International Human Rights body, Amnesty International (AI) on Friday said that the Nigerian Army burned down three villages in Borno and Yobe States, Northeast Nigeria, as a war tactic while battling Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) terrorists.
Amnesty said in its report released on Friday that soldiers razed Bukarti, Matiri and Ngariri villages, all located along the terror prone Maiduguri-Damaturu highway in early January, under the claim that the residents of the villages were rescued from Boko Haram terrorists.
But Nigeria’s Defence Headquarters (DHQ) said in a statement that the report was false, accusing the global rights body of waging “a campaign of calumny targeting the Nigerian Military.”
The statement by Defence Spokesperson, Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu, regretted that Amnesty International was “deliberately supporting the callous acts of terrorism” perpetuated by Boko Haram and ISWAP.
But the report by Amnesty said that most residents of the burned down villages were transferred to an unnamed Iinternally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State.
It added that some of the men taken from the village were “illegally detained and ill-treated for almost a month.”
The report by the global rights watchdog is the latest of the alleged abuses by the Nigerian military as it battles terrorist violence in the Northeast region.
Insisting that its report is accurate, the rights watchdog stated that while about 12 affected villagers narrated the incidents of burning down of the villages which allegedly took place on January 3 and 4, satellite data analysis confirmed that most houses in the villages were indeed razed.
According to Amnesty International Director in Nigeria, Mr. Osai Ojigho, “these brazen acts of razing entire villages, deliberately destroying civilian homes and forcibly displacing their inhabitants with no imperative military grounds, should be investigated as possible war crimes. They repeat a longstanding pattern of the Nigerian military meting out brutal tactics against the civilian population. Forces allegedly responsible for such violations must be suspended immediately and brought to justice.”
The Amnesty report added that about 400 villagers from Bukarti and Matiri were transferred to the unnamed IDP camp near Maiduguri, while a repeat of the incident played out in Ngariri, the next day.
But Nigerian Defence Headquarters said that the report was part of Amnesty International’s “inglorious campaign” and in line with its “usual mannerism and tenacious efforts aimed at disparaging the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN).
“The Defence Headquarters wishes to state unambiguously that the allegations being touted by AI is nothing but a betrayal of its lack of in-depth knowledge of the goings-on in the North East (NE) theatre of operation. It is expedient to state that troops of Operation Lafiya Dole who are conducting Counter Terrorism and Counter Insurgency Operations in the NE do not employ arson as an operational tactic.
“It is a well-known fact, going by the modus operandi of BHTs, that they, have more often than not engaged in the atrocious acts of looting and burning of villages, as well as destroying infrastructures. It therefore, beats one’s imagination that AI is attributing these atrocities to AFN troops who are legitimately defending the country guided by extant rules of engagement and operational codes of conduct.
“AI must understand the fact that Nigeria is at war against terrorism in the NE and that the troops have a constitutional mandate to protect lives and property, even if it means conducting an evacuation to save and secure lives of civilians in the conflict.
“Protecting civilians by evacuating them from the line of fire during combat is not a violation of the international law of conflict or a war crime. It is rather a commendable effort by the troops to prevent collateral damage during combat. Our troops should therefore be commended for making deliberate efforts to evacuate civilians in order to protect their lives and property.
“It is also crucial to point out, that troops deployed to fight terrorism in the NE do not attack or raze down villages, communities or settlements, rather they launch offensive on terrorists’ camps, enclaves and hide outs. Based on actionable intelligence, persons who provide logistics and other forms of support to the terrorists are arrested and subjected to thorough investigation by a combined team of professionals drawn from the intelligence community of the Armed Forces and other security agencies. Anyone not found culpable is not held in custody for further investigations.
“AI must therefore put an end to its reckless distortion of facts in its desperate bid to satisfy its puppeteers by undermining Nigeria’s Military campaign against terrorism in the NE. We urge members of the public to please discountenance AI’s report, as it is not a true and realistic reflection of troops’ counter terrorism operation in the NE.”