By Orkular Shaagee, Abuja
The United States Government has released its reports on Human Rights Practices and again indicted Nigeria of abuses.
The 46-paged report, signed by the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, covered year 2019, comprised seven sections and dozens of sub-sections, which include: “Respect for the Integrity of Persons; Respect for Civil Liberties; Freedom to participate in the Political Process”.
Others are: “Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government; Governmental attitude regarding NGOs’ Investigation of Human Rights Abuses; Discrimination, Societal Abuses and Trafficking in Persons; Worker Rights.
The dossier, which compiled atrocities by the government and its agents, seemed to give more insight into why the Trump administration slammed repeated sanctions on Nigeria in the last one year.
Its detailed accounts of President Muhammadu Buhari government and its agents’ arbitrary, unlawful, or extrajudicial killings. The Nigeria Police, the Nigerian Military, the Department of State Services (DSS) and state organs were accused of using lethal force to disperse protesters, apprehend criminals and suspects.
Noting that authorities did not hold security agencies accountable for the use of deadly force, the report lamented that Federal and States’ panels of inquiry reports are never made public.
It recalled that in 2017, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, while in acting capacity, convened a presidential investigative panel to review security agencies’ compliance with human rights obligations, rules of engagement, and submitted its findings in February 2018. “As of September (2019), no portions of the report had been made public”.
On attack on Shiites, the statement said as of September 2019, the federal government was silent on further investigating or holding individuals accountable for the 2015 killing and mass burial of members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), and other civilians by the Army in Zaria, Kaduna State.
The US wondered why the report on the 2017 Air Force erroneous bombing of an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Rann, Borno State, which killed and injured more than 100 civilians, humanitarian workers and Nigerian Army personnel, has not been released.
On disappearances, the world power mentioned that the publisher of Bayelsa State-based tabloid the Weekly Source, Jones Abiri, was held for more than two years in incommunicado detention by the DSS without trial, access to counsel, or family visitation.
The US also referred to the arrest and harassment of Stephen Kefas, Agba Jalingo and the missing Abubakar Idris, aka Dadiyata. The blogger and critic of the federal and Kano State governments was abducted from his home in Kaduna State in August 2019.
Nothing has been heard about him since and the DSS, the state agency notorious for secretly holding Nigerians, has denied taking Idris.
The case of citizen Abdullahi Ahmadu. He had been in DSS custody since 2013 without access to the court or family members before his situation leaked.
Another Nigerian, Anthony Okolie, was arrested and detained by the DSS for nearly three months for ownership of a phone number recycled after it became dormant.
Okolie legally purchased the line from MTN but was secretly kept because the number earlier belonged to Buhari’s daughter, Hanan. The matter is in court.
The United States expressed concern over Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on arrests and detentions of journalists and activists, saying such indicated a growing intolerance of dissent.
The country reiterated concern about the security situation in Nigeria, the murder of innocent citizens, deadly communal/ethnic clashes, bandits’ attacks, among others.
It said abductions for ransom were still going on and observed that on May 1, 2019, armed assailants kidnapped the nephew of President Buhari and held him for more than two months before he was rescued.
The report confirmed that torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment were carried out by security agencies. It decried the activities of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police and remarked the #EndSARS campaign on social media.
It included findings by groups such as Amnesty International (AI) on illegal detention, inhuman treatment, and torture of criminal suspects, militants, detainees and prisoners.
“According to reports, security services committed rape and other forms of violence against women and girls, usually with impunity. In April, AI reported at least 10 soldiers in Giwa Barracks sexually exploited female detainees, demanding sex in exchange for food, soap, other basic necessities, and the promise of freedom.
“As of September the government had not held any responsible officials to account for reported incidents of torture in detention facilities in the Northeast, including Giwa Barracks.”
The US denounced the “parading of arrestees in public spaces and subjecting them to public ridicule and abuse. Bystanders often taunted and hurled food and other objects at arrestees.”
The report criticised the Justice System in Nigeria, condition of prisons and that authorities sometimes held female and male prisoners together, especially in rural areas. “Prison authorities often held juvenile suspects with adults….Most of the 240 prisons were 70 to 80 years old and lacked basic facilities”, it said.
It slammed arrests without prosecution and referred to reports of thousands of deaths in custody. The US said the military continued to indefinitely hold women and children alleged to have links with Boko Haram and ISIS-WA (ISWAP).
The US expressed concern over threats to journalists and referred to HRW exposition on arrests and detentions of journalists and activists indicated a growing intolerance of dissent.
The country deplored onslaught against freedom of movement, protests and expressions; intimidation over use of internet, the legislation being used by Federal and State governments to arrest opponents and critics for alleged hate speech.
The US cited the 2019 elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). It said there was evidence that military and security services intimidated voters, electoral officials, and election observers.
It noted that many Nigerians believe the Army is a tool of the ruling party in many parts of the country and regretted that several INEC Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) reported DSS operatives intimidated them when they attempted to protect voting materials.
“There were reports that corruption, including vote buying were historically high during the 2018-19 electoral season. Examples of vote buying were apparent in the re-run of the Osun gubernatorial election in September 2018, and during the Kano gubernatorial election on March 9.”
“Although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and government officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government, including the judiciary and the security services.
“The constitution provides immunity from civil and criminal prosecution for the president, vice president, governors, and deputy governors while in office. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year”, it read.
The US echoed complaints by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on delays in convictions on lack of judges and the widespread practice of filing for and granting multiple adjournments.
“EFCC arrests and indictments of politicians continued throughout the year, implicating a significant number of opposition political figures and leading to allegations of partisan motivations on the part of the EFCC.”
The US added that in April 2019, Supreme Court Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen was convicted of falsely declaring his assets for failing to reveal money held in five foreign bank accounts.
“President Buhari had suspended Onnoghen over the charges of failing to disclose assets in January several weeks before the presidential election.”
The US recorded that Buhari removed Onnoghen unilaterally without endorsement by the Senate or from the National Judicial Council (NJC) as the law requires.
“The timing and process of Onnoghen’s suspension led many opposition candidates, lawyers, and civil society leaders to accuse President Buhari of meddling with the independence of the judiciary.”
The report further condemned forced labour, sexual discrimination, religious intolerance, early forced marriage, baby factories, violence against children and women, domestic violence and Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C).
It called for effective and timely prosecution of rape and other cases, recognition of ethnic minorities, better welfare for workers in the private and public sectors, improved attention to senior citizens, displaced people and persons with disabilities.