Security agents and inmates are sexually violating children and women at Maiduguri Maximum Security Prison and Giwa Barracks in Borno State. This is contained in a report of investigation conducted by Amnesty International (AI) which exposed sexual violence against children and women by security agents and inmates at the two highsecurity prison facilities. According to the report, thousands of civilians arrested because of alleged links to the Boko Haram group are at Maiduguri Maximum Security Prison and Giwa Barracks.
The investigation also found that scores of children are being unlawfully detained alongside adults in Maiduguri prison. An AI research team visited Maiduguri earlier this month to investigate claims made by an inmate, Charles Okah – first documented by Sahara Reporters, an online news medium – that children were being abused and unlawfully detained in Maiduguri Prison.
Okah alleged that three children detained on death row in Maiduguri were among the many victims of sexual abuse. Amnesty International, in a report made available to New Telegraph, said it interviewed a Maiduguri Prison detainee as well as a former prison warder who both confirmed that sexual abuse of children was widespread in the prison. A detainee said he had observed the abuse of children by adult inmates.
“It is not a secret in the prison what is happening with the little boys,” said the detainee, who spoke to Amnesty International via a contact to protect his identity. The source also told AI that it was sometimes possible to hear what was happening in the stalls, and this confirmed his understanding that sexual assault was occurring. “Sometimes, you see that a little boy goes into the toilet and immediately, an adult detainee goes after him, and when the boy comes out, you don’t need to be told what has happened to him,” the source said.
The Maiduguri Prison former warder, who was also too afraid to meet Amnesty International in person, confirmed that he had been aware of sexual abuse of children. He said: “The condition there (in the prison) is not good for children and it is difficult to stop what is going on with the boys.
The only way is for them to be taken out of there. What do you expect when you keep children with grown up men?” Amnesty International also documented the sexual assault of a 16-year-old boy by an adult inmate in Giwa Barracks in or around January 2018, six months before all children were released from the facility. “At the time, children were being detained in a cell next to adult cells, making interactions with adult inmates inevitable.
A former detainee told Amnesty International he had witnessed an adult inmate “trying to take the trousers off” a sleeping boy,” the report stated. “A boy who saw it woke the boy that was being assaulted and, in the morning, it was reported to the soldiers,” AI quoted an eyewitness.
The adult inmate was reportedly transferred to a different cell after the incident. Amnesty International stated that the boy who had been assaulted along with 15 male former detainees confirmed the incident to it. Amnesty International said it obtained court documents confirming that at least 68 children were being held in Maiduguri Prison.
The organisation also spoke to former Giwa Barracks child detainees, who identified 39 of these children as their former cellmates at Giwa; a list that included names of the three young boys detained in the same area with death row inmates mentioned in Okah’s report. It said the findings confirm that dozens of children are being held in the maximum security prison in connection with the Boko Haram crisis. According to Amnesty International’s findings, the 68 boys held in Maiduguri prison were first detained without charge by the Nigerian military in Giwa Barracks before they were transferred between late 2016 and early 2017.
“This is another sad and disturbing case of human rights violations against civilians caught up in the Boko Haram crisis in North-East, Nigeria. “It is inexcusable that children are subjected to such vile treatment under government care, and likewise it is intolerable that women are, once again, bearing the brunt of abuse by the Nigerian security forces that are meant to protect them,” said Osai Ojigho, Amnesty International’s Nigeria Director. Amnesty International researchers also uncovered fresh allegations that soldiers have raped women in the Giwa Barracks detention facility.
Three former female detainees independently said they had witnessed such attacks and identified 10 of the male soldiers responsible – including five who worked in the detention centre’s health clinic. Two of these former detainees were women who said they too had been sexually violated. According to the witnesses, at least 15 former female detainees were victims of rape, with soldiers demanding sex in exchange for food, soap, basic necessities and the promise of freedom. One female former detainee told Amnesty International: “We knew them, all the women befriended by soldiers.
They always had things we did not have, like soap, detergent and wrappers (clothing items). Some of the women… had as many as 15 wrappers each (given by soldiers). The soldiers also bought bread, beverages and other food for their ‘girlfriends’.”
A victim and former detainee explained that while the soldiers did not use physical force to make women have sexual relationships with them, it was not possible to refuse sex due to their circumstances. One woman told AI she had a soldier “boyfriend” to survive her time in detention and access additional food. She said she knew of others. Another former detain-ee said soldiers promised to get women released if they agreed to sex, such as in the case of a woman who became pregnant by a soldier.
“Since (the soldiers) were the ones that would call the names of those to be released, it was easy for them to substitute some names. The women knew that the soldier’s girlfriend was two months pregnant. So a night before they released some women, the soldier did documentation for her and the next morning her name was called among those to be released,” the former detainee said. Immediately after Okah’s report was published, Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State announced he had set up a panel to investigate and submit its findings and recommendations within a week. Meanwhile, AI has called for urgent action on the development.
“To detain children with adults in the full knowledge that they may be abused is despicable. Far from protecting these children from this abuse, the Nigerian authorities have created the enabling environment for it to thrive. “Children suspected of criminal responsibility should only be detained in children’s facilities. The detention of children in the same cells with adults is unacceptable.
“The authorities must ensure that the investigation into these allegations is prompt, independent and impartial, and that any prison officials or military members found responsible for human rights violations are brought to justice,” Ojigho added. Last year, female former detainees at Giwa Barracks told Amnesty International about sexual violence in the detention centre. “Amnesty International called for an investigation into these allegations in May 2018, but it is unclear if one has been carried out,” it said. “Even in cases where detained women apparently consented, these acts constitute rape as the soldiers took advantage of a coercive environment in which the detainees had little choice but to have sex with them.
“The soldiers held massive power over the women; they controlled much of women’s daily life in detention, they held the power to mete out arbitrary punishments on the one hand, or to provide desperately needed food and medicine on the other. And yet some abused this power. This is despicable behaviour and the soldiers involved must be held accountable. “These latest testimonies follow a pattern of violation we have repeatedly documented in Nigeria’s prisons. It is time for President Buhari to act,” Ojigho said.