Last week, the global human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, released a report on the plight of children trapped in the war ravaged North-East region of the country.
The 91-page report captioned: “We Dried Our Tears: Addressing the Toll on Children of North-East Nigeria’s Conflict,” examines how the widespread unlawful detention and torture by the Nigeria military have compounded the suffering of children from Borno and Adamawa states who faced war crimes and crimes against humanity in the hands of Boko Haram terrorists operating in the region.
Amnesty International said while the Boko Haram terrorists have continued to abduct children, conscripting young males into battle and subjecting young girls to sexual exploitation, those who managed to escape from the terrorists camps were re-captured by the military and equally subjected to torture and prolonged detention in very unsanitary environments.
The report was the outcome of a survey conducted by Amnesty International on more than 230 people affected by the conflict, including 119 who were children when they suffered serious crimes either in the hands of Boko Haram, the Nigerian military or both.
These included 48 children held in military detention for several months and years, as well as 22 adults who had been detained alongside some children.
For nearly a decade, Boko Haram terrorists have carried out a horrible string of atrocities in which children have been one of the most impacted segments of the populace. The armed group’s classic tactics included attacks on schools, mass abductions, recruitment and use of child soldiers as well as forced marriage of girls and young women.
The world still recalls the infamous abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State on April 14, 2014. This was followed by the abduction of 110 schoolgirls from the Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State on February 19, 2018. These tragic events generated so much outrage and trauma not just among the families of the kidnapped pupils but also in the larger society.
In this latest report, Amnesty International said the scale of abductions has often been underestimated as the terrorists routinely kidnapped people by forcing parents to hand over their children to them or face instant death. The terrorists have also continued to murder those who try to escape from captivity.
As if these were not bad enough, the report brings sad tales of those who escaped from the terrorist camps and found themselves in the custody of the security forces of Nigeria. The situation is appallingly not significantly different from what these children undergo in the terrorist camps. It is replete with tales of mass arrests and unlawful detention in inhuman conditions, laced with torture and sexual abuse.
Indeed both scenarios are highly condemnable as all these acts constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity under international law.
It is important to note that this is not the first time Amnesty International will be calling out both the Boko Haram and the Nigeria Armed Forces on their activities in the North-East. We are alarmed that after series of such reports had been made with a view to redressing the situation, each successive report appears worse than the previous.
In the past, such reports had always pitched the Nigerian military against Amnesty International as the former would not only deny all the allegations of wrongdoing, but will equally accuse the latter of supporting the activities of the terrorists. But with the indictment of both parties in the current report, Amnesty International appears to have hit the bull’s eye.
The gory tales of abduction, detention, threat to lives and other inhuman treatments meted out to minors at both ends, has practically placed these children between terror and torture. Like jumping from the frying pan to the blazing fire. It is a difficult choice to make if one is aware of what obtains inside both camps.
Therefore, this report should serve as a clarion call to the Federal Government of Nigeria to address the atrocities of the Boko Haram by taking the battle to their camps and crushing the terrorist organisation once and for all.
The counter-insurgency war has lasted for too long and not many people can be convinced now that the Nigerian military in all its might has not become complacent and battle weary.
While our troops must be fully prepared to take out the Boko Haram and end the misery the war has brought upon the land, the Federal Government must investigate and address the complaints of gross human rights violations levelled against our security forces in the theatre of war.
In the last one decade that the conflict had lasted, millions of people have been displaced, families separated, thousands of schools razed and children forced out of school as they take refuge in the various Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps.
We cannot but agree with Amnesty International that the bitter and bloody conflict between the military and Boko Haram has been an assault on childhood itself in the North-East region. The Federal Government risks creating a lost generation unless it urgently addresses the root causes of the war that has targeted and traumatized these children. It must also probe into the circumstances that has brought the children under grievous harm while in the custody of the security agencies charged with the responsibility of protecting them.