Owoye Azazi’s Nigerian ‘Guantanamo Base’ Detention Centre

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Last week, Nigerian newspapers carried a report from the Associated Press (AP), that a secret detention centre to hold and interrogate “suspected high-level members of the Islamist sect, Boko Haram”, has been opened. AP quoted a security official; adding that: “the facility could create a more cohesive effort among disparate and sometimes feuding security agencies in Nigeria”. It however says such a move “raises concerns about its possible use for torture and illegal detentions”; this is not farfetched, since “Nigeria’s security forces have notorious human rights records, with a documented history of abusing and even killing prisoners”.

The new prison is in Lagos, far away from the Northern-centred activities of the Boko Haram sect. AP’s source added that “all suspects will be taken to the center and would be interrogated by a security group”. The faceless spook did not say exactly the number of inmates the new facility will hold, but finally revealed that: “the detention center was created at the orders of Nigeria’s National Security Adviser Gen. Andrew Owoye Azazi”. This is the heart of the matter. Owoye Azazi has created his Nigerian equivalent of Guantanamo Bay, Bhagram Base and Abu Ghraib detention centers, just as the United States did in occupied Cuban land; Afghanistan and in Iraq. The American facilities are used for what they termed ‘extraordinary rendition’ of terror suspects, in the wake of the 9-11 attacks on the USA. As the world later learnt, those detention facilities were scenes of inhumane acts of torture, including the water boarding of suspects; the humiliating use of sodomy and other acts, which amount to crimes against humanity.

The crimes which trailed the Bush administration’s ‘war on terror,’ diminished the standing of the United States around the world. A copycat ‘war on terror’ became adopted amongst dictatorial regimes around the world, especially in the Muslim countries. These undemocratic regimes used the same tactics to take on their opponents and for as long as it served the imperial interests of the Western powers they ignored the human rights of individuals caught up in the illegal detentions and tortures, which invariably followed. The emergence of the Boko Haram menace has emboldened the Nigerian security apparatus in the same direction.

It seemed a matter of time for Owoye Azazi to take the decision to create his own Gunatanamo Bay. He used the narrative of terror to interpret developments in the country, as he did in his Op-Ed piece of January 4, 2012, in the WASHINGTON POST newspaper. Azazi’s template is obviously American, since his piece was titled “Combatting a common terrorist threat”. He leant on American fears, stating that: “we must stress that the threat emerging in our country…may be headed America’s way” and on the basis of that scaremongering asked that “it is time for a strategic security relationship between Nigeria and the United States”. In truth, the ‘strategic relationship’ kite does not seem to be flying with the Obama Administration, which seems more inclined to a more nuanced acceptance of a socio-economic basis for the insurgency in Northern Nigeria. So Azazi is not getting his desired ‘strategic relationship’, but at least he can copy from the American book of infamy, through the alleged creation of a secret prison!

AP reported that SSS Director-General, Ekpeyong Ita, declined to comment, when asked about the secret prison, but a few minutes later, SSS spokesperson, Marilyn Ogar, telephoned AP, challenging that “anyone with information about the purported prison should go to the courts instead of talking to journalists”. Significantly, Ogar “refused to confirm or deny the prison’s existence”. The giveaway is her response that “whatever we do, we’re running a democratic system that respects the rule of law”. Unfortunately, democracy and rule of law did not stop horrendous crimes committed in US detention centres around the world! Nigeria’s security apparatus has not exactly decorated itself with garlands of honour in its treatment of prisoners in the past. It is significant, that the extra-judicial killing of Boko Haram leader, Muhammed Yusuf, as well as unarmed individuals, including physically challenged people, that went viral on the internet, has largely been responsible for the ferocity of Boko Haram killings since 2010.

Nigerians must become alerted to what is being done in our names and in the guise of security. Owoye Azazi’s secret prison must not become a place for torture and extra-judicial killings of suspects! We must never allow democratic liberties to be eroded under the guise of security; that is the danger we now face with the alleged opening of a secret detention centre. As AP reported “the detention centre was created at the order of Nigeria’s National Security Adviser, Gen. Andrew Owoye Azazi”. We do not owe our liberties to Azazi and his security operatives!

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