Security service abuses in Nigeria, primarily by the army and the police, date from colonial times. Observers commonly accept that such abuses are an important driver of recruitment by Boko Haram and other insurgencies. There has been a drumbeat of criticism of the Jonathan and Buhari administrations’ seeming lack of action to curb the abuses. Of late, a focus of that criticism has been credible allegations of security service abuse of civilians, especially rape of women, in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the northeast.
Perhaps in response to the criticism, the director of defense information, Brigadier General Rabe Abubakar gave an interview to THISDAY. He insisted that the military is responding to episodes of rape: “on soldiers arrested for raping IDPs, we have said that if there is any case of sexual harassment and abuse, it will definitely attract the attention of the Nigerian Defense Headquarters (DHQ). Our position is that such cases must be investigated and those officers involved must be thoroughly dealt with.” He went on to say, “the DHQ has an internal administrative mechanism to deal with such cases. After investigations are concluded and the soldiers are found culpable, appropriate punishments including dismissal will be meted out.” Abubakar cited the specific case of a non-commissioned officer assaulting a ten year old girl, “he was given three years imprisonment in addition to his dismissal from the force. These are therefore offences that we do not tolerate.”
Brigadier General Abubakar’s comments indicate that it is the security services that are addressing abuses by their own personnel, not a civilian agency or civilian courts. This is the practice of many other militaries, including the U.S. military. The challenge is that the Nigerian security services have little credibility among the general population with respect to addressing abuses.