Monday, January 23, 2017

65 people arrested in Pro-Trump rally in Nigeria

Police in Nigeria on Sunday said they had arrested 65 people at a demonstration of support for US President Donald Trump organised by pro-independence activists in the country's south.

The rally, which took place on Friday in the southern oil hub of Port Harcourt, was organised to coincide with the billionaire businessman's inauguration as the 45th US president.

It was organised by a pro-Biafra group advocating an independent state in southeastern Nigeria and was held on the eve of massive demonstrations against Trump across the globe.

"Some suspected members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)... staged an unlawful protest in the Port Harcourt metropolis," said Rivers State's deputy police chief Ahmed Magaji.

He said the march was not authorised and had disturbed the public order, with police using tear gas to disperse them.

"About 65 of them were arrested" on suspicion of belonging to the IPOB, and were found to be carrying the movement's flag, he said.

The IPOB is part of a wider secessionist movement that advocates an independent state of Biafra, a region in southeast Nigeria that unsuccessfully fought for independence in a brutal three-year civil war that ended in 1970.

Posting on Twitter, several pro-Biafra activists claimed police had brutally attacked the unarmed demonstrators and even killed several of them but there was no way of independently verifying the reports.

Early on in the US presidential race, IPOB threw its support behind Trump in the belief he would recognise their independence movement.

Soon after Britain voted in a referendum in June to leave the European Union, the group pushed for its own version of "Brexit" from Nigeria that it dubbed "Biafrexit".

Separatist sentiment has grown over the past 15 months since the arrest of the brother of the IPOB's leader, with activists engaging in bloody clashes with the security forces that have been condemned by human rights groups.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Satellite shows imagery of Nigerian military air strike on settlement

Nigerian authorities should conduct a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into the January 17, 2017 airstrikes that hit a settlement for displaced people who had fled Boko Haram, killing at least 70 people, including nine aid workers, and wounding at least 120, Human Rights Watch said today. The government, which has stated that the Nigerian air force accidentally carried out the strikes, should compensate those who were injured and the families of those killed as a result of any violation of international humanitarian law or the right to life.

Human Rights Watch reviewed satellite imagery in the town of Rann, Kala Balge Borno State, recorded on the morning after the attack and identified two distinct areas of destruction in densely populated areas on the western side of the town that are consistent with the detonation of multiple air-dropped munitions. At least 35 structures were destroyed in the attack, including shelters for displaced people.

“The Nigerian military has taken an important and rare step in accepting responsibility for this horrible attack,” said Mausi Segun, senior Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Now it should go further by explaining how it came to attack a displacement settlement, and by compensating the wounded and relatives of those who lost their lives.”

Although there is no clearly delineated displacement camp in Rann, the town includes hundreds of tents for displaced people located among residential buildings at the two sites that were hit. The tents are easily visible from the air, making it difficult to understand how an accident of this nature could have occurred. The presence of what appears to be a large Nigerian military compound on the edge of town, 100 meters from one of the impact sites, raises further questions, as the military would have been expected to know that the area was filled with civilians and to take adequate precautions not to harm them during any operation targeting Boko Haram fighters who might have been in the area.

Even if Boko Haram fighters were present in or near the settlement at the time, the Nigerian military should have ensured all of their attacks were targeting military objectives, and that they took all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians, Human Rights Watch said.

The investigation should determine the causes of the attack and the military should make the necessary changes, including in its planning of operations to minimize the risk of similar attacks in the future, Human Rights Watch said.

According to the Nigeria Air Force, one of its fighter jets launched an “accidental air strike” during operations in pursuit of Boko Haram fighters. The commander of the military’s counterinsurgency operations in the northeast, Major General Lucky Irabor, told media that he ordered the mission because Boko Haram fighters were gathering in the area. Two soldiers were also wounded, and an investigation would take place, he said, but it is not clear by whom and in what time frame.

Aid groups reported earlier that the area has been inaccessible to aid agencies until recently due to fighting, and the military was in charge of delivering aid to displaced people. A firefight between the military and Boko Haram fighters in Rann on December 30, 2016 might have contributed to the apparent haste with which Major General Irabor ordered the airstrikes to deal with an alleged report of the rebel group’s gathering in the area.

