Nigeria is opening a secret detention centre to hold and interrogate suspected high-level members of the Boko Haram sect allegedly responsible for several suicide bomb attacks which has resulted in the death of hundreds of people with thousands more injured.
LEADERSHIP learnt that this may not be unconnected with the recent jail breaks in some conventional prisons where members of the sect had escaped. Associated Press (AP) also reports that a security official confirmed the development to it, saying that the secret detention centre would forestall future jail breaks by the sect.
Incidents of jail breaks which reportedly rattled the nation’s security agencies were in the Kogi, Bauchi and Suleja prisons where some Boko Haram members were detained.
The detention centre has raised concern about its possible use for torture and illegal detention. This concern is against the backdrop of allegations that the nation’s security agencies were notorious for human rights abuses. It is averred that the centre would enable the security agencies to be more coordinated in their fight against the sect.
According to the security official who said he was directly involved in the project but was not authorized to speak with journalists, the prison is in Lagos, far from the north where the sect has unleashed most of its attacks. He said “all suspects arrested will be taken to the centre and would be interrogated by a security group”.
He declined to say exactly where it is or how many inmates it can hold. He disclosed that the authorities are arranging to transport suspects already in their hands to Lagos State.
The security official also revealed that the detention centre was created at the orders of the national security adviser, Gen. Andrew Owoye Azazi. This could not be confirmed by Azazi as he could not be contacted on telephone.
Director-general of the State Security Service (SSS) Mr. Ekpeyong Ita was said to have declined to comment when he was contacted about the detention centre.
However, SSS spokeswoman Marilyn Ogar was said to have contacted the AP reporter, saying that anyone with information about the purported detention centre should go to the courts instead of talking to journalists. She reportedly refused to confirm or deny the centre’s existence.
“Whatever we do, we’re running a democratic system that respects the rule of law,” the spokeswoman reportedly told the journalist.
It could not be confirmed whether any foreign governments have offered Nigeria advice or assistance in opening the detention centre. U.S. ambassador to Nigeria Terence P. McCulley, speaking to journalists recently, said the U.S. was “working with the Nigerian government to help them develop a counter-terrorism strategy that includes perhaps a centre even to better coordinate information and intelligence that they receive”.
Statements credited to diplomats and military officials say the sect has links with two other al-Qaeda-aligned terrorist groups in Africa. Members of the sect were also reportedly spotted in northern Mali which Tuareg rebels seized control of over the past month.
Some of the suspected sect members have been allegedly arrested and locked up for months without being charged. Security officials have also been accused of routinely arresting women and children related to suspected Boko Haram members in attempts to draw them out. Amnesty International has alleged that some Boko Haram suspects have been “subject to enforced disappearances”.
Reacting to the secret detention centre, Amnesty International said in a statement yesterday, “Attacks by armed groups do not absolve the Nigerian government of the responsibility to conduct security operations in a manner that complies with national and international law. “Widespread unlawful, incommunicado detention must cease immediately,” the group said.
Why we raised security alert — White House
Meanwhile, the United States, which reportedly issued a security alert to its citizens on Wednesday, has stated that the alert was raised as a result of obligations of the Embassy to always inform US citizens of planned attacks.
While briefing White House correspondents in Washington DC, President Barack Obama’s spokesman, Mr. Mark Toner, said that the United States Embassy in Abuja has the rights to continue informing the citizens of the United States that live in Nigeria any time there is information regarding a planned terror attack.
“We did receive information that Boko Haram may be planning attacks in Abuja, Nigeria. I mean hotels frequently visited by Westerners. We don’t have any additional information regarding the timing of these attacks.
But as you know, in accordance with the Department’s no double standard policy, when we deem a threat to any U.S. citizen, we do issue these kinds of emergency messages,” Toner said.
When asked if the United States authorities informed the Nigerian government before raising the terror alarm on Wednesday, the White House spokesman said that he did not know that the government of his country would be obliged to do so, saying “I don’t know if we did in this case.”
The federal government had warned foreign envoys, embassies and organisations in the country to desist from the habit of raising the alarm and making security statements that are capable of creating panic.
Jonathan seeks Germany’s assistance
President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday in faraway Germany implored the government of that country to help Nigeria with technology that will develop its security architecture to give it an edge to successfully tackle Boko Haram.
Jonathan sought the assistance at a media briefing with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.
Speaking during the bilateral talks between both leaders at the German Chancery in the German capital, Jonathan also assured investors that government was putting all necessary measures in place to guarantee their investments and returns for such investments.
He said, “As a nation, we have security challenges because most investors talk about security. At present, we have the local group codenamed Boko Haram. From publications on this group, it paints a very gloomy picture as if the whole country is in tatters.
“This group operate in some states in the north-eastern part of the country but go into other states from time to time. But what I can assure the global community, especially our investors from Germany, is that government is working very hard to bring it under control.”
The president said that Nigeria would have to deploy superior technology to counter the plans of the sect because the manner of operation of the group was different from other criminal activities.
He said, “The area we expect our development partners, especially countries like Germany, to help is in terms of our security architecture, training and providing us with some modern equipment.
You have to fight terrorists with technology because terrorists do not need to come with a rifle and you confront them one on one. They will surprise you, they will not come to engage you except to defend themselves occasionally.
“So, you must have superior technology to monitor them and know how you can relate with them. And these are the areas we believe that countries like Germany and others and even the United Nations (UN) can assist us.”
Assuring Jonathan of her country’s resolve to work with the Nigerian government to bring the situation under control, the German Chancellor said Germany was in agreement with Nigeria on the dangers posed by members of the group to Nigeria and its reputation outside the country.
Merkel said the newly established bilateral commission between Germany and Nigeria should be able to discuss the issue with the aim of coming up with greater details of the areas where Nigeria may need help.
“But I think what is most important is the resolve of the Nigerian government to deal with such a group and to remain on top of the situation and protect the peace-loving people of Nigeria who suffer most from such attacks.
Whereever we can be helpful, be it in training, be it in logistics, we will certainly be glad to do that and the details can then be worked out by the bi-national commission,” she added.