Who is Ahmadu Mohammed, the Nigerian General Accused of War Crimes?

Nigerian soldiers with Boko Haram flag.
Nigerian soldiers hold up a Boko Haram flag in Damasak, Nigeria, March 18, 2015. Ahmadu Mohammed (not pictured), a Nigerian general accused of war crimes by Amnesty International, has been reinstated to the army. Emmanuel Braun/Reuters

The quiet reinstatement of a general into the Nigerian army has sparked outrage from Amnesty International.

The human rights group on Monday criticized the decision to reinstate Major General Ahmadu Mohammed, whom Amnesty had accused of war crimes during the campaign against Boko Haram in a June 2015 report. Mohammed was retired for unrelated reasons in 2014 but was recently reinstated, the BBC reported. The reinstatement "underlines the monumental failure of the government to stamp out impunity for war crimes at the highest level," Amnesty said.

Amnesty claimed in its 2015 report that at least 1,200 people had been arbitrarily executed by Nigerian military forces and 7,000 had died in military detention in the course of operations against Boko Haram in the northeast of the country. The organization named nine Nigerian military officers who it said should be investigated for war crimes, including Mohammed.

In particular, Amnesty said that Mohammed was in charge of military operations on March 14, 2014, when Boko Haram members attacked the Giwa barracks in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria, freeing more than 1,000 detainees suspected of sympathizing with the militant group. In response, members of the Joint Task Force—which comprised Nigerian soldiers, police, intelligence and other security forces—rounded up and executed more than 600 of the detainees who had been recaptured, according to a report released by Amnesty on March 31, 2014 documenting the incident.

Responding to the 2015 report, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari tweeted that the claims would be looked into and that "this administration will leave no stone unturned to promote rule of law and deal with all cases of human rights abuses."

Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for Amnesty, tells Newsweek it was "shocking" to find that Mohammed had been reinstated. "At Amnesty it's rare for us to name individuals who should be investigated, so for us to have sufficient evidence to do so and then to find him reinstated was a real surprise," says Eyre.

Eyre says that the Nigerian military carried out an internal investigation into the nine officers named in the 2015 report, but that the outcome of the investigation was never shared with Amnesty. "But it's clear that being an internal investigation, it's not independent," says Eyre.

The Nigerian military has publicly defended Mohammed's reinstatement. Colonel Sani Usman, acting director of public relations for the Nigerian Army, said in a statement issued after Amnesty's comments on Monday that Mohammed's retirement was "arbitrary" and that the accusations against the general had not been proven. "The senior officer was never charged, tried, let alone found guilty of any offense that justified his premature retirement," said Usman, who added that the military would act if "records and clear evidences" directly indicting Mohammed in human rights abuses were provided.

Eyre contends, however, that the military's response is disingenuous. As well as the reports cited above, Amnesty released a video in August 2014 that the organization claimed showed Nigerian soldiers and members of the Civilian Joint Task Force—a vigilante group backed by the government to fight Boko Haram—cutting the throats of detainees recaptured after the Giwa barracks incident.

"These people [the nine named officers] should not be in a position of command given the severity of the evidence that we've collected of war crimes that happened under their command," says Eyre. "We're hopeful that the military will understand the rationale for those calls and suspend them."