By Martins Ifijeh
An investigation by Amnesty International has revealed that children and women are exposed to sexual violence by security agents and inmates at two high-security prison facilities in Borno State.
The rights watchdog alleged that the harrowing violations took place at Maiduguri Maximum Security Prison and Giwa Barracks, where thousands of civilians arrested due to alleged links to the Boko Haram armed group are being held.
In its latest report sighted by THISDAY yesterday, the international body said scores of children were being unlawfully detained alongside adults in Maiduguri prison.
The Nigeria Director, AI, Osai Ojigho stated that this represents another sad and disturbing case of human rights violation against civilians caught up in the Boko Haram crisis in the North-east.
He said: “It is inexcusable that children are subjected to such vile treatment under government care, and likewise it is intolerable that women are once again bearing the brunt of abuse by the Nigerian security forces that are meant to protect them.
“AI research team visited Maiduguri earlier this month to investigate claims made by inmate, Charles Okah, that children were being abused and unlawfully detained in Maiduguri prison.
“Okah alleged that three children detained on death row in Maiduguri were among the many victims of sexual abuse,” Ojigho narrated.
He explained that the human rights body has obtained court documents confirming that at least 68 children were being held in Maiduguri Prison.
“Our team also spoke to former Giwa Barracks’ child detainees who identified 39 of these children as their former cell mates at Giwa; a list that included names of the three young boys detained in the same area with death row inmates mentioned in Okah’s report.”
He said the findings confirmed that dozens of children were being held in the maximum security prison in connection with the Boko Haram crisis, adding that its investigation revealed that the 68 boys held in Maiduguri prison were first detained without charge by the Nigerian military in Giwa Barracks before they were transferred between late 2016 and early 2017.
“The government has so far failed in its duty to protect these children and violated its obligations under the United Nations convention on the rights of children.
“The Nigerian government must ensure the immediate transfer of all children from Maiduguri prison and those who have not been charged with a recognisable criminal offences must be released. Children suspected of criminal responsibility should only be detained in children’s facilities. The detention of children in the same cells with adults is unacceptable,” Ojigho stressed.
On sexual abuse, the director said a Maiduguri Prison detainee as well as a former prison warder both confirmed that sexual abuse of children was widespread in the prison, adding that the detainee said he had observed the abuse of children by adult inmates.
Ojigho said: “The detainee, who spoke to us via a contact to protect his identity, narrated that it is not a secret in the prison what is happening with the little boys. Sometimes, you see that a little boy goes into the toilet and immediately, an adult detainee goes after them, and when the boy comes out, you don’t need to be told what has happened to him.”
He said the Maiduguri Prison former warder, who was also too afraid to meet AI in person, confirmed that he had been aware of sexual abuse of children.
“The condition there is not good for children and it is difficult to stop what is going on with the boys. The only way is for them to be taken out of there. What do you expect when you keep children with grown up men,” Ojigho quoted the former prison warder to have said.
He said AI also documented the sexual assault of a 16-year-old boy by an adult inmate in Giwa Barracks in or around January 2018, six months before all children were released from the facility, adding that at the time, children were being detained in a cell next to adult cells, making interactions with adult inmates inevitable.
He said a former detainee told AI that he had witnessed an adult inmate trying to take the trousers off a sleeping boy, and that by morning, the inmate was transfered to another cell with no further steps taken to protect the boys, adding that this incident was confirmed to AI by the boy who had been assaulted.
He alao explained that there were also allegations that soldiers have raped women in the Giwa Barracks detention facility.
“Three former female detainees independently said they had witnessed such attacks and identified 10 of the male soldiers responsible – including five who worked in the detention centre’s health clinic. Two of these former detainees were women who said they had been sexually violated themselves.
“According to the eyewitnesses, at least 15 former female detainees were victims of rape, with soldiers demanding sex in exchange for food, soap, basic necessities and the promise of freedom,” he said
He called on Borno State government to ensure that investigation into these allegations was prompt, independent and impartial, and that any prison official or military members found responsible for human rights violations should be brought to justice.