ABUJA — Amnesty International says hundreds of people have died in Nigerian military detention centers from mistreatment or neglect this year. The group says the detainees are usually suspected of being associated with Boko Haram, a militant group that has been terrorizing northern Nigeria for nearly four years.
Last May, Nigeria began its largest-ever assault on Boko Haram after President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three northeastern states.
Officials say Nigeria is at war with Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group blamed for thousands of deaths since 2009.
Amnesty International researcher Makmid Kamara says Nigeria's prisons are full and that crowds of Boko Haram suspects are being packed into rooms meant to accommodate 20 or 30 people.
“When mass arrests are conducted people suspected are put in those small rooms," he said. "Up to 100, 150 people at one time and most of these people they are not fed well.”
Worse than bad food, he says, is that the rooms have no beds or toilets and sometimes no ventilation. And in northern Nigerian heat, former detainees say some people literally suffocate from the poor conditions.
“During interrogations we are told that some suspects are shot in the leg and they are left to bleed to death and they are brought back into the cells without any medical care, without any medical treatment,” he said.
The Nigerian military has repeatedly denied accusations from both international and Nigerian rights groups that soldiers are responsible for killing some suspects and arresting others without charges.
Some analysts say these Amnesty accusations are unfounded because soldiers are often the targets of the insurgency and they constantly have to defend themselves.
Military officials have also said they do investigate occasional individual cases of excessive force.
However, Amnesty International says a wider investigation is needed.
Kamara said, “We think that these allegations of people that died in detention must be investigated as a matter of urgency and that those who are found as suspected perpetrators must be brought to justice in a fair trial.”
Boko Haram has attacked churches, mosques, schools, markets, communications networks, government buildings and the local U.N. headquarters.
The former detainees that spoke to Amnesty International were mostly in Borno and Yobe states, the heart of the insurgency. But Kamara says many reported that although they were locked up, they were not formally charged with a crime.