Global human rights watchdog, Amnesty International (AI), has described the response of the Federal Government to communal violence as grossly inadequate, too slow, ineffective, and in certain instances, illegal. The body also said communal clashes have claimed over 700 lives since last year. AI made its position known in a statement issued on Monday.
It stated that clashes between herdsmen and farmers in Adamawa, Benue, Taraba, Ondo and Kaduna states have resulted in 168 deaths in January alone.
“The government must totally overturn its response to these deadly clashes to avoid this crisis getting out of control. They need to investigate and bring suspects to justice,” said Mr. Osai Ojigho, Director Amnesty International Nigeria.
AI added that hundreds of people lost their lives last year and the Federal Government remains unable to protect communities from the violent clashes. The organization also noted that the situation is made worse by the fact that perpetrators are daily getting away with murder. In some situations in which the Nigerian military responded, said AI, it was with excessive and unlawful force, which resulted in more deaths and destruction.
“In some cases where the Nigerian security agencies did respond to communal violence, they used excessive or unlawful force resulting in even more deaths and destruction,” said AI.
It recalled that on 4 December 2017, the Nigerian Air Force sent fighter jets to fire rockets at villages as a “warning” to deter communal violence at a time hundreds of herdsmen attacked at least five villages in Adamawa State to avenge the killing of 51 of their members of their members in Kikan.
A visit to the villages by its team after the raids, said AI, saw the team gather testimonies from residents, who said they were attacked by a fighter jet and a military helicopter as they attempted to flee.
“Launching air raids is not a legitimate law enforcement method by anyone’s standard. Such reckless use of deadly force is unlawful, outrageous and lays bare the Nigerian military’s shocking disregard for the lives of those it supposedly exists to protect,” said Mr. Ojigho.
AI recalled that Commodore Olatokunbo Adesanya, Nigerian Air Force’s (NAF) Director of Public Relations, was quoted in the media as describing the air raids as “warning shots – not shots to kill.” He was also quoted to have said the raids had a “positive effect.”
Commodore Adesanya was also quoted as saying that the Air Force recorded video footage of the operations, which involved an Alpha Jet and an EC 135 helicopter.
AI called on the Nigerian Air Force to hand over the footage of the incident and all relevant information to the authorities, including the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice for investigation.
“This is an unlawful and excessive force on a catastrophic scale. It is yet another tragic example where Nigeria’s armed forces are found applying deadly military tactics to law enforcement situations.
The Nigerian authorities must investigate these attacks and, where these investigations indicate criminal responsibility, prosecute those responsible and bring them to justice,” said AI Director in Nigeria.
The said raids took place in the villages of Lawaru, Dong, Kodomti, Shafaron and Nzuruwei, where Amnesty International interviewed a total of 15 witnesses.
Residents of the villages also provided AI with lists of 86 people killed in the raids and by herdsmen, who shot arbitrarily and burnt homes.
Based on witness testimony, field observations, determination of the nature of weapons used as well as analysis of photographic and satellite images AI said it believes that the air raids caused significant destruction and estimated that they must have accounted for at least 35 deaths and numerous injuries.
The organization said it was told by witnesses involved in the identification and burial of the victims that 51 had gunshot or machete wounds, while the remaining 35 died as a result of the airstrikes in Dong, Shafaron, Lawaru and Kodomti.
Witnesses were also quoted as saying that most victims were buried in individual graves, but 28 were buried in a mass grave in Dong which, along with
Lawaru, had the highest number of fatalities.
In the five villages it visited, AI said about 3,000 homes were destroyed. It added that satellite and aerial imagery it obtained secured and analyzed confirmed the devastating cumulative effect of the herders and Air Force attacks.
The AI team documented the impact of the air raid on the ground. In Nzuruwei, the team saw metal tears on a vehicle and motorbike, which were likely caused by rocket fragmentation. Witnesses also told the organization that they found remnants of the rockets nearby.
AI said another witness in Kodomti showed the team his home, which was destroyed by a rocket, remnants of which were found in the ruins of his house.
In Dong, the AI team visited a palace of the traditional leader, which according to witnesses, was destroyed by an air raid hours after the herdsmen had left.
Found inside the palace were remnants of the rocket.
AI said a video footage shot by its team showed homes reduced to rubble as well as twisted metal and ash in areas where the villagers said the rockets landed.
Experts, said AI, identified the munitions as French-made SNEB rockets, which are known to be used by Nigeria’s Alpha Jet aircraft. In some villages, the organization said witnesses revealed that the rocket attacks happened at the same time as the herders’ raids, while in other villages the Air Force arrived shortly afterwards.
“Communal violence clearly warrants a response from the state, but to launch rockets into villages as a ‘warning’ is absolutely unlawful. Rather than intervening with a proportionate response on the ground, the military clearly chose tactics designed to kill and neutralize an enemy from the air,” said AI.
It quoted a farmer from Shafaron as saying that a jet launched a raid just after the herdsmen arrived.
“The helicopter and the jet started releasing bombs. Houses started burning. Children started running for their lives. Mothers packed up their children and escaped with them. We men were unable to fight back and we started running too. This jet burnt our houses and properties to ashes,” the farmer told AI.
A traditional ruler of one of the villages, whose house was destroyed in the air raid, also told AI how the aircraft arrived shortly after the herdsmen.
“As we were trying to hide, we saw a helicopter and a jet arrive and they started shooting and bombing houses. When they saw somebody trying to hide, the jet would just blast them with bombs,” he said.
Villagers, said AI, disclosed that they sent messages to security agencies on impending herdsmen attacks. In response, the Police announced on 29 November they would deploy 315 extra officers in the area. Yet, villagers said soldiers and policemen did nothing when the herdsmen attacked on 4 December.
AI noted that herdsmen/farmers clashes led to 549 deaths in Enugu, Benue, Taraba, Zamfara, Kaduna, Plateau, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau, Cross Rivers, Adamawa, Katsina, Delta and Ekiti states.
Following the attack on herders in Kikan on 21 November 2017, the Adamawa State government set up a panel to investigate the clashes. AI said it believes that the panel should be expanded to include human rights violations committed by members of the armed forces.
“This wave of bloody communal violence must be addressed, and all herders and farmers responsible for killings and the destruction of property must be brought to justice. The Nigerian government must ensure adequate reparations for the victims of this violence, including the families of those killed,” said the AI Director in Nigeria.
The human rights body said the Nigerian military is currently performing security operations in 30 out of Nigeria’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, often taking over routine policing duties. It added that the frequent deployment of soldiers has resulted in many cases of excessive use of force, unlawful killings and extrajudicial executions throughout the country.