This article is part of our #FirstWord series to provide context on trending news.
Amnesty International (AI), a United Kingdom-based human rights organisation, released a report accusing Nigerian soldiers and Civilian JTF (Joint Task Force) members of raping girls and women in Internationally Displaced Persons' camps (IDPs) in exchange for food.
AI says the displaced persons, who often have little to eat, have been turned to sex slaves by those meant to protect them from Boko Haram terrorists.
What’s the story?
In early 2015, there was an acute food shortage in IDP camps across the Northeast. Boko Haram survivors struggled to get meals even when the United Nations and other agencies scaled up assistance within these satellite camps in 2016.
“People are dying, there is always a burial. I was thinking maybe one day it will be mine” - Yanna, Boko Haram Survivor in Dikwa Camp.
Capitalizing on the shortage of food and resources in these camps, the soldiers and civilian JTF force the women into becoming their ‘girlfriends’ in exchange for humanitarian assistance.
Amnesty International spoke to more than 15 women within IDP camps; five confirmed that they were raped in 2015/2016 in Bama hospital camp as famine-like conditions prevailed. Ten others within the same camp said they were forced to becoming ‘wives’ or ‘girlfriends’ of security officials’ to prevent themselves from starving.
“They will give you food but in the night will come back around 6 pm and tell you to come with them. One civilian JTF man came and brought food to me. The next day he told me to take water to his place [and I went]. He closed the tent door behind me and raped me. He said ‘I gave you these things, if you want them we have to be husband and wife’” - Ama, 20.
Is this new?
Sexual exploitation by officials in IDP camps is not a new story and precedes Amnesty International’s report. In July 2016, Human rights watch documented sexual abuse, including rape and exploitation, of 43 women living in displaced persons' camps in Maiduguri.
The women had been displaced from several villages including Dikwa, Gwoza and Damasak, with their movement restricted after spending months in military screening camps. Four of the women told Humans right watch that they were drugged and raped, while 37 were forced into sex through false material promises.
The women within these camps are often not allowed to move freely in and out of the camp and other settlements. This makes them more vulnerable to exploitation.
What has been the government response?
The Federal Government was quick to respond to Amnesty International’s report, calling it fake news. Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity said the report did not have factual claims that could have provided the lead for investigation.
“This is just a wild goose chase report, in essence. In some breath, the report seemed like the one in 2015, and the one in 2016, and the one after that year, the same things being recycled again and again. It ignores the fact of the existing mechanisms put in place by the military, as a self-correcting step and the high-level committee constituted by the Presidency to examine any such claims". – Garba Shehu
The civilian JTF, in a similar pattern, dismissed the Amnesty International report, saying that members of the Joint Task Force have been well mannered and civilized in their dealings within these camps.
Despite the evidence presented by Amnesty International, all parties involved in the sexual exploitation chronicle have painted the report false. There is a possibility that the findings of the report will not be looked into by relevant stakeholders.
While the likelihood of this is quite disappointing, it does not come as a surprise because security agencies in Nigeria often tackle issues by pretending they don’t exist.