Thousands of women and girls who survived Boko Haram violence in the north-east are being abused by the Nigerian security forces, according to Amnesty International (AI).
In a report unveiled in Abuja on Thursday, the organisation said investigations showed how women, young girls and children were “raped and starved to death” by soldiers in various internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps.
The report said women were separated from their husbands and confined in “satellite camps” where they have been sexually exploited, sometimes in exchange for food.
Speaking at the launch, Osai Ojigho, AI country director in Nigeria, said the organisation also collected evidence of how “thousands of people have starved to death” in the IDPs camps in Borno state since 2015.
“It is absolutely shocking that people who had already suffered so much under Boko Haram have been condemned to further horrendous abuse by the Nigerian military,” she said.
“Instead of receiving protection from the authorities, women and girls have been forced to succumb to rape in order to avoid starvation or hunger.”
She added that in some cases, the abuse “appears to be part of a pattern of persecution” of anyone perceived to have a connection to Boko Haram as the female victims are usually called “Boko Haram wives”.
“Scores of women described how soldiers and civilian JTF members have used force and threats to rape women in satellite camps, including by taking advantage of hunger to coerce women to become their ‘girlfriends’, which involved being available for sex on an ongoing basis,” the report added.
One of the women identified as Ama (not her real name), who is 20-year-old, was quoted as saying: “They will give you food but they will come back around 5pm or 6pm and they will tell you to come with them… One [civilian JTF] man came and brought food to me.
“The next day he said I should take water from his place [and I went]. He then closed the tent door behind me and raped me. He said I gave you these things, if you want them we have to be husband and wife.”
‘DEATH FROM STARVATION’
The report added that people confined in the satellite camps faced an “acute food shortage” from early 2015 until mid-2016, when humanitarian assistance was increased.
It said: “At least hundreds, and possibly thousands, died in Bama Hospital camp alone during this time. Those interviewed consistently reported that 15 to 30 people died each day from hunger and sickness during these months. .
“Satellite images, showing how the graveyard inside the camp expanded quickly during this time, confirm their testimonies. There were also daily deaths in other satellite camps such as those in Banki and Dikwa communities.”
Also speaking at the event, Bukky Shonibare, founder, Girl Child Africa, said her organisation had at various times called the attention of the federal government and military authorities to the “sexual abuse” in the north-east but “nothing had been done.”
She also talked about the “fear” the IDPs live in, and how those of them who “open up” are punished by the soldiers.
“We that go to the field always report sexual violence in the areas affected by Boko Haram conflict. But nothing has been done,” she said.
FG, MILITARY SILENT
Ojigho said AI shared its findings with the Nigerian authorities but “no response has been received” as at when the report was published.
However, A. D. Gbadebo, a military officer that attended the launch, declined comment on the allegations.
Gbadebo, who is a brigadier-general and who was the only representative of the Nigerian military at the event, however said the usual challenge being experienced in the camps is “communication gap”.
“There is usually the problem of lack of proper channel of communication,” he said.
When probed further to comment on some of the issues raised, he said: “I can’t say anything on that.”
The defence headquarters had earlier described the report as an attempt to “smear the military.”
“This malicious trend by AI is becoming a frequent ritual and it is rather unfortunate,” it had said in a statement on Wednesday.