It was chaos at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital Thursday as irate officers of the military Joint Task Force descended heavily on doctors and patients after they were told there was no more space for corpses.
Witnesses say the soldiers had arrived the facility with an unknown number of corpses in pick-up vans, many killed in routine raids, but were told by hospital officials that the mortuary was filled to the brim and that there was no room for more.
The soldiers then descended on hospital staff beating some of them to coma, a witness, who does not want to be named for fear of retribution, said. The officer also vandalised hospital properties as staff, scared stiff, fled for dear lives.
There were claims that some doctors were so mercilessly beaten and tortured that they were hurriedly wheeled into the theatre for surgery after calm returned to the facility but that could not be independently confirmed Thursday night.
“The JTF went to Teaching Hospital to deposit corpses and they were told no space,” a relative to a doctor in the hospital said. “Many of my friends including a brother doctor beaten and broken up by JTF. Some of the doctors are in surgery now fighting for dear life. They beat up patients and don’t know if they killed any doctor yet. May God Bless Nigeria.”
Another source said she was told by a patient who witnessed the incident that the JTF operatives raided the hospital shooting sporadically and harassing anyone in sight. “She (the patient) just called me from the hospital that there’s chaos in TH (Teaching Hospital). JTF have raided the building and have been shooting ever since. Even Dr Bashir (he is the oga (boss), the CMAC) was seriously beaten from head to toe. Dan Allah (oh God) what type of tashin hankali (madness) is this? Even doctors in their places are not safe again. She said they’ve all been asked to lie down flat for fear of stray bullets,” the source said in exasperation.
It is not known yet how many people were injured or whether anyone was killed in the attack.
It is also not clear why the JTF operatives acted that way. Spokesperson Sagir Musa, a Lieutenant Colonel, could not be reached for comments Thursday. So also were officials of the hospital.
But sources within the security services said the operatives were angered by recent reports quoting officials of the hospital as accusing the JTF of extrajudicial killings.
A chilly report this week by the New York Times suggested that the JTF routinely round up innocent people in neighbourhood sweeps, lock them up in Giwa barracks or shoot them dead without evidence they are members of the extremist Boko Haram sect.
Officials of the Teaching Hospital were quoted in the report as saying the JTF at times brought up to 120 corpses of young men who died “from beating, bullets, maltreatment”.
“They just throw the corpses on the ground,” the hospital’s medical director, Dr. Mohammed Ghuluze was quoted as saying in the report. “Yesterday they came in and just threw five corpses on the ground.”
“Sometimes it’s 20, 30 (corpses) a day,” another top health official reportedly said.
PREMIUM TIMES’ recent investigation of Giwa Barracks had exposed the facility as Nigeria’s number one centre of inhuman detention, torture and extrajudicial killings.
The detention and torture at the facility, which human rights groups have branded “torture,” and have urged their immediate end, have defined the federal government’s military operations against the Boko Haram sect, which burrows itself within the civilian population, from where it delivers devastating blows, providing a platform for the Joint Task Force to get back at the perpetrators, and often times, the innocents.
As the insurgents sustain their assault, so has the federal government which has hit back forcefully with grounding military operations that often violate basic conflict rules recognized internationally, with many innocents killed and several thousand displaced.
Allegations are rife of soldiers firing indiscriminately into crowd in retaliation for the killing of a personnel, and vested interest using the JTF to get back at perceived enemies who they label as members of the sect.
Military authorities have constantly denied any of such exist, vowing to sanction errant officers involved in untoward practices.