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Sexual abuse in IDP camps

THE rights agency, Human Rights Watch (HRW), recently reported extensive human rights abuses in some Internally Displaced Persons Camps (IDPs) set up for the victims of Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East. The global rights body specifically mentioned about 43 cases bordering on sexual abuses, exploitation, harassment and gender-based violence. In the alleged gross professional misconduct and indiscipline, camp officials, soldiers and members of vigilante groups were reportedly fingered as culprits. This report, though yet to be officially verified, is a damning blow on a government that is currently grappling with the rampant cases of alleged diversion of relief materials, including food and medicaments, provided by local and international donor agencies for the IDPs.  This seemingly brazen display of corrupt tendencies, indiscipline and abuse of power by some officials is a reflection of the larger society, but the victims of these vices this time around are unusual and that speaks eloquently to the heartlessness of the alleged perpetrators.

In some of the reported cases, camp officials and security personnel allegedly raped women and girls or used financial and material benefits to lure them into sex. This is legally wrong and morally reprehensible.  Given that these hapless compatriots were already smarting from one big, horrendous trauma in the hand of Boko Haram insurgents, the extensive sexual abuse and exploitation allegedly being visited on them by their supposed protectors is wicked and disgraceful. The renewal of captivity trauma which the current abuse represents is inimical to the healing of the psychological wounds earlier inflicted on the victims by the terrorists. The allegation that some camp officials were also responsible for  diverting and not letting the much needed support get to the IDPs despite commendable government and donor agencies’ efforts and support, is indeed damning .  This entire malfeasance has veritable potential to exacerbate the process of healing that is very critical for the IDPs to regain their self-esteem as normal human persons.

It is rather tough to fathom how the minds of some people work, otherwise how can it be explained that the administrators and protectors of the victims of terrorists are not only criminally cheating them out of the relief materials but are also exploiting and attacking them sexually? This is outrageously unfeeling. The point should be made that, aside the cases of outright rape, the alleged cases of sexual assaults with seeming consent procured by deception of material benefits are still rape.  The assaulted women and girls could not have refused the appalling overtures of the security agents and officials because they have power over them.  Inducement and threat, of course, are critical elements of rape.  In other words, the victims were not yielding to the lure of material gain but to the overbearing influence of the security personnel and other officials being alleged as culprits in these scandalous and heart rending episodes.

It is, however, somewhat soothing that President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered immediate commencement of thorough investigations of the HRW’s report by the relevant security agencies.  And in compliance with the presidential directive, the Inspector-General of the Police, Ibrahim Idris, has reportedly set up a special investigation team to probe the cases. This is somewhat gratifying as it markedly detracted from the official attitude, in the past, of dismissing such report even before official investigations, if any, were launched.  We urge that this seeming state attitudinal shift be extended to the sincerity of the investigations and implementation of the outcomes.

Over the matter at issue and going forward, state institutions must be allowed to function independently. The country needs strong institutions that function independently within the ambit of the law and able to resist untoward interference from any quarters. For instance, the police or any other security agency need not cover up any member of sister security outfits who engage in illegality, criminality or any form of inappropriate conduct. Doing otherwise will amount not only to betrayal of the common trust reposed in it but also criminal dereliction of duty.  This admonition becomes imperative now that the probe panel on the alleged killing of the Shiites would appear to have led to nothing, yet it is glaring that there were incidents of extra-judicial killings.

To demonstrate that we have, at the highest level, a political leadership that has the willpower to act decisively on untainted outcomes of investigations, the relevant investigating institutions should show greater level of thoroughness and, more importantly, sincerity in the handling of their assignments. Therefore, the HRW’s allegation of sexual assaults in the IDPs camps should be subjected to painstaking inquiry, and the culprits identified and made to face the full weight of the law. Nigeria is not and cannot be a country where everything goes as neither the government nor the governed benefits anything from such an awful image.