Access to Justice, a distinguished Nigerian human rights organization, has released a statement which questions the official explanation for the shoot-out between the security forces and alleged Boko Haram detainees on March 30 in Abuja at the headquarters of the State Security Services. The incident resulted in the death of twenty-one detainees. In a published statement on April 2, the executive director, Joseph Otteh, in effect demolishes the official explanation of what happened and calls for an independent inquiry, which would be published and available to the public. He also calls for any person that killed a detainee without lawful justification to be brought to justice.
Otteh’s statement also makes the point that Boko Haram’s history of atrocities makes its members and others incorrectly accused–and detained–for being members especially vulnerable: “The death of anyone associated with this sect must be subject to the highest scrutiny to avoid people getting away with clear homicides only by the sheer unpopularity of the victim’s ascribed label, particularly when it is remembered that military and security forces fighting terrorism in Nigeria have repeatedly acted with impunity and committed grave crimes against many innocent people, in a largely unchallenged way.”
This courageous statement is in the finest tradition of Nigerian human rights organizations. It follows the alleged, even likely, March 14 security service killing of some eight hundred unarmed detainees at Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri. As the carnage mounts, Access to Justice reminds us that even the despised have rights, suspicion of guilt is never a justification for abuse, and that there is no justification for murder. It remains to be seen whether the Jonathan administration will undertake an independent inquiry. But, even if it does, based on past official practice, it is unlikely that its findings will be made public.
Access to Justice has partnered in the past with other distinguished human rights organization such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. It was a recipient of a major award from the MacArthur Foundation. Such Nigerian human rights organizations deserve the vocal support of Nigeria’s foreign friends.