CSOs ask NHRC to investigate systematic human rights violations in South East

Some civil society groups, have petitioned the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, to investigate actions amounting to systematic human rights violations in South East.

The groups are Okechukwu Nwanguma for Rule od of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre, RULAAC, Lagos, Emeka Nwanevu for Initiative for Public Safety, Security and Educational Development in Nigeria, IPSSED Network, Enugu, Onyinyechi Nwosu for Vivacious Development Initiative (VIDI), Abia, Chuka Okoye: CEHRAWS, Abia State, Nelson Nwafor for Foundation for Environmental Rights Advocacy and Development, FENRAD Nigeria Abia State, Nnaemeka Onyejiuwa for CCIDESOR, Owerri Imo State, Obialunanma Nnaobi-Ayodele Meluibe Foundation, Abuja, Alliance for Inclusive Development-AidAfrica, Abuja and . African Law Foundation, AFRILAW, Enugu.

The groups in the petition, addressed to Executive Secretary of NHRC, dated June 19, 2024, said:

“We, the undersigned civil society organisations and other concerned groups and citizens, alarmed by frequent incidents of organized attacks, killings, extortion, sexual violence, and destruction of properties in the South East, portending far-reaching human rights violations, feel compelled to call on the National Human Rights Commission to deploy all necessary instruments available to it, which may include the appointment of a Special Investigation, to inquire into these incidents.

“We are concerned by the oppressive atmosphere of siege, impunity and fear partly engendered by the federal government’s single narrative that narrows insecurity in the south east almost exclusively to the activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB.

“This single narrative explains why the federal government ignores other drivers and dimensions of insecurity and the need for a holistic and multidimensional approach.

“It also informs federal government’s tendency to solely deploy force in its response to insecurity, and its neglect of community engagement and dialogue, as well as addressing the socio-economic and political root causes and drivers of crime and insecurity.

“This approach has contributed to escalating insecurity, fuelling the cycle of violence and resulting in gross human rights violations.

“The federal government’s penchant for deploying “special military operations’’ such as ‘’Operation Egwu Eke (Python dance)’’, Operation Crocodile Smile, as well as special police peration, ‘Operation Restore Peace’ for the southeast underscores this narrative and its shortcomings.

“We recall that while launching the special police operation in Enugu in 2021, the then Inspector General of Police Usman Baba directed police officers thus: “Don’t mind the media shout; do the job I command you. If anyone accuses you of human rights violation, the report will come to my table and you know what I will do. So, take the battle to them wherever they are and kill them all. Don’t wait for an order.

“The IGP in issuing that reckless directive said it was in compliance with President Buhari’s previous ‘’shoot-on-sight’’ order issued to security forces against IPOB. The outcome of these orders has been a floodgate of mass raids and indiscriminate arrests and detention in inhuman and degrading conditions; torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions.

“There are also indications that security agents exploit the opportunity for self-enrichment, including extortion of huge sums of money from family members of detained victims.

“The ubiquity and widespread presence of security checkpoints along all interstate highways and inner city roads across states in the southeast contribute to the atmosphere of militarisation, siege and shrinking civic space.

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“Among the notable recent cases of what increasingly appears to be a systematic and serial abuse of human rights in the Southeast perpetrated by both state and non-state actors are the following:

Invasion of Igga Community in Enugu State

We received with sadness, reports of the invasion and attacks on Igga community in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State at about 10 p.m. on Saturday, May 4, 2023 by personnel of the Nigerian army and Nigeria Police Force.

“The invading security forces shot indiscriminately, killing community members and burning several houses and other properties. According to a Premium Times Report of May 6, 2024, one of the residents, identified as Richard Okoye, about 70-years-old, died during the invasion. Providing explanation for the operation in a statement the next day, the police spokesperson in Enugu State, Daniel Ndukwe, claimed “criminal members” of the community, on Friday, murdered two police operatives and three members of a Neighbourhood Watch Group in the area.

“Mr. Ndukwe, a deputy superintendent of police, said a combined security team comprising three police operatives and four members of the Neighbourhood Watch Group provided security for a team of visiting investors from Lagos State on a tour of a proposed agricultural investment site in the area.

