In a long expected report, Amnesty International has claimed that the Nigerian security services have detained 20,000 men and boys since 2009 and that 7,000 of those detainees died in detention under inhumane circumstances. Amnesty also reports that 17,000 people were killed in northeast Nigeria in the same time frame, meaning that 41 percent of deaths occurred under Nigerian custody.
Amnesty concludes in its report that the highest ranks of the security services were aware of the abuses and were even complicit in some cases. Accordingly, Amnesty calls on the Nigerian government to open cases against nine senior military figures, including the current chief of defense staff. Amnesty reports that it communicated with the Nigerian government on multiple occasions and provided the government with advance notice of its findings. Former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration appears to have taken no steps in response to the Amnesty findings.
The report is fully credible. It details the security services’ flagrant human rights abuses with great precision. For the report, Amnesty conducted six field investigations, 412 interviews, reviewed ninety videos, and studied many photographs.
Word of the Amnesty report has been circulating for some time. Amnesty may have delayed its issuance until after the national elections because it is, in effect, a damning indictment of the Jonathan administration. With the June release of the report, nobody can accuse Amnesty of intervention in Nigeria’s elections.
Since independence, if not before, conditions in Nigerian prisons have been horrific. Amnesty quotes Nigerian official complaining that they were deprived of funds to run the detention centers, which became grossly overcrowded. This may have led to a policy of deliberate starvation to reduce detainee numbers.
In response to the abuses, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari may be encouraged to move quickly to purge the upper echelons of the security services, replacing Jonathan’s appointments with his own. Should he wish to do so, he could also ask the ICC to open an investigation. However, Buhari is a nationalist, and he is unlikely to call in an external judicial body. Instead, he is more likely to reinvigorate existing or create anew Nigerian institutions to address human rights abuses.
Amnesty’s statistics cover the period between 2009 to the present and are restricted to northeast Nigeria. The group is known for being conservative with their estimates. Compared to Amnesty’s reported 17,000 deaths, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) estimates that since May 2011 Boko Haram has killed 12,138, the security services have killed 5,274, and that 11,441 have died in the fighting between the security services and Boko Haram. However, the NST records events that take place throughout the entire country and events involving Boko Haram in neighboring countries. As such Amnesty’s statistics and the NST’s are not directly comparable.
*An earlier version of this post stated that Amnesty International called on the ICC to open cases against military officers, this has been corrected to state that Amnesty International has called on the Nigerian government.