Several reported cases of enforced disappearances that are being perpetrated unabatedly with impunity by state agents or people acting on their behalf has prompted the Human Rights bodies such as Amnesty International and others to speak out so that Nigerian Authorities would be held accountable for the lives of these victims.
These unlawful arrests or abductions which often follow by a refusal to acknowledge that the individual is being held, in addition to the deliberate concealment of their fate or whereabouts, placing them outside the protection of the law.
“Several incidences of disappearances frequently follow a pattern: once arrested, the victims almost never appear before a court and there is almost never a record of their “crime” or their detention” said Osai Ojigho, Country Director, Amnesty International Nigeria
“Once out of the public eye, individuals subjected to enforced disappearance are at great risk of ill-treatment, torture and even death”.
“The Nigerian authorities must immediately release thousands of people who have been subjected to enforced disappearance and held in secret detention facilities across the country without charge or trial” she lamented.
Ossai who was visibly sad stated this while marking International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances in Abuja.
In the last couple of years, the Nigerian government has allegedly used enforced disappearance as a longstanding tactic to silence critics and instil fear in civilian populations facing the double threat of armed groups, including Boko Haram, and military operations against them.
“So many families are still searching for loved ones who have not been seen for many years. In some cases, families live with the pain of not knowing whether their loved ones are alive or dead. It’s time the government did the right thing – and either release these detainees or charge them with a recognizable criminal offence in a fair trial without recourse to death penalty,” said Aboyade Johnson of the participants, at the event.
He added that some of detainees have been held incommunicado for up to nine years or more, without access to family or lawyers. Others have received court judgements ordering their release from custody, but security agencies have continued to defy these court orders.
Citing the case of journalist Abiri Jones as typical example, who was held in Directorate of Secret Services (DSS) detention for two years without access to family members or lawyers.
“At the beginning, the government denied detaining him, only to later release him following pressure from civil society organizations. It is unacceptable that many families are going through the same turmoil Abiri’s family went through,” said Osai Ojigho.
“Although the new leadership of the DSS has started releasing some detainees, the authorities must ensure that the hundreds of other detainees are quickly released or charged in court,” she affirmed.
According to figures provided by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), the whereabouts or fate of at least 600 of their members has been unknown since clashes with the military in December 2015 in Zaria, Kaduna state. More than 350 people are believed to have been unlawfully killed by the military in the violence.
Some of the victims’ families told Amnesty International about their anguish and strong desire for justice.
Across parts of northeast affected by Boko Haram conflict thousands of detainees have been subjected to enforced disappearance, placing them outside the protection of law. Families of those affected have been left without knowing the fate of their loved ones.
“We call on the Nigerian government, as a matter of urgency, to end unlawful arrests and incommunicado detentions. Enforced disappearance is an instrument of intimidation that grossly violates human rights. It is unacceptable and must stop,” said Osai Ojigho.
Nigerian authorities must ensure that victims and their families are told the truth and that they are provided with full and effective reparation to address the harm they have suffered.