“Responding to the allegations of invasion of the community and burning of houses, the police chief said those pushing the narrative were attempting “to misinform and mislead” Nigerians. He warned those circulating video clips and accusing the combined security operatives of burning and looting houses in the community to “desist forthwith,” but did not deny or confirm the allegation against the operatives.

Killings in Nimbo Community in Enugu State

The killings and destruction in Igga came just a few days after attacks and killings in Nimbo community in the same Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State, allegedly by armed herdsmen.

“On Sunday April 28, 2024 the commumity of Nimbo was attacked by armed persons, who the inhabitants believe are herdsmen. According to Premium Times report of May 6, 2024, the assailants shot sporadically, killing at least five people, including a child of about two years old while several others were injured.

“They also attacked mourners at Ugwuijoro Nimbo community, causing a stampede. According to a Premium Times report dated May 6, 2024, the villagers identified no less than 4 bodies as the victims of the dastardly act. Premium Times quoted the police in Enugu State to have told the residents that they have ordered the deployment of police operatives to track down the killers.

“This would not be the first time that innocent and helpless members of the Nimbo community would be attacked by armed men suspected to be herdsmen. In 2016, the community was attacked in like manner, leaving many people dead and the entire community almost in ruins.

“A Punch newspaper report of April 30, 2024 quoted Mr Akachukwu, the President General of Nimbo Community to have said, “these attackers know all the routes in the villages and bushes so well. We need our local vigilantes to be strengthened because they can match them.

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“The width and length of our farmlands are so massive.” He called on the state government to strengthen Nimbo Neighbourhood Watch and Forest Guards to complement the security agencies. He continued: “Nimbo is living at the outskirt of Enugu State.

“We live directly in the border area, and they come in any time and kill and go back. It has repeated itself again and now, not only one person, but four were killed. About two months ago, they kidnapped a number of people, but they were rescued, although the kidnappers escaped. It has been like this for years, even before I was born.”

“According to Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi who was the Enugu State governor at the time of the herdsmen attack on Nimbo community in 2016, ‘’the terrorism at Nimbo may have happened due to inability of security agencies to successfully act on the counter intelligence report about herdsmen grouping at neighbouring Odolu in Kogi State in preparation for attack’’.

“As concerned citizens and groups, we welcome the prompt visit to the community by the incumbent governor of Enugu State, Mr. Peter Mbah and his expression of determination to track down the hoodlums who attacked the community.

“This is a commendable demonstration of empathy, but words are not enough. There is need for more concrete actions to safeguard lives and property in communities like Nimbo in various parts of the Southeast.

“We call on State Governments in the zone to engage with community leaders and heads of security agencies to strengthen security in communities facing similar attacks, and to provide immediate and temporary assistance and relief to victims. More generally, the latest incident highlights the urgent need for the Nigerian government to revisit the issues around open grazing to solve the frequent friction between farming communities and nomadic herders in the country.

Massacres arising from persistent Ezza-Effium and Ezza- Ezeilo conflicts in Ebonyi State

We call on the National Human Rights Commission to undertake prompt, exhaustive and effective investigation into the persistent Ezza- Effium and Ezza-Ezeilo conflicts which have continued to result in massacres.

“Considering that the Ebonyi State Government is considered as having vested interest in the conflicts and therefore not trusted to be impartial in the resolution of the conflicts, we call on the NHRC to undertake an independent investigation with a view to ascertaining the roots and issues in the conflicts and why the conflicts and massacres have persisted over the years.

“The investigation should seek to unravel the root causes and identify those responsible for the killings and other crimes, ensure they are brought to account and the victims accorded remedies and adequate compensations.

Sacking of several communities in Orsu Local Government Area of Imo State

Many communities in Orsu LGA of Imo State have been abandoned by law abiding and peace-loving community dwellers, leaving them virtually occupied by armed men who operate from the bushes.

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“Several months of encounters between these organized armed marauders and government backed informal security agencies, such as Ebubeagu, ostensibly fighting the armed groups, have made the communities uninhabitable wastelands where people are killed, women raped and houses burnt on an almost daily basis.

