The United Nations on Friday called on President Muhammadu Buhari to investigate reports of horrifying crimes by the Boko Haram sect and alleged abuses by the Nigerian Army.
The military has engaged in a long war against the insurgent group, which has killed and displaced tens of thousands of Nigerians as a result of its activities, especially in the North-East.
A top human rights official of the UN, Zeid Al-Hussein, said he had many times received reports of allegations of mass executions, rape and amputations of children by Boko Haram, but suggested that there were abuses and violations of human rights committed by the military in the course of fighting the sect.
An international non-governmental organisation which focuses on human rights, Amnesty International, had also called on President Buhari during the week and the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands to investigate some former and serving Nigerian service chiefs for war crimes.
The crimes, according to AI, were perpetrated during the fight against Boko Haram in the North-East between March 2011 and 2014.
The rights group had outlined the roles and possible criminal responsibilities of those along the chain of command – up to the Chief of Defence Staff and Chief of Army Staff.
Al-Hussein was quoted in a report by Reuters that there were also reports that the Nigerian Army had mistreated people detained on suspicion of belonging to the group.
“Civilians in North-East Nigeria have been living through horrifying acts of cruelty and violence by Boko Haram. These include wanton killings, summary executions, forced participation in military operations – including the use of children to detonate bombs, forced labour, forced marriage and sexual violence, including rape,” he said.
Meanwhile, Buhari, who was sworn in a week ago, said during the week that the Nigerian Army would take a bigger role in the effort to crush Boko Haram by taking over from soldiers from Niger in occupying towns liberated from the Islamist militant group.
The President had ordered the relocation of the Nigerian Army headquarters to Maiduguri, Borno State, where the insurgents seem to be operating from.
Citing eyewitness testimony gathered by his office on atrocities committed by Boko Haram, Al-Hussein said, “We have reports of children who were suspected of theft and had their hands amputated, of a man stoned to death on accusations of fornication, mass executions of captives whose hands and legs were bound and who were dumped into rivers and wells.”
Referring to “extremely worrying reports” that had emerged about the conduct of Nigerian armed forces, he said one man testified about his ordeal when he was mistaken for a Boko Haram member and detained by the military in Yola, Adamawa State.
“The man said he spent five days without food or water, as detainees drank the urine of others to quench their thirst. He claimed that there was an average of five deaths per day in the facility,” Al-Hussein said.
The Defence Headquarters had earlier said the AI report smacked of extreme bias “which is disturbing coming from an otherwise reputable organisation that is expected to be just and fair to all.”
Its Director, Defence Information, Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, had said that the DHQ noted that each of the previous allegations made by AI had been thoroughly responded to and cleared in the public and insisted that the human rights organisation had taken a premeditated position, “which is far from noble.”
It said that it was unfair of the organisation to persist in efforts to discredit the military by seeking all avenues to stigmatise individual officers purely to satisfy an agenda against the security agencies and image of Nigeria before the international community.