Nigeria opens secret prison for sect
20 April 2012, 08:33
Abuja - Nigeria is opening a secret detention centre to hold and
interrogate suspected high-level members of a radical Islamist sect
responsible for hundreds of killings this year alone, a security
official has told The Associated Press.
While the facility could
create a more cohesive effort among disparate and sometimes feuding
security agencies in Nigeria to combat the sect known as Boko Haram, it
raises concerns about its possible use for torture and illegal
Nigeria's security forces have notorious human rights records, with a documented history of abusing and even killing prisoners.
prison is in Lagos, far from the violence plaguing the country's
predominantly Muslim north, where Boko Haram carries out frequent
bombings and ambushes, said the security official, who is directly
involved in the project. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he
was not authorised to discuss the facility with journalists.
suspects arrested will be taken to the centre and would be interrogated
by a security group," the official said. He declined to say exactly
where it is or how many inmates it can hold. He said authorities are
arranging to transport suspects to Lagos, Nigeria's largest city located
in its southwest.
The detention centre was created at the orders
of Nigeria's National Security Adviser General Andrew Owoye Azazi, the
official said. Azazi's telephone number is unlisted and the AP was
unable to contact him for comment.
Ekpeyong Ita, the
director-general of the Nigeria's secret police agency known as the
State Security Service, declined to comment on Thursday when the AP
asked him about the prison.
Minutes later, secret police
spokesperson Marilyn Ogar called an AP journalist and said anyone with
information about the purported prison should go to the courts instead
of talking to journalists. She refused to confirm or deny the prison's
"Whatever we do, we're running a democratic system that respects the rule of law," the spokesperson said.
Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the Hausa
language of north Nigeria, is carrying out increasingly sophisticated
bombings and attacks in its sectarian fight against the country's
government. The sect carried out a suicide bombing in August at United
Nations' headquarters in the country that killed 25 people and wounded
more than 100 others, as well as a co-ordinated assault this January in
the northern city of Kano that killed at least 185 people.
and military officials say the sect has links with two other
al-Qaeda-aligned terrorist groups in Africa. Members of the sect also
reportedly have been spotted in northern Mali which Tuareg rebels and
hardline Islamists seized control of over the past month.
officers shot and killed Boko Haram's former leader Mohammed Yusuf in
2009 while he was in their custody, underscoring the lack of respect for
human rights among the security forces. Security agencies have been
unable to find and arrest the sect's current leader Sheik Abubakar
Shekau, who posts taunting videos on the internet promising more
"The problem we have is lack of synergy among the
security agencies," the security official told AP. Those agencies
include the police, the military, and intelligence agencies like the
State Security Service.
Relations between the agencies are
testy at times as each fights for its own budgetary allotments and there
are suspicions that some have been influenced by ethnic or religious
factors in this nation of more than 160 million people with two dominant
religions and more than 250 ethnic groups.
allegedly released a suspected Islamic radical in 2007 who later
masterminded Boko Haram's suicide car bombing of the UN headquarters.
Leaked US diplomatic cable also show US officials complained in 2008
about Nigeria's government quietly releasing other suspects into the
custody of Islamic leaders as part of a program it called "Perception
Suspected sect members have been arrested and kept
locked up for months without being charged. Authorities also routinely
arrest women and children related to suspected Boko Haram members in
attempts to draw them out. Amnesty International has said some Boko
Haram suspects have been "subject to enforced disappearances."
record leads to fears among human rights groups that the secret
detention centre could see more suspects disappear, deprived of the
right to challenge their detentions in the courts.
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," Amnesty International said in a
statement on Thursday. "Widespread unlawful, incommunicado detention
must cease immediately."
Ogar, the secret police spokeswoman,
appeared later Thursday on the state-run Nigerian Television Authority
before the AP published its story. In an interview, she said that a
"group of disgruntled people have gone to the foreign media to say that
Nigeria has now produced another Guantanamo Bay," referring to the US
military detention camp in Cuba.
It is unclear whether any foreign
governments have offered Nigeria advice or assistance in opening the
detention centre. US Ambassador to Nigeria Terence P McCulley, speaking
to journalists April 4, said the US is "working with the Nigerian
government to help them develop a counter-terrorism strategy that
includes perhaps a centre even to better co-ordinate information and
intelligence that they receive".
But Deb MacLean, a US Embassy
spokesperson, told the AP that she was unaware of the new detention
centre and said that the US had no role in it.