Nigerian military tightens grip on rights group over human rights argument

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari speaks at the US-Africa Business Forum in New York in September.

Lagos, Nigeria (CNN)The Nigerian government accused human rights group Amnesty International of "damaging the morale" of its soldiers fighting terrorism, as part of an ongoing argument with foreign nongovernmental organizations.

Amnesty International, in a report released this week, alleged that military troops ignored warnings of imminent attacks in Nigeria's volatile central states, where it said more than 3,000 people have died in three years.
Soldiers sent to prevent attacks in the area were "slow to act," even when they were close to the scene of attacks, the human rights group said in the report.
"Our research shows that these attacks were well planned and coordinated, with the use of weapons like machine guns and AK-47 rifles," said Osai Ojigho, Amnesty International's Nigeria director.
    "Yet little has been done by the authorities in terms of prevention, arrests and prosecutions, even when information about the suspected perpetrators was available."
    It alleged authorities failed to investigate the spate of violence and punish perpetrators of the attacks, inciting more attacks across the West African nation.
    "The Nigerian government has displayed what can only be described as gross incompetence and has failed in its duty to protect the lives of its population and end the intensifying conflict between herders and farmers," Ojigho said.
    "The authorities' lethargy has allowed impunity to flourish and the killings to spread to many parts of the country, inflicting greater suffering on communities who already live in constant fear of the next attack," she added.
    The Nigerian government, in response to Amnesty allegations, accused the independent organization of stoking terror through "bias and inaccuracies" in its report.
    Amnesty is at risk of losing its reputation as an impartial organization, presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said in a statement on Monday.
    "The federal government is increasingly concerned about the role that Amnesty International is playing in the war against terror in Nigeria," Shehu said.
    Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari urged the UK-based rights group to examine its operations in the country, especially as they relate to the war against terrorism, Shehu said.
    Earlier, the Nigerian military accused the independent organization of making "fictitious allegations" of human rights abuses against the country's security forces.
    "Consequently, Nigerians should be wary of Amnesty International (Nigeria) because its goals are to destabilize Nigeria and to dismember it," army spokesman Gen. Sani Usman said.
    "The Nigerian Army has no option than to call for the closure of Amnesty International offices in Nigeria if such recklessness continues."
    Amnesty's Ojigho told CNN on Monday the human rights group was not working to destabilize Nigeria.
    "We have no political or religious affiliations or any interest whatsoever to try to undermine any state or authority," Ojigho said.
    She added: "It's unfortunate the military always takes this position that we are here to undermine the country, which is not the case at all."
    The standoff with Amnesty comes a few days after the Nigerian military briefly suspended UNICEF activities.
    Last Friday, it said UNICEF staff "train and deploy spies who support the insurgents and their sympathizers," undermining its counterterrorism efforts in Nigeria's volatile northeast.
    The ban was lifted a few hours later after the military said it held discussions with UNICEF officials.
    Nigeria is battling a decadelong Boko Haram insurgency in the country's northeast. The group's fighters have burned villages, mosques and churches; carried out mass kidnappings, assassinations and market bombings; and killed soldiers.
    However, the escalating conflict between herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria's central states is said to be "six times deadlier" than Boko Haram-related attacks this year, according to the International Crisis Group.
      ICG estimated at least 30,000 Nigerians had fled their homes in affected states in the wake of the pastoral conflict.
      In July, at least 86 people were killed in a weeklong attack in Plateau state, and 72 people died in a New Year's Day massacre in January in Benue state in the face off between herdsmen and farmers.