Nigeria’s military has killed at least 150 peaceful protesters in a “chilling campaign” to repress renewed demands to restore the state of Biafra, Amnesty International said Thursday.
The occupational military denied any “killing of defenceless Biafrans.” Security forces have “exercised maximum restraint” in response to violent protesters who in May killed five police officers and wounded several soldiers, said army spokesman Col. Sani Kukasheka Usman.
The London-based human rights organisation said an analysis of 87 videos, 122 photographs and testimony from 146 witnesses showed “the military fired live ammunition with little or no warning” into crowds protesting in several cities between August 2015 and August 2016.
Hundreds of people have been arbitrarily detained and some tortured, Amnesty said.
The report quotes one woman in Onitsha city who said her husband called her May 30 to say a soldier had shot him in the stomach and he was in a military truck with six others, four already dead, and then whispering that the vehicle had stopped. Then she heard gunshots. The woman later found her husband’s body at a mortuary with three gunshot wounds, one to the stomach and two in the chest, the report said.
Amnesty said it has “evidence of mass extrajudicial executions by security forces,” including at least 60 people killed at a May 30 rally in Onitsha to commemorate the 1967-1970 civil war to create a Biafran state for the Igbo people. One million people died in that war.
Usman accused the secessionists of targeting other tribes in “a reign of hate, terror and ethno-religious controversies … (threatening) national security.”
Protests have increased, along with military violence, since the October 2015 arrest of Nnamdi Kanu, a leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra.
Amnesty said that Nigeria‘s President Muhammadu Buhari has promised to investigate but done nothing about its previous reports.
THE KILLING OF BYSTANDERS
Soldiers also killed bystanders. In one such case, Ngozi Uche a 28-year-old mother of one, told Amnesty International that her husband left in the morning to go to work. At 9.45 he called her to say that the military had shot him in his abdomen. He said he was in a military Hilux with six others, four were already dead, on the way to Onitsha barracks. Ngozi Uche told Amnesty International: “He said I should take good care of myself and our daughter as he was not sure he would make it… he started whispering and said they just stopped the Hilux. He was scared they would kill the remaining three of them that were alive… He paused and told me they were coming closer. I heard gunshots and I did not hear a word from him after that.”113
The next day Ngozi Uche, friends and relatives searched for her husband and finally found his body in a mortuary in Asaba. The mortuary attendants told her that the military had brought him and six others. She saw three gunshot wounds: one in his abdomen and two in his chest, which confirmed her fear that the military had executed him. The mortuary refused to release the corpse, saying it belonged to the military, and several weeks later the military collected all seven corpses.114 To date, she has still not received the body, but she is too frightened to complain.
VICTIMS BURIED IN A MASS GRAVE?
Fifteen witnesses told Amnesty International that they saw military officers and soldiers taking bodies of people killed and injured in Onitsha and Asaba to the military barracks in Onitsha. Video footage verified by Amnesty International also shows military officers and soldiers loading what appear to be dead and wounded people into an army Hilux van. A man who was detained on 30 May in Onitsha barracks and saw corpses dumped in front of the military mortuary inside the barracks said: “I could see 10 to 12 lifeless bodies. That was in the morning. In the evening, there were more but I could not estimate.”119 Another man who was detained on 30 May in Onitsha barracks and stayed in the military hospital from where he could see the compound said: “They buried many of the people they killed on Monday, on Wednesday. A nurse told me that the mortuary in the military hospital in the barracks was packed with corpses.”120
Chukwuemeka, a 25-year-old trader, told Amnesty International that he was shot and taken alongside corpses to Onitsha barracks. He explained what happened inside the military barracks: “They dumped us on the ground beside a pit. There were two soldiers beside the pit. The pit was very big and so many dead people were inside the pit. I cannot estimate the number of people in the grave… We were dumped on the ground. The vehicle that brought us left. There were only the newly brought victims and the two soldiers guarding the grave.” He said that when the soldiers left to collect acid, he escaped and hid in the bushes. From his hiding place he saw how they poured acid121 on the corpses and threw them into the pit. He waited until night and left the barracks.122
Amnesty International was not able to verify independently Chukwuemeka’s allegations of a mass grave, but they do confirm what others have said. For example, days after the shootings, civil society organizations reported that the corpses of those killed were buried in a mass grave in the Onitsha army barracks. An organization based in Anambra, the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (Intersociety), said that it had spoken with three sources from the DSS, military police and military who all said that 90 people were buried in 15 graves inside the military barracks.123 Similarly, a Premium Times investigation, based on a DSS officer who witnessed the burial, revealed that on Wednesday 2 June the victims were buried in a mass grave inside the military barracks, at the cemetery close to Yahweh Church.