The Nigerian security forces, led by the
military, embarked on a chilling campaign of extrajudicial executions and violence
resulting in the deaths of at least 150
peaceful pro-Biafra protesters in the south
east of the country, according to an
investigation by Amnesty International
Analysis of 87 videos, 122 photographs and
146 eye witness testimonies relating to
demonstrations and other gatherings
between August 2015 and August 2016
consistently shows that the military fired live ammunition with little or no warning to
disperse crowds. It also finds evidence of
mass extrajudicial executions by security
forces, including at least 60 people shot
dead in the space of two days in connection
with events to mark Biafra Remembrance
“This deadly repression of pro-Biafra activists is further stoking tensions in the south east of Nigeria. This reckless and trigger-happy approach to crowd control has caused at least 150 deaths and we fear the actual total might be far higher,” said Makmid Kamara, Interim Director of Amnesty International Nigeria.
“The Nigerian government’s decision to send in the military to respond to pro-Biafra
events seems to be in large part to blame for this excessive bloodshed. The authorities must immediately launch an impartial investigation and bring the perpetrators to book.”
Since August 2015, there has been a series
of protests, marches and gatherings by
members and supporters of IPOB
(Indigenous People of Biafra) who have been seeking the creation of a Biafran state.
Tensions increased further following the
arrest of IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu on 14
October 2015. He remains in detention.
By far the largest number of pro-Biafra
activists were killed on Biafra Remembrance Day on 30 May 2016 when an estimated 1,000 IPOB members and supporters gathered for a rally in Onitsha, Anambra State. The night before the rally, the security forces raided homes and a church where IPOB members were sleeping.
On Remembrance Day itself, the security
forces shot people in several locations.
Amnesty International has not been able to
verify the exact number of extrajudicial
executions, but estimates that at least 60
people were killed and 70 injured in these
two days. The real number is likely to be
Ngozi (not her real name), a 28-year-old
mother of one, told Amnesty International
that her husband left in the morning to go
to work but called her shortly afterwards to
say that the military had shot him in his
abdomen. He said he was in a military
vehicle with six others, four of whom were
already dead. She told Amnesty
International: “he started whispering and
said they just stopped [the vehicle]. He was
scared they would kill the remaining three of them that were alive… He paused and told me they were coming closer. I heard
gunshots and I did not hear a word from
him after that.”
The next day Ngozi searched for her
husband and finally found his body in a
nearby mortuary. The mortuary attendants
told her that the military had brought him
and six others. She saw three gunshot
wounds: one in his abdomen and two in his
chest, which confirmed her fear that the
military had executed him.
Amnesty International has also reviewed
videos of a peaceful gathering of IPOB
members and supporters at Aba National
High School on 9 February 2016. The
Nigerian military surrounded the group and
then fired live ammunition at them without
any prior warning.
According to eyewitnesses and local human
rights activists, many of the protesters at
Aba were rounded up and taken away by
the military. On 13 February 13 corpses,
including those of men known to have been
taken by the military, were discovered in a
pit near the Aba highway.
“It is chilling to see how these soldiers
gunned down peaceful IPOB members. The
video evidence shows that this was a
military operation with intent to kill and
injure,” said Makmid Kamara.
Eyewitness testimony and video footage of
the rallies, marches and meetings
demonstrate that the Nigerian military
deliberately used deadly force.
In many of the incidents detailed in the
report, including the Aba High School
protest, the military applied tactics designed to kill and neutralize an enemy, rather than to ensure public order at a peaceful event.
All IPOB gatherings documented by Amnesty International were largely peaceful. In those cases where there were pockets of violence, it was mostly in reaction to shooting by the security forces.
Eyewitnesses told Amnesty International that some protesters threw stones, burned tyres and in one incident shot at the police.
Regardless, these acts of violence and disorder did not justify the level of force used against the whole assembly.
Amnesty International’s research also shows a disturbing pattern of hundreds of arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment by soldiers during and after IPOB events, including arrests of wounded victims in hospital, and torture and other ill-treatment of detainees.
Vincent Ogbodo (not his real name), a 26-
year-old trader, said he was shot on
Remembrance Day in Nkpor and hid in a
gutter. When soldiers found him they
poured acid on him. He told Amnesty
“I covered my face. I would have been blind
by now. He poured acid on my hands. My
hands and body started burning. The flesh
was burning… They dragged me out of the
gutter. They said I’ll die slowly.”
A man who was detained in Onitsha
Barracks after the Remembrance Day
shooting on 30 May 2016 told Amnesty
International: “Those in the guard room
[detention] were flogged every morning.
The soldiers tagged it ‘Morning Tea’.”
No action by authorities to ensure accountability Despite this overwhelming evidence that the Nigerian security forces committed gross human rights violations including extrajudicial executions and torture, no investigations have been carried out by the authorities.
A similar pattern of lack of accountability for gross violations by the military has been
documented in other parts of Nigeria
including the north east in the context of
operations against Boko Haram.
“Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the government of Nigeria to initiate independent investigations into evidence of crimes under international law, and President Buhari has repeatedly promised that Amnesty International’s reports would be looked into. However, no concrete steps have been taken,” said Makmid Kamara.
In the very rare cases where an investigation is carried out, there is no follow up. As a result of the apparent lack of political will to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of such crimes, the military continues to commit human rights violations and grave crimes with impunity.
In addition to investigations, the Nigerian
government must ensure adequate
reparations for the victims, including the
families. They should end all use of military
in policing demonstrations and ensure the
police are adequately instructed, trained
and equipped to deal with crowd-control
situations in line with international law and
standards. In particular, firearms must never be used as a tool for crowd control.
Background The findings of this report involved an analysis of 87 videos and 122 photographs showing IPOB gatherings and members of security forces in the process of committing violations and victims of these violations. 193 interviews were conducted.
On 30 September 2016, Amnesty
International shared the key findings of this
report with the Federal Minister of Justice
and Attorney General, Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Army Staff, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Interior, Inspector General of Police and the Director-General of the state Security Services. Responses were received from the Attorney General and Inspector General of Police but neither answered the questions raised in the report.
IPOB emerged in 2012 and campaigns for
an Independent Biafran state. Almost fifty
years ago, an attempt to establish Biafra
state led to a civil war from 1967 to 1970.