ABUJA, NIGERIA— Nigerian lawyers say thousands of people have been held without charges for up to two years as security forces fight insurgents known as Boko Haram in Nigeria’s northern Borno State, the original home of the militant group.
The lawyers, who are affiliated with the Nigerian Bar Association, say some detainees are dying in prison, having never been charged with a crime. They say they will appeal to the International Criminal Court if detainees are not charged or released on bail in what they call a “reasonable amount of time.”
Rights watchdog group Amnesty International also says people are being unlawfully detained, but is more conservative with their estimate, saying hundreds are currently held without charges.
Abdulwasiu Alfa, the general secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association's Borno State branch, criticizes the actions of Nigeria's Joint Task Force [JTF], which is fighting Boko Haram.
“Since they came to Borno State in 2011, no one, I repeat, not a single individual has been charged to court," said Alfa. "This is unconstitutional in our law. Even in capital offenses, as in terrorism or any other offenses you discover, that no one should be detained for more than two months, three months. That’s what the constitution says.”
Amnesty International also blames the Nigerian security forces for extrajudicial killings, a charge Nigerian authorities repeatedly have denied. Boko Haram often targets security forces and any counter-attacks have been in self-defense, they say.
Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa, a JTF spokesperson, issued a statement last weekend saying security forces are fulfilling their “constitutional responsibility of defending the nation from external and internal enemies.”
When asked by CNN last month if Nigerian security forces are guilty of “heavy handed crackdowns," President Goodluck Jonathan said the accusations are political.
“That is not correct! That is not correct!" he exclaimed. "And I have said it severally; those are insinuation by some interest group. Definitely they are insinuation by some interest group."
Boko Haram - a shadowy militant group without identifiable leaders - has been blamed for more than 1,500 deaths since it began violent operations in 2009. The group has attacked churches, schools, markets, government buildings and media houses.
Human Rights Watch accuses Nigerian security forces of killing more than 1,000 others in what it calls “spiraling violence.”
Boko Haram has been silent in recent months, claiming no responsibility for continuing violence in northern Nigeria. Some analysts say this lends credibility to a ceasefire announcement by a self-proclaimed leader of the group late last month. Others say the continued violence, including the killings of nine polio vaccination workers in Kano last week, signals how fractured and unpredictable Boko Haram really is.
Adbulkareem Haruna contributed to this report from Maiduguri, Nigeria.