When my editor forwarded me the link containing Amnesty International’s latest report on Nigeria, it took me a while to move on to other stories of the day. I was stunned, depressed, horrified and outraged all at once.
I am still stunned, depressed, horrified and outraged.
Amnesty International’s latest report tells of how soldiers and members of the so called civilian Joint Task Force (JTF) take turns to rape women and girls who are fleeing the Boko Haram insurgency, as a pre-condition for offering them food.
Nigeria has been waging a war with Boko Haram since 2009. As the terrorists sack one community after another and burn homes for fun, what is left is a humanitarian crisis that sees thousands fleeing to internally displaced persons camps for some shelter and food.
According to Amnesty International, it is these vulnerable women that soldiers battling Boko Haram forcibly demand sex from; and have them raped when the women aren’t willing to give up their bodies for a bowl of food. The punishment for refusing to satisfy the sexual urge of a soldier or civilian JTF is that you are beaten, brutalized or starved, Amnesty International says.
The report quotes one victim of the sex for food scandal, identified as 20-year-old Ama (not her real name), as saying: "They will give you food but in the night they will come back around 5pm or 6pm and they will tell you to come with them… One [Civilian JTF] man came and brought food to me.
“The next day he said I should take water from his place [and I went]. He then closed the tent door behind me and raped me. He said I gave you these things, if you want them we have to be husband and wife”.
Mrs. Osai Ojigho who is the Director of Amnesty International in Nigeria said; “Ten others in the same camp said that they were also coerced into becoming ‘girlfriends’ of security officials to save themselves from starvation. Most of these women had already lost children or other relatives due to lack of food, water and healthcare in the camp.
“The sexual exploitation continues at an alarming level as women remain desperate to access sufficient food and livelihood opportunities.
“Women said the sexual exploitation follows an organized system, with soldiers openly coming into the camp for sex and Civilian JTF members choosing the “very beautiful” women and girls to take to the soldiers outside. Women reported they were too afraid to refuse demands for sex.
“Sex in these highly coercive circumstances is always rape, even when physical force is not used, and Nigerian soldiers and Civilian JTF members have been getting away with it. They act like they don’t risk sanction, but the perpetrators and their superiors who have allowed this to go unchallenged have committed crimes under international law and must be held to account.”
As you would expect, the Nigerian military and federal government have dismissed Amnesty International’s report as a fabrication.
The authorities say Amnesty International’s sole motive is to damage the country’s reputation before the international community.
This isn’t the first time the Nigerian military would be dismissing an Amnesty International report as a tissue of lies. However, you only have to look at how soldiers treat civilians down South at peace time, to conclude that accusations of human rights abuses often levelled against men in uniform aren’t entirely baseless.
Beyond dismissing allegations of sexual and human rights abuses with characteristic bellicosity and aloofness, the Nigerian army and the federal government should embark on some soul searching whose ultimate goal should be to cleanse law enforcement of the bad eggs who engage in these utterly despicable and condemnable acts.
Certainly, not every soldier is out there raping vulnerable women. There are decent soldiers protecting vulnerable persons from Boko Haram's bombs and bullets and who do not solicit sex as payment for their work.
However, the overall goal should be to make sure that those who prey on vulnerable women in the northeast are singled out and punished in accordance with military and state laws.