World human rights body, Amnesty International has said that older people have borne the brunt of insecurity in northern Nigeria caused by numerous Boko Haram attacks with many starved or slaughtered in their homes or left to languish and die in squalid, unlawful military detention.
The group in a 67-page report published on Tuesday explains how both Boko Haram and the Nigerian military have committed atrocities against older women and men, with nobody held to account. The report also focuses on how displaced older people are consistently overlooked by the humanitarian response.
“When Boko Haram has invaded towns and villages, older men and women have often been among the last to flee, leaving them particularly exposed to the armed group’s brutality and repression – amounting to war crimes and likely crimes against humanity.
“This has included torture, being forced to witness killings and abductions of their children, as well as looting resulting in extreme food insecurity,” said Joanne Mariner, Director of Crisis Response at Amnesty International.
Joanne added: “Nigeria’s military, in turn, has repeatedly shot older people to death in their own homes during raids on villages in Boko Haram-controlled areas. Thousands of older people have been denied dignity in hellish conditions in military detention, with many hundreds of them dying in squalor. These, too, amount to war crimes and potentially crimes against humanity.”
Recently, Boko Haram killed at least 43 farm workers near Koshebe village in Borno State, mostly with machetes or knives; dozens more civilians from the area remain missing.
Amnesty International in its report said it interviewed a 65-year-old man who was among those captured; he was on a one-week contract for farm labour, as he said the food assistance his family receives in displacement is irregular and insufficient to feed them.
Boko Haram spared and released the man, but murdered two of his sons. “Those boys, they’re the ones who help me stay alive,” the man said.
Boko Haram had murdered another of his sons five years earlier, during an attack that forced his family to flee their village in Mafa LGA.
Boko Haram’s looting of harvests and livestock, combined with the military’s severe restrictions on aid access, has resulted in extreme food insecurity for older people, with Amnesty International stating that it’s received reports of many dying of starvation.
In September 2020, the UN Secretary-General indicated that Northeast Nigeria was at risk of famine, with “alarming levels of food insecurity and hunger”.
According to the rights group, the Nigerian military in its operations against Boko Haram frequently fails to distinguish combatants from civilians and at times even deliberately targets civilians – a war crime.
The report read: “Amnesty International found that many older people with limited mobility are unable to flee and have been shot and killed or seriously injured when soldiers spray bullets through houses. Others have burned to death inside their homes when the military torched villages perceived to support Boko Haram.”
“Older people are not spared the military’s widespread unlawful detention of people fleeing Boko Haram areas – even without any evidence that the person was linked to the armed group, much less involved in violence. Amnesty International interviewed 17 older men and nine older women who were unlawfully detained – for periods ranging from four months to more than five years – in unfathomably inhumane conditions in Maiduguri’s infamous Giwa Barracks and other sites.
“Severe overcrowding, scarce food and water, extreme heat, infestation by parasites and insects, and lack of access to adequate sanitation and health care are among the litany of violations at Giwa. While there have been improvements in recent years, the conditions remain inhumane and, from 2013 to 2017, were so extreme that they amounted to torture for everyone detained there. Older detainees described how the grossly inadequate sanitation meant they frequently urinated or defecated on themselves – an assault on their basic dignity.
“Amnesty International estimates that, in the context of the Boko Haram crisis, at least 10,000 people have died in custody since 2011, many of them in Giwa Barracks. The organization reviewed more than 120 images of corpses brought from the barracks to a local mortuary, and spoke to individuals with insider knowledge who estimated that 15-25% of those who have perished are older men.
“This is disproportionately high, as older men appear to account for no more than 4% of the population in Northeast Nigeria. In April 2017 alone, 166 corpses were transferred from Giwa to the mortuary.”
By Abel Ejikeme