The Nigerian army has denied allegations by Amnesty International that at least 149 people have died in horrific conditions during military detention in northeastern Nigeria since the beginning of this year. Army spokesperson Colonel Sani Suman told IBTimes UK: "The allegations by Amnesty International are far from the truth."
Usman made the remarks as the rights group released a report on conditions at Giwa barracks detention centre in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state, that is marred by Boko Haram terrorists' deadly insurgency.
Amnesty claimed at least 11 children under the age of six, including four babies, were among the deaths. Several detainees died due to diseases, hunger, dehydration and gunshots wounds, according to witnesses' accounts, corroborated by videos and photographs.
"Children under five years old, including babies, have been held in three overcrowded women's cells. In the last year there has been a tenfold increase in the number of detainees in these cells, rising from 25 in 2015 to 250 in early 2016," said the report.
"Unsanitary conditions mean that disease is rife. Amnesty International understands that there were around 20 babies and children under five in each of the three cells."
Witnesses said detention conditions were worst in the men's cells, where it is believed inmates received about half a litre of water and very little food per day. Detainees also said they had to sleep on the floor and did not have access to washing facilities.
"Despite steps taken to improve conditions in Giwa barracks in 2014 and 2015, with detainees receiving food three times a day, as well as blankets, sleeping mats and increased access to sanitary facilities and medical assistance, recent mass arrests appear to have erased some of these gains and death rates are on the increase," said Amnesty. "Mass public releases of detainees, including young children and babies, earlier this year, have demonstrated that the detention of children in Giwa barracks is no secret."
Amnesty claimed at least 1,200 people are currently detained at Giwa barracks and the majority of whom were arbitrarily arrested without evidence and were not granted a fair trial. Families were also separated upon arrest.
The rights group called on President Muhammadu Buhari to close the detention centre and launch an independent investigation into the recent deaths.