Nigerian authorities must show genuine commitment to ending the heinous crime of enforced disappearances, which is still prevalent in the country, says Amnesty International Nigeria to mark the International Day of the Disappeared.
“When people are arrested by state agents, without any trace of their whereabouts, and the state denies knowledge of where they are, their families are exposed to unthinkable suffering; they find it difficult to move on as they wait each day in anguish, hoping their loved ones’ return,” says Osai Ojigho Director Amnesty International Nigeria.
“Between 2020 to 2022, Amnesty International Nigeria has documented several cases of enforced disappearances, mass arrest, torture, extortions, ill-treatment, and extrajudicial executions by law enforcement officers responding to the activities of IPOB in the Southeast and Southwest,” says Osai Ojigho
The mother of a 34-year-old father of three who disappeared since 6 February 2022 after arrest by the police from the State Command, Owerri, Imo State told Amnesty International that: “My son was arrested on 6 February 2022. Since his arrest, we have made efforts to locate his whereabouts to no avail. The police warned us not to come near their offices. Nobody knows whether he is dead or alive.”
In a similar case of enforced disappearance, Sunday Nwafor, a 47-year-old businessman was last seen on 27 February 2020 after his arrest by army officials from 140 Brigade Ohafia, Abia State. “Since 27 February 2020, I have not seen my husband. When I go there, they tell me to go and pray; that my husband is an IPOB member. He has never participated in any IPOB activities. I now go to the bush to get firewood which I sell. My daughter had to drop out of school.” Sunday Nwafor’s wife told Amnesty International.
Other victims of enforced disappearance including, Obioma Okoroafor (40 years), Ozoemela Nwaokorie (34 years) and Ogechi Ifere Matins were arrested on 27 October 2020 by men of the Nigerian Army at Oyibo, Rivers State during the #EndSARS protests. The military denied having them in their custody.
“Upon enquires at 6 Division, 29 Battalion, we were informed that their names and pictures do not match with that of any civilian in their custody. Since then, their whereabouts is still unknown” – a civil society organization working on the cases told Amnesty International.
The unresolved enforced disappearances of some activists underscore the need for action. Abubakar Idris (Dadiyata) has not been seen for 1,123 days since his abduction from his home in Kaduna on 2 August 2019. The government has denied holding him. His 66-year-old mother, Fatima Abubakar, who believed strongly that her son would return soon, waited in vain as the days cumulated to years. She died in anguish on Tuesday 19 April 2022.
“It is unfortunate that the Nigerian government continues to use enforced disappearance as a longstanding tactic to silence critics and instil fear in civilian populations facing triple threats of armed groups, including Boko Haram, kidnappings and banditry,” says Osai Ojigho
Every disappearance violates a range of human rights including the right to security and dignity of person, right not to be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, right to humane conditions of detention, right to a legal personality, right to a fair trial, right to a family life, and right to life.
Nigeria is bound by international legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance both of which it has acceded to – to investigate, prosecute, punish, and provide remedies and reparations for the crimes of enforced disappearance.
Another 30th of August marks families’ daily wait for the truth on the fate of their disappeared relatives. The Nigerian authorities must fulfill its obligation under international law to end enforced disappearance, and bring succor, hope and justice to these families.
Amnesty International calls on the Nigerian authorities to criminalize enforced disappearance under national law and make it punishable by appropriate penalties in view of its devastating impact on families. With ongoing conflicts across Nigeria more families are having to bear the pain of enforced disappearance.
“The authorities must take immediate actions to end enforced disappearances and other related human rights violations. They must demonstrate zero tolerance for such crimes through ensuring independent, impartial, and effective investigations, and prosecution of those culpable in fair trials, without recourse to the death penalty,” says Osai Ojigho.
Enforced disappearance is an instrument of intimidation that grossly violates human rights. It is unacceptable and must stop. Nigerian authorities must also ensure that victims and their families are told the truth and that they are provided with full and effective reparations to address the harm they have suffered.