John Alechenu, Fidelis Soriwei, Olalekan Adetayo, Friday Olokor, Adelani Adepegba, Okechukwu Nnodim and Oladimeji Ramon
A report by Human Rights Watch, detailing alleged sexual exploitation of women and girls in Internally Displaced Persons’ camps by Nigerian government and security officials, has attracted anger and condemnation from groups and individuals.
The HRW report, which was made public in Abuja on Monday, prompted President Muhammadu Buhari to order an investigation into the development, with a pledge to bring those found culpable to book.
Meanwhile, Buhari on Monday instructed that the alleged exploitation of women and girls in the IDPs camps as contained in the HRW report, be investigated.
The President’s directive was contained in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu.
According to the statement, Buhari would wait for the outcome of the investigations before deciding his next line of action on the matter.
The presidential spokesman said the President was “worried and shocked” by the HRW report.
He said, “Nigerians and the international community can rest assured that the allegations raised in the HRW are not being taken lightly.
“President Buhari has instructed the Inspector-General of Police and the state governors of the affected states to immediately commence investigations into the issue.
“Their findings will determine the next course of action for the government and define an appropriate response.”
The report by HRW accused government officials as well as security officials of raping and sexually exploiting women and girls displaced by the Boko Haram criminal activities.
The report accused the government of not doing enough to protect displaced women and girls and ensuring that they had access to basic rights and services.
It also faulted the government for not taking action against the abusers, who, it alleged, included camp leaders, vigilance groups, policemen and soldiers.
The HRW said in July 2016, it documented sexual abuses, including rape and exploitation, of 43 women and girls living in seven IDPs’ camps in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.
It explained that the victims were from Borno towns and villages, including Abadam, Bama, Baga, Damasak, Dikwa, Gamboru Ngala, Gwoza, Kukawa and Walassa.
The Senior Nigeria Researcher at the HRW, Mausi Segun, was quoted in the report as saying, “It is bad enough that these women and girls are not getting the much-needed support for the horrific trauma they suffered at the hands of Boko Haram.
“It is disgraceful and outrageous that people, who should protect these women and girls, are attacking and abusing them.”
Four of the victims told HRW that they were drugged and raped, while 37 were coerced into sex through false marriage promises and material and financial assistance.
Many of those coerced into sex said they were abandoned in case of pregnancy.
A situational assessment of IDPs in the North-East in July, 2016, by NOI Polls, a Nigerian research organisation, stated that 66 per cent of 400 displaced persons in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states alleged that camp officials sexually abused the displaced women and girls.
Women and girls abused by members of the security forces and vigilance groups told HRW they felt powerless and feared retaliation if they reported the abuse.
In one heartrending narration, a 17-year-old girl said just over a year after she fled the frequent Boko Haram attacks in Dikwa, a town, 56 miles from Maiduguri, a policeman approached her for “friendship” in the camp, but turned around to raped her.
She added, “One day, he demanded to have sex with me. I refused, but he forced me. It happened just that one time, but soon, I realised I was pregnant. When I informed him about my condition, he threatened to shoot and kill me if I told anyone else. So, I was too afraid to report him.”
Meanwhile, the National Emergency Management Agency said none of its staff was indicted in the report, adding that no NEMA official was involved in the allegations raised by the HRW.
NEMA stated that although it coordinated activities in the IDPs’ camps, its officials did not reside in any of the camps.
The Senior Information Officer at NEMA, Mr. Sani Datti, said, “The report did not indict any of our officials.
“It mentioned other security agencies; no NEMA official was reported to have been involved in such act. Meanwhile, it is important to tell you that none of our officials lives in any of the camps.
“Several organisations are involved in the camps and we call them sectors. We coordinate all these sectors, but we don’t live in the camps and that is why we can boldly tell you that none of our officials is involved or indicted in the allegations raised by that report.”
The Acting Director, Defence Information, Brig.-Gen. Rabe Abubakar, said the military had always ensured the protection of the rights of Nigerians in all its operations, stressing that the situation in the IDPs’ camps was not an exception.
He called on Human Rights Watch International to come forward with evidence of such acts for appropriate action rather than resorting to media warfare.
He said, “We protect the lives and human dignity of our citizens especially the Internally Displaced Persons, who are supposed to be in a very sorry state. We don’t condone anything as abuse of human rights, let alone the rights of IDPs.
“Just of recent, we dismissed a soldier and jailed him for three years for molesting a child in Maiduguri. So, if we can do that, it shows that we don’t tolerate this kind of thing. However, as I said, we are not going to take issue with them (HRW).
“If there is any evidence, they should please come forward; they should not make it a media war.
The police spokesman, Donald Awunah, could not be reached on Monday for comment on the alleged sexual exploitation of women in IDP camps by policemen.
He did not return calls and SMS to his mobile.
Groups, individuals condemn sexual abuse in camps
A security analyst, Ben Okezie, endorsed the presidential directive to the IG to probe the allegations.
He said, “The allegations should be thoroughly investigated and indicted officers should be shown the way out of the security forces. The IDPs have been dispossessed of everything they have and any right-thinking official should act as a father figure to these women.
“It is the bad eggs in the police and the military that must have perpetrated such nefarious acts. The government should not only show the bad eggs the way out of the service, it should also go after their guarantors and shame them too. This will send a strong signal to others.”
President of the Campaign for Democracy, Bako Usman, expressed disgust at the news that vulnerable women and young girls, who had suffered in the hands of Boko Haram terrorists, were being subjected to sexual exploitation by those who had been saddled with the responsibility of rehabilitating them.
Usman stated, “It’s rather unfortunate the condition that the IDPs have found themselves in our country, the lack of orderliness on the part of our irresponsible personnel within the force and NEMA officials.
“If really the war against insurgency is won, dislodge those camps and make arrangements to resettle the victims in their towns. The rehabilitation is taking longer than necessary. The end result is what we are witnessing in such camps now.”
Usman called for the arrest and prosecution of those found culpable of engaging in such sexual exploitation.
The Executive Director, Access to Justice, Mr. Joseph Otteh, said if the claim by the HRW was true, the perpetrators had committed sacrilege and the government should immediately set up a panel of inquiry to fish them out and punish them.
Otteh said, “If that is correct, that would really be outrageous. It is really sacrilegious; these are people who ran away from abuse and to learn that even where they have run for shelter, they are still being exploited; it would just be horrendous.
“I think the government should immediately set up a panel of inquiry to unearth the truth about this and bring those culpable to account because this is pure sacrilege.”
The National Coordinator, Legal Defence and Assistant Project, Mr. Chino Obiagwu, said though he could not confirm the claims by the HRW, he was aware of other illegal activities such as diversion of relief materials in the IDPs’ camps.
Obiagwu said, “I’ve read the report, but I cannot confirm the information in the report; but I know there are a lot of issues such as diversion of relief materials meant for the IDPs and falsification of information to get resources on behalf of the IDPs. And unfortunately the agencies that are responsible for overseeing the IDP camps have not really been talking or taking steps to investigate these allegations.
“It is important now that the Human Rights Watch had gone there and published claims of sexual abuse; the authorities should set up a panel to investigate the allegations.
“More importantly, however, the IDPs should be assisted to return home rather than remaining in the camps permanently. They can’t be IDPs forever because once you want to make the camps permanent home for the IDPs, there will be cases of abuse.” Punch.ng.com