- *200 persons nabbed, whisked to Calabar, Abuja in 2 months
- *As Residents flee C-River communities
By Emma Una
CALABAR—SCORES of inhabitants of Esighi, Ekpiri Ikang and Ibonda communities in Bakassi Local Government Area, Cross River State, have fled their homes in the wake of alleged human rights abuses by soldiers deployed in Bakassi by the Federal Government to fight militants of the Bakassi Strike Force.
A human rights lawyer, Ozinko Ozinko, who expressed worry about the development, said soldiers of First Battalion, stationed at the various communities in Bakassi, were busy violating the rights of the ordinary people by raping, abducting, arresting and torturing them.
Noting that over 200 persons have been arrested and detained either in Calabar or Abuja, he asserted that the civilians were entitled to protection and not abuse by their government.
He said: “Therefore, the heavy presence of soldiers in Bakassi is counterproductive as people are leaving the area because they are scared of the continuous arrest and killings.
“Over a battalion of soldiers sent to the Bakassi to fight the Bakassi Strike Force have resorted to committing human rights abuses against the civilians, who are not involved in militancy or do not even know the militants. The militants are on the high seas, so why resort to raping, arresting, abducting and torturing the villagers who have no business with the militants?”
According to Ozinko, anyone with marks on the body is simply arrested and taken to the 13 Army Brigade in Calabar or Abuja for detention and this has turned the entire Bakassi landscape into a war theatre.
“These soldiers carry out rapes, extra-judicial killings, torture and the use of means and methods of warfare that are not allowed in international humanitarian standards,” he said.
He disclosed that over 200 persons have been arrested in the last two months and clamped into detention at 13 Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Calabar with several others taken to Abuja and have not been brought before any court for trial.
Dialogue, not force is panacea
He said the Bakassi Strike Force, the militant group operating in Bakassi for which the soldiers were sent there, had since indicated their intention to surrender and embrace peace, and have shown their commitment by unilaterally retuning the arms captured during the confrontation with soldiers on October 8 and accordingly called on the Nigerian government to be receptive to peace moves initiated by the militant organisation.
“Experience has shown that in the time of insurgency, dialogue is the best option and so flooding the place with soldiers, who are committing human rights abuses is not the best option, but all parties should resort to lawful means to ensure peace returns to the area,” he asserted.
Ozinko stated that continuous arrest or killing of the ordinary people of the Bakassi or the leader of the Bakassi Strike Force, General Simply Benjamin, would not end the conflict.
His words: “Killing G 1 today or the civilian objects in that environment is not the answer to the conflict because if you kill him today, another person will rise up to lead the group, but an end to the conflict can come easily through taking proactive measures to address the immediate cause of the conflict and only dialogue can achieve that end.”
He said that civilians were entitled to protection and not abuse by their government, therefore, the heavy presence of soldiers in the Bakassi was counterproductive as people were leaving the area because they were scared of the continuous arrest and killings.