A report by the Amnesty International has alleged the death of hundreds of suspects, arrested over the insurgency in the north, in detention.
The human rights group, according to a report yesterday on bbc.co.uk, said some detainees died from suffocation in overcrowded cells, others from starvation and extra-judicial killings and called for an urgent investigation into the deaths.
In a swift response to the allegations, the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS) denied that any of the suspects died in its facilities, while the military kept mum.
A senior Nigerian army officer told Amnesty that at least 950 people had died in military custody during the first half of this year, according to an advance copy of the report, scheduled for release today, seen by the BBC.
Most had been accused of having links to the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, Amnesty said.
Boko Haram, which has been outlawed by the federal government, has launched terrorist attacks on some states in the north in its campaign for the imposition of an Islamic state in the area.
About 50 students were shot dead earlier this month in their hostel, in an attack blamed on Boko Haram.
A state of emergency was declared in three northern states in May – Yobe, Borno and Adamawa – in response to thousands of deaths in militant attacks.
At times, the number of people killed in these detention centres was so high that there were regular mass burials, Amnesty said.
The BBC has seen photos of bodies reportedly dumped outside the mortuary in Maiduguri by the military.
The bodies showed no obvious signs of having been killed in combat.
However, efforts yesterday by our correspondent to get the military to react to the Amnesty’s allegations, were unsuccessful as no official of the Defence and Army Headquarters were willing to speak on the issue
But a source who already had a hint of the report, which was initially embargoed, said “it is a continued antic of the Amnesty International to paint the military in bad light.”
“This is not new as they also had similar report last year, which were mostly false and could not hold under verification.
“What I can tell you is the military is not happy with these foreign agencies, whose aim is to destabilise the work of the government and dampen the morale of the military”, the source added.
Two months ago, We had quoted a military source who had said about 1,000 Boko Haram members had been killed, while thousands of others were in various detention centres across the country.
The source also added that some of the suspects with gunshot wounds later died despite the best medical attention given to them.
“Conservatively, I can say that over a thousand have been captured and detention in various designated secured facilities. Another thing we also discovered is that the Boko Haram terrorists always ensure they carry their dead along if possible”, the source was quoted.
The NPS has however disclaimed the Amnesty report, saying no member of Boko Haram in its custody has died.
NPS Public Relations Officer, Mr. Ope Fatinikun, made the clarification while responding to newsmen’ enquiries on the Amnesty report.
Fatinikun added that it was only Boko Haram members sent by court of jurisdiction that are in its custody.
According to him, NPS is not involved in “detention” of suspects but rather those who were duly sanctioned by the court.
He said: “Those who are brought to the prisons are those who were sent to us by the competent court of jurisdiction. They were sent by the court and not by any other person. None of those who were sent to us died.
“Nobody died because we have all the facilities; we have the hospitals and everything. So, nobody died and if anybody dies, it’s being communicated to the family and they will know about it.”