Nigerian Military and Human Rights Compliance – The Nigerian Army Introspection

Nigerian Military and Human Rights Compliance - The Nigerian Army Introspection
Nigerian Military and Human Rights Compliance – The Nigerian Army Introspection

Nigerian Military and Human Rights Compliance – The Nigerian Army Introspection

The resilience of the Nigerian Military has come to play despite being engaged at several battle fronts across the country. While many Nigerians are appreciative of this feat, a few myopic people have taken democratic freedom to a ridiculous level by traducing men at the ‘war front’.

Even as the bombs boom, kidnappers keep rampaging, cultists are unrelenting; the country stands askance. Yet campaigners are shouting human rights. What then is human right when bombs kill innocent women and children at random in markets and motor parks?

Like many have suspected, human rights campaigners hiding under civil society umbrellas have teamed up with foreign agencies, specifically, Transparency International and Amnesty International (AD), to produce jaundiced verdicts on peace keeping and peace enforcement operations of the Nigerian military. But the war against Boko Haram has been on for close to a decade, so why the sudden crusade?

As the questions keep coming, the Nigerian Army has proactively embarked on some introspection. A few months ago, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Yusuf Buratai constituted a special board of inquiry to investigate allegations of human rights violations against military officers in various theatres where the armed forces are engaged in ensuring security and maintenance of law and order. Top on the card is the charge by AI bordering on “excessive use of force and extra-judicial killings of members of Indigenous People of Biafra”.  It also alleged “cases of arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, torture, forced disappearance and extrajudicial executions” against some senior officers involved in counter terrorism and counter insurgency operations in the North East.

But the Army top echelon has responded to the allegations with candour. A verification team of serving and retired soldiers, plus two private lawyers, were saddled with the task of probing the claims of individual misdemeanor. After a two-month pain-staking verification exercise generally seen as open and transparent, the SBI has produced a report devoid of any form of cover-up or window dressing. 

Indeed, paragraphs 50 to 52 of the report are very instructive, as they contained the summary of the findings of the SBI, to wit: “The Board finds that the current delay in the trials of Boko Haram detainees, resulting in some cases in deaths in custody, is unacceptable and a denial of the rights of fair trial of the detainees. 

“The Board finds the denial of access of legal representation or at least visitation from legal practitioners, including lawyers from the Legal Aid Council, is a violation of human rights. Any attempt to justify this state of affairs will trivialize the commitment of the Nigerian Army to respect of fundamental human rights.

“The Board finds several overcrowded cells and insanitary conditions of some of the detention facilities visited.”

The SBI is even more gracious in its recommendations.  While supporting AI in the coverage of operational activities of the military, it urged the watchdog to “take appropriate steps to verify its reports before publication.”

To emphasize the commitment of all to openness, the board suggested raising a presidential panel of inquiry to investigate all cases of human rights violations against the military.

The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Buratai, is also quite forthright in appraising the conduct of men and officers in ‘battle’ across the country. “We are 100 per cent objective in our action and transparent in our operations”, he said at a recent interview. The conduct of the Nigerian Army, he emphasized, is a reflection of the Open Governance doctrine under President Muhammadu Buhari. While not directly criticizing AI, the Army Chief thinks that some individuals are conspiring to paint Nigeria in  bad light. But he said in a firm voice: “We will not agree that  Nigeria toes the path of Somalia and Sudan.”

Perhaps, toeing official government position, he observed that: “Some organizations and individuals are taking mischievous paths in reporting the facts on ground. I suspect they are getting information from terrorists and their sympathizers. Previous but similar indictments have been debunked especially those from NGOs.”

Gen. Buratai said the Nigerian military is human rights’ compliant, and approaches every task mindful of the provisions of the Constitution in defending the territorial integrity of the country and warding off external aggression. “We don’t use force arbitrarily. We have rules of engagement and code of conduct. Troops know that you don’t open fire unless in self defence. We are human rights’ compliant. We have a clear policy direction on conduct at the battle front and in engaging the civil population. 

“The military has human rights code. AI should be mindful of our own policy. They seem to rely too much on isolated cases. They conclude, rather in a haste, their investigation before they come to hear our own side of the story. They seem to have an unstated motive,” he charged.

While conceding that some bad behaviours are likely among the rank and file, Gen. Buratai said soldiers who breach the code of practice are promptly sent to face the court martial. “The rules guiding our profession are clear and unambiguous. Breaches are promptly dealt with. Our internal checks and control measures are perfect. We have a near perfect mechanism for checking excesses in peace and war times,” he affirmed.

Reviewing the capacity of the military to operate on many theatres, Gen. Buratai described the task as critical. But he quickly asserted that despite some inadequacies in equipments and logistics, the morale of officers and men are very high. “A soldier is trained to fight, ready to die for his country. We prepare our troops before we launch them in battle. We don’t have 100 per cent of the materials we require. We strive to provide the requisite atmosphere to make them perform,” he elaborated.

Going specific, Gen. Buratai said attention is given to medical support and rations to enable soldiers on the field keep fit at all times. Also taken seriously is the adequacy and efficiency of equipments.

Kareem writes from  Abuja.

“Initially we had challenges with transportation and mobility of troops. Providing ambulance services and anti-mine equipments was also critical. We faced frequent breakdowns in difficult and vast terrains especially where Improvised Explosive Devices were planted. We also experienced high level casualty. But all that have been put behind us”, said the Army Chief.

Despite the seeming difficulties in stopping Boko Haram insurgents, Gen. Buratai said his men are fired by the spirit of national service. “The spirit of patriotism keeps pushing them. We address the challenges quickly as they occur. We keep instilling confidence in the soldiers. We also keep improving on medical facility and requirement. We pay attention to kitting and protective gears. We never overlook the intangible things to keep morale high at all times,” he explained.

He does not agree with suggestions that some countries are conspiring to frustrate the war on terror. Rather, he wants the super powers to do much more to ensure quick eradication of terror in Africa. Nigeria’s neighbours are also supportive under the multi-national joint task force while the United States, Britain, Germany and China have shown keen interest of recent. “They all have a duty to support the fight against insurgency worldwide. Much more is required to enable us cope with the menace. They support us with intelligence but they can do more to consolidate the successes we have recorded,” said Gen. Buratai.

Despite all the odds, how prepared is the Nigerian Army in discharging its responsibility? “We are fully prepared to defend the fatherland. Preparedness is relative. We are ready to confront all occasions,” said the Army Chief, even as he emphasized the need for total support by citizens.

“Generally, Nigerians are appreciative of the commitment of this government and the zeal of the armed forces to eradicate insurgency and make the country secure, but social media campaigners are not relenting in peddling unfounded allegations. Today many appreciate our transparency and commitment. We need more support of all segments of Nigerians. We appreciate their support and goodwill at all times,” the Army Chief emphasized.

Ending on an optimistic note, Gen. Buratai urged Nigerians to be patient, promising that the remnants of Boko Haram insurgents will be eliminated soon.

Culled from TheSunNewsOnline

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