Shedding stark light on Nigeria’s escalating war with Islamic militants, mortuary records from a single Nigerian hospital show the number of detainees who died in military custody more than tripled in June, the first month of a state of emergency in the troubled northeast region.
Overall, the records obtained by The Associated Press (AP) for the nine months from Oct. 5 last year to July 5 indicate that the military is killing thousands in its crackdown on the uprising in northeast Nigeria.
The records cover just one hospital, Sani Abacha Specialist Teaching Hospital in Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram, the movement fighting to uproot Western cultural influences from a country shared almost equally by Muslims and Christians. In the 30 days before the state of emergency was declared on May 14, 380 bodies were delivered to the hospital by the military. In the 30 days after, the number was 1,321.
For the whole of June, the number was 1,795, making it the worst month in the records seen by the AP, which has also witnessed many of the bodies being delivered to the hospital in military ambulances, escorted by armored cars. The figure is much larger than the estimated number of Boko Haram fighters.
Nigerian government and military officials have refused to comment, and it is impossible to know how many of the dead had Boko Haram connections. However, Nigerian law stipulates that even under a state of emergency, detainees are supposed to be brought before a magistrate within 48 hours, and to have access to lawyers and family members.
A pastor said he was held at Maiduguri’s Giwa Military Barracks after he and four other people were arrested because weapons were found hidden in the shoe factory where he works. He described hundreds of naked people crammed into a cell meant for a couple of dozen. Once a day, he said, a soldier would throw a loaf of moistened bread into the cell to be brawled over. Some died of torture, he said.
He said he was freed with the intervention of a Christian group, and his jailers’ recognizing his prayers for salvation as Christian. He requested anonymity fearing military retaliation.
Amnesty International reported this week that hundreds are dying in detention: Some taken from the cells and shot, some dying of suffocation or starvation.
However, Boko Haram has also done much to alienate public opinion. Fighters suspected of belonging to it have gunned down dozens of schoolchildren, some as they sat at their desks writing exams, and burned alive boarding school students locked into dormitories that were set ablaze.