Amnesty International (AI) issued a report on Monday stating that security agents and inmates at two prisons in Borno State, Nigeria, were sexually abusing women and children. Nigerian officials dismissed the allegations as baseless and described them as a “malicious” effort to undermine the morale of the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN).
The AI report was written by a research team that visited the Maiduguri Maximum Security Prison to investigate reports of abuse from an inmate. The team discovered that the government was holding at least 68 children illegally in the prison, many of them transferred from another prison where they were detained without proper legal proceedings up to three years ago.
“It is not a secret in the prison what is happening with the little boys,” said the detainee who contacted AI. “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.”
AI cited a documented case of sexual assault against a 16-year-old boy in early 2018 from the Giwa Barracks, where many of the children currently imprisoned at the Maiduguri facility were originally held.
The report also claimed that guards raped 15 women held at the Giwa Barracks on suspicion of links to the Boko Haram terrorist organization, and offered them food and other inducements, but also told them refusing demands for sex was not possible. Some women reported being told they would be released if they agreed to have sex with the guards.
“Even in cases where detained women apparently consented, these acts constitute rape as the soldiers took advantage of a coercive environment in which the detainees had little choice but to have sex with them,” said AI Nigeria Director Osai Ojigho.
“The soldiers held massive power over the women; they controlled much of women’s daily life in detention, they held the power to mete out arbitrary punishments on the one hand, or to provide desperately needed food and medicine on the other. And yet some abused this power. This is despicable behavior and the soldiers involved must be held accountable,” Ojigho said.
AI noted Nigerian officials claim to have invested past allegations of sexual abuse but insisted they could find no evidence of the crimes. One official admitted children were imprisoned at Maiduguri alongside adults but claimed it was an “unusual situation” necessitated by the “Boko Haram crisis.”
Nigerian defense officials on Monday denounced the Amnesty International report as “a rehash of its characteristically unfounded and ill-conceived accusations against the Armed Forces of Nigeria.”
A statement from the Nigerian Defense Headquarters (DHQ) urged the public and international community to “discountenance AI’s malicious report and continue to give requisite support to the AFN in the fight against terrorism, insurgency and other forms of criminality in the country.”
“While the AFN will not speak for the authorities of the Maiduguri Maximum Prison, we wish to emphatically state that such allegations are a mere concoction of the organization and the interest it seeks to represent,” the DHQ charged.
The statement asserted that Giwa Barracks is a facility overseen by a half-dozen agencies of the Nigerian national government, so it is “near impossible for these teams of professionals to look the other way while sexual violations are perpetrated as wrongly insinuated by AI.”
Boko Haram remains a serious security threat to Nigeria. Fighters from the Islamic State-aligned terrorist organization swept into the northeastern village of Kuda on Monday, riding in trucks and motorcycles, and slaughtered at least 21 residents before setting much of the village ablaze. Two days before that, Boko Haram militants overran a Nigerian military base in Borno state and stole a substantial cache of weapons.