(Washington, DC) – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her trip to Nigeria should encourage President Goodluck Jonathan to address increasingly deadly violence in northern and central Nigeria, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Clinton on August 7, 2012. Much of the violence has been initiated by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram.
Clinton, who is scheduled to meet with Jonathan in Abuja on August 9, should also raise security force abuses, corruption, and lack of accountability, Human Rights Watch said.
“Nigeria is facing a surge of violence and lawlessness that has blighted the lives of thousands of Nigerians,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Nigeria’s leaders need to confront this violence, whether committed by Boko Haram or the country’s security forces.”
Attacks by Boko Haram have left more than 1,400 people dead in northern and central Nigeria since 2010. The armed group has targeted police and other government security agents, Christians and churches, and Muslims who are critical of the group or perceived as collaborating with the government, Human Rights Watch said.
Security agents have rounded up hundreds of people and routinely detained them incommunicado without charge or trial. Security forces have also been implicated in extrajudicial killings of Boko Haram suspects and other detention-related abuses. The group claims it is attacking the police in retaliation for security force abuses.
In Nigeria’s volatile “middle-belt” region, particularly in Kaduna and Plateau states, inter-communal violence has resulted in the deaths of several thousand people – both Muslims and Christians – in the past four years. Mobs have hacked to death many of their victims based simply on their ethnic or religious identity, but rarely has anyone been prosecuted for these massacres.
Despite Nigeria’s tremendous oil wealth, endemic government corruption and poor governance have robbed many Nigerians of their rights to health and education. These problems are most acute in the north – the country’s poorest region – where widespread poverty and unemployment, sustained by corruption, and state-sponsored abuses have created an environment in which militant groups thrive.
Nigeria’s main anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has since 2005 filed corruption charges against 35 nationally prominent political figures, including 20 former state governors. Although the commission has secured four convictions of high-level officials, they faced relatively little or no prison time. No senior political figure in Nigeria is currently serving prison time for corruption, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch urged Clinton to call on the Nigerian authorities to:
- Ensure that civilians at risk of further attacks in northern and central Nigeria are protected, and bring to justice without delay those responsible for the violence;
- Rein in abusive police and soldiers, and investigate and prosecute without delay those implicated in human rights abuses;
- End divisive state and local government policies that discriminate against “non-indigenes,” people who cannot trace their ancestry to what are said to be the original inhabitants of an area;
- Give a public account of the status and reasons for delays in the corruption cases against senior political figures; and
- Improve the independence of the EFCC by passing legislation to provide greater security of tenure for the commission’s chairperson.
“At their heart, impunity and corruption are human rights problems, and they need to be at the top of Nigeria’s policy agenda,” Bekele said. “Clinton should use her visit to help put them there.”