"We need to know what happened, even if our sons are dead. It is time that President Buhari’s government acknowledges that thousands of young men were arrested and died in military custody. They must release the list with all their names and give us mothers the closure we are begging for.”
The Jire Dole Mothers Network has called on the Nigerian government to ensure justice for their sons who were massacred by officers of the Nigerian Army and personnel of the Civilian Joint Task Force on March 14, 2014.
The mothers also called on the government to provide the whereabouts of their sons, some of whom were arrested as far back as 2011.
At a press conference held on Thursday, the women said the youth were arrested by officers of the Nigerian Army in parts of Borno State, over allegations of being members of Boko Haram.
The group said thousands of young men and boys have been arrested by the military in Maiduguri and surrounding towns in Borno state since 2011, allegedly for being members of Boko Haram.
Their mothers demanded answers from the Nigerian authorities and called on President Muhammadu Buhari to order the military to release accurate information about those arrested.
"Almost all of those arrested were taken to the Giwa Barracks military detention facility in Maiduguri. No one currently knows their whereabouts," they said. "Some have been in detention since 2011 with no access to their families, lawyers or the outside world. Many have gone ‘missing’ or feared dead since they were arrested by the military at the height of the fight against Boko Haram."
Through the Jire Dole network, the mothers of some of these young men and boys have continued to demand information and justice. Many of the mothers have waited for years to hear what happened to their sons, none of whom were ever taken to court.
Hajja Gana is the leader of the mothers’ network.
Narrating her experience, she said: “Ever since my son was arrested in October 2011, I have been looking for him. I went to Giwa Barracks and saw him a week after his arrest. I filed a case in court, but nothing ever happened. I have never seen him again.
“We need to know what happened, even if our sons are dead. It is time that President Buhari’s government acknowledges that thousands of young men were arrested and died in military custody. They must release the list with all their names and give us mothers the closure we are begging for.”
Hajja Gana is among hundreds of women who came together in 2016 to form a network of survivors and relatives determined to campaign for truth, justice and reparation. The network has been growing bigger and louder, and almost eight years after she said her son was taken away by the military, she remains hopeful for information and justice.
“We know that President Buhari can do the right thing and give us justice. That is why we are today asking him to assist us,” Hajja Gana said.
Giwa Barracks is notorious for being a place of torture, starvation and death of detainees. Since 2011, several human rights organisations locally and internationally have reported on the mass deaths of detainees in the military-run facility, and as such, the mothers of Jire Dole have reason to fear the worst.
Over the years, the detention facility became synonymous to a human slaughterhouse where thousands of people were killed by gunshots wounds, starvation, torture, overcrowding in cells and outbreaks of diseases. In particular between 2012 and 2013, hundreds of detainees died every month. Residents along the Specialist Hospital road and those around the vicinity of the Specialist Hospital can vividly recall the frequent trips by military ambulance to deposit corpses at the mortuary, sometimes two or three times a day.
However, according to Jire Dole, March 14, 2014, stands out as a particular day in this recollection of horror. On this day, exactly five years ago today, Boko Haram made a daring attack on Giwa Barracks in broad daylight and hundreds of emaciated detainees were released from their cells. Some escaped and took the group’s offer to join them. Most others sought refuge in nearby homes. Maiduguri residents gave these former detainees shelter, food and clothes.
For many of the escaped detainees, it was their first proper food and water in months. And for many relatives, this was also the first time in years that they managed to find out what had
happened to their loved ones in detention. But the respite was short-lived. After the Boko Haram fighters left, the military and members of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) went on the rampage. In a city-wide man-hunt that ensued, hundreds of former detainees were assembled in various locations across Maiduguri and summarily executed in broad daylight.
Most mothers were unlucky and not reunited with their sons. Some recall rushing to the streets in the hope of seeing their children, only to be greeted by piles of corpses on the streets. No one was allowed to take away the bodies, even if they could identify their sons. It took a whole day to remove all the corpses from the streets for burial in mass graves. Some relatives only later found out about the death of their sons via a video that went viral, showing how soldiers and CJTF members executed recaptured detainees.
A mother of one of the young men killed in one of the videos said: “I know that my son was innocent, but they arrested him and took him, and they have killed him. There has been no justice. If there is injustice, it will carry on. Let everyone know what happened to my son. They have done injustice to him. The government should let the world know what they have done to my son.”
Five years later, there still has been no independent investigation into these mass killings. None of the relatives has been informed about what happened to their sons. The mothers fear that most of their sons have died a long time ago and are currently buried in unmarked graves across Maiduguri.
“It seems as if the military thinks nothing ever happened; as if it is permitted to arrest and kill young men without even determining if they are guilty. Well, we mothers don’t agree. We are clear: it is time for change. Firstly, the authorities should release a full list of all men and boys they have arrested and of those who died in military detention since 2011. Next, the military should make available the full list of detainees kept in Giwa Barracks on 14 March 2014,” said Hajja Gana.
“Year after year, a mother will wait for the return of her son. We will not stop until we know what happened to our children.”
This determination and resolve inspired Hajja Hamsatu Allamin, a peacemaker and women and children’s rights advocate in Maiduguri, to bring relatives and survivors together to form the Jire Dole (Power by Justice) network. Determined to amplify the women’s call for truth and reparation, she added her voice to the women’s call for information.
“We are pleading with the government to do what is right. They cannot bury the truth. Thousands of relatives are waiting for truth and reconciliation. Without truth, it will be very hard to achieve peace,” said Hajja Hamsatu Allamin.
“All former detainees have confirmed to us that the military keep detailed lists of those in detention and those who died. It is time the government ends the secrecy and tells the relatives what they ought to know: what happened to their loved ones.
“We know there are thousands more detainees who have been arrested in the name of the insurgency in Adamawa, Yobe, Gombe and Bauchi states. Like in Maiduguri, they were also never charged to court to determine if they have committed any crime. Their loved ones are also waiting. So, on 14 March this year, thousands of mothers and relatives in Nigeria will remember our missing loved ones. And we will continue to do so in the years to come.”
Jire Dole was joined by the Njakkuno Movement, another network of women who have survived military detention in Giwa Barracks. Together, they are campaigning to tell the world what happened to them and draw attention to the hidden truth of the ongoing fight against Boko Haram in North-East Nigeria. The women networks are complimenting each other in the fight for accountability. The testimonies from these former female detainees confirm what the mothers of Jire Dole already know: ‘Giwa Barracks is a place of death.’
The leader of the Njakkuno Movement said: “When they released us, the military instructed all of us to never speak about our time in detention. But that is not going to result in anything good. Look at the mothers of Jire Dole who have already waited for years for justice. We have decided to join them and strive together for accountability.”
Similarly, the Knifar Movement comprising more than 2,000 women, whose husbands are also being held in various military detention facilities, has lent its support to the calls from the mothers and are standing in solidarity to demand accountability.
In a statement of support to Jire Dole, Kellu Haruna, leader of the Knifar movement said: “Like the mothers of the missing men from Maiduguri, we are asking the government what happened to our husbands.”