Among those killed were nine people working for humanitarian organizations. The head of emergencies at Doctors Without Borders, which has worked in Nigeria since 1971, told media that the army had full control of the Rann at the time of the attack, including checking those who came in and out. The organization strongly condemned the attack, in which it said three workers of a Cameroonian company it had contracted to provide services were killed.

The Nigerian Red Cross Society said that six of its staff and volunteers providing humanitarian services to displaced people were killed and another 13 were injured.

The tragic incident is not the first military airstrike that apparently killed civilians during the fight against Boko Haram. On February 28, 2014, a Nigeria military aircraft dropped munitions on Daglun, a Borno village, killing 20 civilians, mostly older residents, according to media reports. On March 16, 2014, a similar military attack on Kayamla village, less than 10 kilometers outside Maiduguri, reportedly killed 10 civilians. Media reports quoted villagers there as saying they had told security forces about the presence of some suspected Boko Haram fighters near the village, but the airstrike came days later, after the insurgents had abandoned the area. In both attacks, the military denied knowledge of civilian casualties.

On January 16, 2017, the United Nations estimated that 2.4 million Nigerians had been displaced in their country as a result of Boko Haram’s abuses and Nigerian military operations.

Even if there is no evidence that the airstrikes were a deliberate attack on the Rann displaced persons’ settlement, which would be a war crime, the bombing, apparently not being directed at a specific military target, would be indiscriminate, therefore violating international humanitarian law. The attack would also appear to have violated the right to life under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other international human rights laws applicable in Nigeria, including if those planning the operation did not take sufficient steps to minimize the risk to civilian lives. Nigeria has an obligation under international law to ensure transparent and independent investigations into the apparent violations, and to pay compensation to the victims and their families for the injury caused by any violation.

“Authorities should ensure effective and speedy medical treatment for the injured victims of this unfortunate incident,” Segun said. “And they should ensure prompt, adequate and effective compensation for all the victims and their families of any violations of international law.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Video - Nigerian Air Force accidentally bombs refugee camp - 52 dead

A Nigerian Air Force fighter jet on a mission against Boko Haram extremists mistakenly bombed a refugee camp Tuesday, killing dozens of people.

Military commander Maj.-Gen. Lucky Irabor confirmed an accidental bombardment in the northeastern town of Rann, near the border with Cameroon, saying "some" civilians were killed.

A spokesman from Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said at least 52 people were killed and 120 injured in an airstrike on a refugee camp in the country's northeast.

A Borno state government official, who was helping to coordinate the evacuation of wounded from the remote area by helicopters, had earlier said more than 100 refugees and aid workers were among the dead. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

It was believed to be the first time Nigeria's military has admitted to making such a mistake in a region where villagers have in the past reported civilian casualties in the near-daily bombings targeting the Islamic militants.

The International Committee for the Red Cross said six staff workers with the Nigerian Red Cross were among the dead and 13 were wounded.

"They were part of a team that had brought in desperately needed food for over 25,000 displaced persons," spokesman Jason Straziuso said in a statement from Nairobi, Kenya.

Two soldiers were also wounded as well as Nigerians working for Doctors Without Borders, Irabor said, without giving a precise figure.

"This large-scale attack on vulnerable people who have already fled from extreme violence is shocking and unacceptable," said Dr. Jean-Clément Cabrol, the aid group's director of operations. "The safety of civilians must be respected."

Irabor said he ordered the mission based on information that Boko Haram insurgents were gathering, along with geographic co-ordinates. It was too early to say if a tactical error was made, he said.

The general, who is the theatre commander for counterinsurgency operations in northeast Nigeria, said the air force would not deliberately target civilians but there will be an investigation.

Some of the nearly 300 Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014 and freed last year have said three of their classmates were killed by air force bombardments, according to the freed girls' parents.

Boko Haram's seven-year-old Islamic uprising has killed more than 20,000 people and forced 2.6 million from their homes, creating the continent's worst humanitarian crisis, with the United Nations warning some 5.1 million people face starvation.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Video - Suicide attack hits Nigeria's University of Maiduguri

At least four people were killed and 15 others injured in a suicide bomb attack on a university campus in northeast Nigeria, police said.

Video - Abductors demand $300,000 for release of hostages kidnapped in Nigerian school

Gunmen who kidnapped eight people from a school in south-western Nigeria last week have issued a ransom demand. They want more than three hundred thousand dollars.