Nigeria: Reinstatement of army general implicated in mass murder makes mockery of commitments to end war crimes
The reinstatement of a senior Nigerian military general implicated in the mass murder of hundreds of detainees underlines the monumental failure of the government to stamp out impunity for war crimes at the highest level, said Amnesty International.
Last June, Amnesty International named Major General Ahmadu Mohammed, along with eight other senior commanders, calling for an investigation into their possible criminal responsibility for war crimes including the deaths of more than 8,000 of detainees.
Major General Ahmadu, was in charge of 7 Division and was in command of operations when the military executed more than 640 detainees following a Boko Haram attack on the detention centre in Giwa barracks on 14 March 2014. He was retired in 2014 for unrelated reasons, but reinstated this month.
An in depth report exposed a range of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity committed by the military in the course of operations against Boko Haram. It found that, since March 2011, more than 7,000 were starved, suffocated, and tortured to death in military detention camps. A further 1,200 were rounded up and unlawfully killed.
“Major General Mohammed must be investigated for participating in, sanctioning or failing to prevent the deaths of hundreds of people,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
Young men and boys, rounded up by the military, were either shot, starved, suffocated or tortured to death and no one has yet been held to account. It is unthinkable that Major General Muhammed could resume command of troops before an investigation has even begun
“Young men and boys, rounded up by the military, were either shot, starved, suffocated or tortured to death and no one has yet been held to account. It is unthinkable that Major General Muhammed could resume command of troops before an investigation has even begun.”
The report, Stars on their shoulders, blood on their hands: War crimes committed by the Nigerian military, was based on years of research and analysis of evidence - including leaked military reports and correspondence, as well as interviews with more than 400 victims, eyewitnesses and senior members of the Nigerian security forces.
It exposed a range of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity committed by the military in the course of operations against Boko Haram. It found that, since March 2011, more than 7,000 were starved, suffocated, and tortured to death in military detention camps. A further 1,200 were rounded up and unlawfully killed.
It named nine senior Nigerian military figures along the chain of command who should be investigated for potential command and individual responsibility for the crimes committed.
Hours after the publication of the report on 3 June, President Buhari responded personally on Twitter to say: "I assure you that your report will be looked into…This administration will leave no stone unturned to promote the rule of law, and deal with all cases of human rights abuses."
Likewise the President announced on 12 June 2015 that investigating criminal responsibility for the violations documented in Amnesty International’s report would be the first task of the Attorney General. This investigation is yet to begin.
Since the publication of the report, four of the named military commanders have retired. Two others had already retired prior to the publication of the report. The current status of two Brigadier Generals is unknown. Major General Mohammed was removed from his post on 16 May 2014 two days after a reported mutiny by his own men. News of his reinstatement reached Amnesty International on 17 January.
Those responsible for the crimes detailed in Amnesty International’s report must be held to account, no matter their rank or position. Only then can there be justice for the dead and their relatives
“Seven months after the publication of these horrific discoveries and the President’s pledge that they will be looked into, we continue to call for urgent independent investigations to begin,” said Salil Shetty.
“Those responsible for the crimes detailed in Amnesty International’s report must be held to account, no matter their rank or position. Only then can there be justice for the dead and their relatives.”
In November 2015, the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, identified two potential cases of crimes against humanity and war crimes by the Nigerian military. These relate to the arrest, detention, torture and death in custody of Boko Haram suspects and extrajudicial executions, including of recaptured detainees on 14 March 2014.
The prosecutor is assessing the admissibility of the potential cases in order to reach a decision on whether the criteria for opening an investigation are met.
Amnesty International’s report into human rights violations by the military was published on 3 June 2015. Based on the evidence it uncovered, the organization believes that the following military officers should be investigated for potential individual or command responsibility for the war crimes of murder, enforced disappearance and torture detailed in this report:
Major General Ahmadu Mohammed - reinstated.
He was Commander of 7 Division from 24 February until 16 May 2014. During this period, Amnesty International continued to document arbitrary arrests and unlawful detention of thousands of people in inhumane conditions, the deaths in custody of large numbers of detainees and extrajudicial executions committed by Nigerian troops under his command. In addition, Major General Ahmadu Mohammed was in charge of military operations when, in the aftermath of a Boko Haram attack on Giwa Barracks, Nigerian military executed more than 640 former detainees. Major General Mohammed was reinstated in January 2016 and is waiting to be assigned a post.
Major General John A.H. Ewansiha - currently retired.
He was General Officer Commanding (GOC) of Operation Restore Order I (ORO) and Operation BOYONA between January 2012 and August 2013. As GOC of ORO and Operation BOYONA, he was informed about the arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention of thousands of people in inhumane conditions, the deaths in custody of large numbers of detainees and extrajudicial executions in areas under his command in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.
He received regular reports indicating the commission of these crimes by his subordinates and failed to take measures to stop and prevent them or to bring those responsible to account. In August 2013, he became Chief of Standards and Evaluation at Army Headquarters and Chief of Training and Operations at Army Headquarters.
Major General Obida T Ethan - currently retired.
He was Commander of 7 Division from 22 August 2013 until 1 January 2014. Major General Ethan took over the command of the military operations in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states in August 2013 from Major General Ewansiha. During this period, Amnesty International continued to document arbitrary arrests and unlawful detention of thousands of people in inhumane conditions, the deaths in custody of large numbers of detainees and extrajudicial executions committed by Nigerian troops under his command.
Brigadier General Austin O. Edokpayi – status unknown.
He was in command of the Multinational Joint Task Force based in Baga from at least April 2013 until December 2013 where Nigerian soldiers were responsible for arbitrary arrests and unlawful detention, the extrajudicial executions of more than 185 people in April 2013, and deaths in custody in Baga detention facility.
Brigadier General Rufus O. Bamigboye – status unknown.
He was Commander of the 21 Armoured Brigade, stationed in Giwa barracks from February 2012 till September 2013. He was in charge of the barracks during the period when at least 5,000 detainees died in custody, and when torture and ill-treatment were used routinely. In December 2013, he was promoted to Deputy Director of Operations at Defence Headquarters. According to media reports, Brigadier General Bamigboye was appointed Chief of Staff of 81 Division in July 2015. Amnesty International has not been able to verify his current status.
In addition, Amnesty International believes that the following high-level military commanders should be investigated for their potential command responsibility for crimes committed by their subordinates given that they knew or should have known about the commission of the crimes, and failed to take adequate action:
Lt. General Azubuike Ihejirika. He was Chief of Army Staff from September 2010 until he retired in January 2014.
Admiral Ola Sa'ad Ibrahim. He was Chief of Defence Staff from 4 October 2012 until he retired in January 2014.