“RULAAC has received SOS from some members of those communities pleading for Imo State government’s intervention to end the battles between the fighters in the bush and the government backed informal security outfits composed of persons from the localities and outside. These government backed informal security outfits are supposedly protecting the communities, but they have also been engaged in human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions.

“Repeatedly, both sides accuse each other of responsibility for abductions, torture, sexual violence, killings and burning of houses. The Commission is hereby called upon to carry out investigations into the unending violence and killings in the affected communities in Orsu and neighbouring areas of Imo State.

Extortion and Harassment of citizens at numerous checkpoints

Road users in the Southeast region, including private and commercial vehicle drivers and passengers, have continued to cry out over the harrowing experiences and sufferings they are subjected to at road checkpoints manned by soldiers, police and personnel from other security agencies.

“They endlessly lament the level of humiliation, intimidation and harassment they are subjected to at the checkpoints by security agents. At most of these checkpoints, communters are ordered to disembark from their vehicles and trek past the checkpoints with hands raised, before reboarding their vehicles.

“These ubiquitous security checkpoints in all the major roads of the Southeast have not been effective in preventing crime, arresting criminals and protecting citizens from kidnappers and other armed criminal elements. Yet, they have become scenes of suffering, humiliation, harassment, extortion, physical assaults and even extrajudicial killings. They have deepened the atmosphere of siege in the Southeast.

A lot of ugly incidents have been recorded at these checkpoints including passengers accused of crimes and forced to ATMs to make transfers to the security operatives to be allowed to go.

One of the most dreaded military checkpoints in the zone is the one at Ihiala along the Onitsha-Owerri road. In particular, the one located almost opposite Abbott Boys Secondary School, Ihiala, is a nightmare to those who use the road.

“Sometimes the traffic gridlock caused by the checkpoint stretches up to one kilometer on either side of the road. A Vanguard Newspaper report titled ‘’Security checkpoints override Southeast roads’’ dated August 30, 2023, quoted a commercial driver and regular user of the road, Mr. Okwudili Okekeamadi to have said: “The soldiers there have a makeshift house where drivers or their conductors usually go to drop money, while their passengers are forced to disembark and walk to the other end with their hands raised.

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“If the soldiers find out that any of the passengers grumbled, the vehicle conveying them would be delayed. During this delay, the soldiers would be insulting and abusing them and nobody dared to frown, otherwise the person would be asked to remain behind while others continue their journey”.

Killings by non-state actors

The activities of cult groups have remained a major source of security menace in some southeast states. A News Agency of Nigeria report published on Monday, May 2, quoted Henry Mbachu, representing Awka South in the Anambra House of Assembly, to have said that from Easter Sunday till May 6, 2024, thirty-four persons were gunned down in Awka and its environs alone due to activities of cultists.

“The activities of some security outfits set up in some states to combat cultism also constitute a source of human right violations. We have seen a disturbing viral video of some people being brutalized by operatives of Anambra State Anti-Touts Special Squad.

“One of the victims narrated how he was “beaten” and “brutalised” at an underground cell maintained by the squad. He said he was brutalised by some of its operatives over a N6.5 million debt allegedly owed him by some officials of the state government.

Call to action

It has become imperative that the National Human Rights Commission appoints a prompt, thorough, impartial and effective investigation of the human rights violations related to the cases that we have catalogued and many others.

“Such an investigation will be consistent with the mandate of the Commission to deal with all matters related to the promotion and protection of human rights in Nigeria as guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other international treaties.

“This investigation will be with a view to identifing the root causes of the attacks, the perpetrators, the victims and the effects on livelihoods, wellbeing and development of the affected communities and to recommend appropriate and adequate measures to ensure remedies for victims and the communities, bring perpetrators to justice and end the attacks and violations.

Legal standards

We strongly aver that these cases grossly violate several articles of domestic and international human rights legal frameworks such as the Nigerian Constitution, African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other international treaties to which Nigeria is a state party.


It is in the context of the rising and increasingly systematic abuse of human rights in the Southeast, the violation of well-established legal standards and the failure of human rights duty bearers that we call on the National Human Rights Commission to investigate the state of human rights in the Southeast, including incessant killings and destruction of individual and communal property.

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