Hundreds of suspected collaborators with Boko Haram are being held in jails around the country, shackled in some cases, forced to sit in their own excrement or in overcrowded cells watching other prisoners being tortured for confessions, an investigation by Amnesty International has found.
The global rights group released its report titled “Nigeria: Trapped in the Cycle of Violence” this week. It accuses Nigeria’s armed forces of carrying out summary executions and increasing the current level of tensions with Boko Haram.
The London-based rights group said that Nigeria's military of showed "little regard for the rule of law or human rights" in its campaign against the extremists.
"You cannot protect people by abusing human rights and you cannot achieve security by creating insecurity," Amnesty secretary general Salil Shetty said at the launch of the report in Nigeria's capital.
The report also documents the crimes committed by Boko Haram.
“The cycle of attack and counter-attack has been marked by unlawful violence on both sides, with devastating consequences for the human rights of those trapped in the middle,” Shetty said.
Amnesty referred to the attacks and counter-attacks in Maiduguri, noting that they had received consistent accounts of witnesses who saw people summarily executed outside their homes, shot dead during operations, after arrest, or beaten to death in detention.
Witnesses interviewed by Amnesty also described unarmed people who were lying down being "shot at close range by the security forces".
One witness told Amnesty researchers that he found his missing brother dead at a police station with injuries suggesting he had been tied up with cables and beaten all over his body.
"There was shock on his face. I can't forget that," the man was quoted as saying.
Military spokesman Col. Mohammed Yerima disputed the report’s findings. He said soldiers do hold prisoners, but only to do a "thorough job" investigating their backgrounds. He acknowledged that some of the people, out of petty disputes, falsely reported their neighbors as being Boko Haram members.
"We don't torture people. We interrogate them and find out if they are members of the Boko Haram," Yerima told The Associated Press. "We don't have any concentration camps that they are talking about. All we have is offices where we work."
Security forces routinely deny committing abuses, though the nation has a long history of abuses and so-called extrajudicial killings being carried out by police officers and soldiers.
Prior to this week’s release, Amnesty held meetings with government officials and received "mixed" reactions.
National security staff offered to investigate certain allegations, while others "deny that any of the facts that we have put on the table need to be investigated".
In a statement Thursday, federal police spokesman Frank Mba said authorities had "begun a comprehensive and critical study of the report."
He, however, criticised the group for relying on unnamed sources, noting "no organisation -- including Amnesty International -- is perfect."
According to Amnesty, more than 200 suspected Boko Haram members are being held at a barracks in Maiduguri, while more than 100 others are being held at a police station in Abuja. Dozens of others probably are being held at the headquarters of the State Security Service, Nigeria's secret police, and others elsewhere, Amnesty said.
Those held largely do not know where they are detained, cannot contact their families or speak to lawyers, in contravention of Nigerian law, Amnesty said. Many are shackled together for nearly the entire day, the report said. Those held at the police station in Abuja are kept in a former slaughterhouse where chains still hang from the ceiling, the rights group said.
Violence blamed on Boko Haram has killed more than 720 people this year alone— the deadliest year since the sect began its attacks in 2009. A Human Rights Watch report in October also accused Nigerian security forces and Boko Haram of likely committing crimes against humanity in their fighting.