Video footage circulating online appears to implicate Nigerian security forces engaged in abuse of a group of men. The footage shows around two dozen armed men wearing military camouflage repeatedly whip about 15 men. The beating caused huge welts on the victims’ backs. They were forced to lay on the ground, screaming in pain. One man was ordered to keep his eyes open despite the blazing sun. A man in uniform could be heard saying that the victims were bandits. Another man wore a shirt with the insignia “Special Force.”
In January, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) deployed 1,300 special forces to Zamfara and Benue States.
On March 30, the NAF said in a statement that NAF officials attached to a joint military team stationed at Galadi, Zamfara State, were involved in the incident. They denounced it as a human rights violation, and promised to investigate and take appropriate disciplinary measures against those involved. The statement alleged that the victims were bandits about to execute an attack in Shakanfi local government area of the state.
Nigerian security forces have previously been implicated in serious abuses, followed by promises of investigations that have failed to lead to significant outcomes. On January 17, 2017, a NAF airstrike on a displacement camp in Rann, Borno State, killed 70 people and injured 120 more, allegedly because displaced people were mistaken for Boko Haram fighters. Despite repeated calls for accountability, authorities failed to release the investigation report or to compensate victims.
An August 2017 Presidential Judicial Panel was inaugurated to investigate compliance with human rights obligations and allegations of war crimes and other abuses by the military, including against Boko Haram suspects in the northeast; the December 2015 killing of 347 Shia Islamic Movement of Nigeria members in Zaria, and pro-Biafra protesters in the southeast. Almost two years later, the panel’s findings are yet to be released and no effort has been made to ensure accountability or reform.
While steps towards investigation are important, authorities should go beyond constituting panels and boards if they are to end impunity for security forces abuses. They should ensure prosecution in fair and open trials of the military officials implicated in torture and other abuse of detainees, as well as in previous cases of abuse, to demonstrate their genuine commitment to justice.