human rights campaigner looks on during the release of an Amnesty International report in Abuja, Nigeria on May 16, 2017.
Human rights campaigner looks on during the release of an Amnesty International report in Abuja, Nigeria on May 16, 2017. Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters
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On December 8, Amnesty stated that at least ten thousand civilians have died in Nigerian military custody since 2011. The report cites Giwa Barracks, a particularly sordid prison in Maiduguri. Previous reports of civilian deaths by non-governmental organizations have received extensive coverage from Western media. Anecdotal evidence [PDF] suggests that abuses by Nigerian security services—including the army—against civilians have been an important Boko Haram recruitment tool.

However, bad prison conditions probably contribute far more deaths than deliberate security service abuse. Prisons are underfunded, understaffed, and often grotesquely overcrowded—in part because of the sclerotic justice system. As elsewhere in the world, a high percentage of prisoners have not been charged—let alone convicted—of any crime because a judicial process can drag on for years. Many prisoners survive because family members provide food, water, and medicine. If family members are absent, however, that safety net disappears. Prisoners die from disease and a lack of water and food.

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Western nongovernment organizations that highlight security service abuses and bad prison conditions, such as Amnesty, are widely disliked by Nigeria's elites, who routinely accuse Western NGOs of "double standards." Then, too, the popular Nigerian perception of the purpose of imprisonment is often that it serves to punish, not rehabilitate. Capital punishment, anathema to many Western NGOs, is widely popular. So, too, is vigilante justice.

More on:

Nigeria

Human Rights

Media

Civil Society

Sub-Saharan Africa

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