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Innocents detained in Nigeria

Nigeria

For a year, Ayuba Ijai feared he might never see his family again. First, he was held hostage for months by the dreaded Boko Haram terrorists, and then government soldiers detained him for nearly a year, on suspicion of being a Boko Haram member.

The 30-year-old was abducted in 2014 after returning to his village Mildu in Adamawa State, to help his parents with farming. He was sick when the group attacked and could not flee. Captured along with 24 others, he was forced to convert to Islam or be killed. They were all locked up in a room, with guards stationed outside.

Three months later, he escaped when government forces liberated the town. However, a few hours after getting home to Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, soldiers stormed his neighbourhood and whisked Ayuba away. They said he was a Boko Haram member, and for 10 months he was detained and denied contact with the outside world.

Insurgents Boko Haram are responsible for the deaths of over 20,000 people and displacement of two million others in northeastern Nigeria. But since the Boko Haram war intensified in 2011, the Nigerian military has also been caught up in a web of serious human rights violations. An Amnesty International report last June detailed 7,000 deaths in detention and over 1,000 extrajudicial killings – reports denied by then-President Goodluck Jonathan.

Despite current President Muhammadu Buhari’s stated resolve to clamp down on human rights abuses by soldiers, problems continue. After an attack, soldiers go into a neighbourhood and arbitrarily arrest people, mostly youths. Also, anyone who refuses to be part of Civilian JTF, the youth vigilante group assisting the military, are treated as Boko Haram members.

This has led to an upsurge in the number of innocent people detained.

‘These cases fit a pattern of human rights violations,’ says Amnesty’s Netsanet Belay. ‘The military have routinely arbitrarily arrested people, and detained them without access to their families and lawyers or without them ever being brought before a court.’

Ayuba was finally released in December 2015 along with 129 others, after their detention was exposed by investigative news agency icirnigeria.org. He says he was treated better by the military than by Boko Haram, but he was never happy as all he wanted was to go home.

He is now still trying to settle back into the community and deal with the stigma that the soldiers foisted on him.

Samuel Malik

New Internationalist issue 490 magazine cover This article is from the March 2016 issue of New Internationalist.
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