President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed worry and shock by the recently released Human Rights Watch (HRW) report which alleges sexual abuse and exploitation of women and girls in camps for those displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency.
He has accordingly ordered the Inspector-General of Police and other relevant security agencies to immediately commence investigations into the issue.
Buhari who gave the directive on Monday said the welfare of these most vulnerable of Nigerian citizens has been a priority of his government.
HRW on Monday accused Nigerian officials of sexually exploiting women and girls living in camps for victims of Boko Haram in the restive Northeast.
HRW said it had in July documented 43 cases of women and girls in seven internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Maiduguri, the epicentre of the seven-year Islamist insurgency, who had been abused by camp leaders, vigilante groups, policemen, and soldiers.
But President Buhari in a statement issued in Abuja by his Senior Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, said Nigerians and the international community could be rest assured that the allegations raised in the HRW were not being taken lightly.
The statement said, “President Buhari has instructed the Inspector General of Police and the state governors of the affected states to immediately commence investigations into the issue.
“Their findings will determine the next course of action for the government and define an appropriate response.
“While the Nigerian military continues to work hard so that these unfortunate victims of Boko Haram terrorism can soon return safely to their homes, the government will do its best to ensure their protection and welfare in the temporary IDP camps,” the statement said.
According to the report by the HRW, four of the victims said they were drugged and raped, while 37 were coerced into sex through false marriage promises and material and financial assistance.
Mr Mausi Segun, senior Nigeria researcher at HRW in the report said, “It is bad enough that these women and girls are not getting much-needed support for the horrific trauma they suffered at the hands of Boko Haram.
“It is disgraceful and outrageous that people who should protect these women and girls are attacking and abusing them.
“Many of those coerced into sex said they were abandoned if they became pregnant. They and their children have suffered discrimination, abuse, and stigmatisation from other camp residents,” the global rights body said.
The report further indicated that the HRW spoke to one 17-year-old girl who was raped and made pregnant by a policeman.
“One day he demanded to have sex with me,” she said. “I refused but he forced me. It happened just that one time, but soon I realised I was pregnant.
“When I informed him about my condition, he threatened to shoot and kill me if I told anyone else. So I was too afraid to report him.”
HRW said irregular supplies of food, clothing, medicine, and other essentials in camps were making the women vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
“In some cases, men used their positions of authority and gifts of desperately needed food or other items to have sex with women,” it said.
Boko Haram has devastated northeast Nigeria in its quest to create an Islamist state, killing over 20,000 people and displacing 2.6 million from their homes.
Since taking up arms against the Nigerian government in 2009, the jihadists have disrupted trade routes and farms.
Now nearly 50,000 children are facing death by starvation if they don’t get food and almost 250,000 more are severely malnourished in Borno State, UNICEF stated.