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Unresolved atrocities of Operation Python Dance II

By News Express on 28/10/2017

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Just before the National Assembly resumed from the last vacation, which coincided with the launch of the highly controversial military operation in South-eastern Nigeria, there were video evidence of massive human rights violations by the Nigerian Army in the geo-political zone.

These human rights violations ranged from gruesome physical torture of suspected members of the unarmed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), to several cases of extra-legal executions of civilians. 

Casualties included civilians caught in the cross-fire which flared up when members of the self-determination group resisted the initial attempts by the Armed Security Forces to invade the country home of the IPOB leader, in the palace of his father, the traditional ruler of Afara-Ukwu, Umuahia. 

Military invasion of a palace of a first-class traditional ruler is an abomination. It has never happened in the northern region of Nigeria. 

That the Army could okay such invasion on the ground that Nnamdi Kanu – who was enjoying the Federal High Court bail – was allegedly in breach of bail conditions is unwarranted, because there was no validly issued court order to arrest him. After that invasion, both the parents of Nnamdi Kanu and the IPOB leader himself have never been seen in public. And, for now, there is no certainty regarding their condition or whereabouts. 

The Nigerian Army, Abia State Government and the Federal Government have all feigned ignorance of the exact response to the interrogation on their exact whereabouts. Nnamdi Kanu's lawyer told the Federal High Court that the last he spoke with his client was few hours before the Army's invasion of Kanu’s residence.

The above controversy apart – as is well documented – all the killings I mentioned earlier took place two clear days before President Muhammadu Buhari’s government hurriedly packaged a proscription order, through an ex parte application before the Acting Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, which pronto acceded to the ex parte application and pronounced the hitherto unarmed and peaceful IPOB as a terror organisation. The international community has, however, rejected the proscription of IPOB. In America, as well as in the United Kingdom, IPOB remains validly operational as a civil society body registered under relevant laws.

The Indigenous people of Biafra – which is registered in most countries of Europe and the United States – has since applied for the revocation of the proscription order done hurriedly in Nigeria, when it became clear that the military over-reached itself and took the law unto its hands in a bid to crush the civilian-led agitation for self-determination for the marginalised South-East geo-political zone of Nigeria, as championed by some youngsters under the auspices of IPOB.

However, it must be stated from onset that the above thorny and stormy legal challenges are not the bones of contention in this article. It is equally not the interest of this analyst to dwell on the action adopted by the Army’s media department, which procured the services of a hack writer to attack this writer and the platform I coordinate, for opposing the perceived massive violations of the rights of civilians belonging to the self-determination group.

It is, however, my concern in this piece to assess the gains and disadvantages of the recently-ended military operation in the South-East; and to proffer possible panacea to avoid the pitfalls noticeable in the enforcement of the highly explosive internal military operation.

First, the Army told Nigerians that the Operation Python Dance II was basically a military exercise, but also meant to checkmate the activities of the pro-Biafra Indigenous association headed by Nnamdi Kanu. The operation lasted approximately a month. And, the Army took it upon itself to periodically brief Nigerians on the activities of the operatives and officers during the internal military operation.

In line with the above methodology, the Army also briefed Nigerians on what it considers as the gains and mileages achieved during the month-long operation.

The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt-Gen Tukur Buratai, officially ended operation Egwu Eke II, which took place at 82 Division of the Nigerian Army Area of Responsibility and Cross River State. Col Sagir Musa, deputy director, Public Relations, of 82 Division Nigerian Army, Enugu, disclosed this in a statement issued in Enugu on October 15, 2017.

Musa said that Buratai, who was represented by the General Officer Commanding (GOC), 82 Division, Maj-Gen Adamu Abubakar, declared the end of exercise at a ceremony in Sector 1 Tactical Headquarters at Umuahia, Abia State at about 6 pm on Saturday, October 14.

He said that the exercise was ended with the traditional activation of camp-fire to formally signify the successful completion of the operation.

His words: “The COAS, through Gen Abubakar, commended all the officers, soldiers and personnel of para-military organisations that collaborated and synergised, worked tirelessly and commendably throughout the one-month period for the exercise.

“The achievements recorded during the exercise in the areas of attainment of the mission-specific training objectives, improvement in peace and security, curtailing the menace of violent irredentist groups in the theatre of the exercise (South Eastern part of Nigeria) is remarkable.”

The Army even played the traditional role of the Abia State Ministry of Information, by reporting the state government thus: “On the part of the government and good people of Abia State, the representative of the Governor of Abia State, Engr Emmanuel Nwabuko, expressed appreciation of the government and people of the state for the numerous achievements of exercise Egwu Eke II in terms of improvement of peace, security and stability of the state.”

The Army’s deputy spokesman said that the government gave assurance that it will always leverage on the existing relationship between its people and the Nigerian Army whenever the need arises. He noted that top commanders of formations and units within the division and representatives of Army Headquarters and Defence Headquarters attended the closing ceremony. 

The phantom celebrations by the Army continued in the nation's capital, which has assumed the role of the capital city for ready-made hired fake demonstrators who can organise solidarity rallies at the speed of light, once paid their pittance.

So the propaganda arm of the Army seems to have perfected the celebration of the so-called achievements made during the Operation Python Dance II, when it reportedly paid some jobless people in Abuja to carry placards to the Aso Rock presidential complex to “thank” the government for conceptualising and implementing that military exercise. 

Some of the demonstrators, claiming to be Igbo, were actually said to be totally deficient in Igbo language, and most looked like street urchins normally seen around Nyanya and Mararaba in the neighbourhood of Abuja. 

Spokesperson of these hired protesters repeated the same praises read by the Army’s spokesmen in the 82 division, Enugu.

While these poorly-paid sycophants were busy singing praises to the Army in what they said was done on behalf of the people of the South-East, those with gifts of discernment and wisdom wonder why the Federal Government of Nigeria – and particularly the National Assembly – has not made good the pledge by the Senate president to investigate the altercations that ensued in the South-east during the military operation.

Then, again, reading through the media statement of the Army from the Enugu division, which contained what are considered as the achievements of the operation, one is left to then ask: Why has Nigeria a policing institution, if it will take the Army to embark on internal military operation to arrest even hard-drug addicts, when there are specific agencies set up by law for such legal mandates?

All these areas of achievements said to have been made by the military during the Operation Python Dance II, could have been done by the Nigeria Police Force, the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and the Department of State Services (DSS).

The above trend of thought, therefore, reinforces my conviction that the operation python dance, part two, was substantially unconstitutional, illegal and provocative, and remains a mere waste of time and resources that would have been channelled towards battling the resurgence of Boko Haram terror attacks in north-eastern Nigeria.

The operation python dance and the other variants currently ongoing, in the guise of military operations in the Southern parts of Nigeria, have been dismissed as attempts by President Buhari to wield military force to scare away advocates of restructuring and campaigners for self-determination.

The reported attack on the home of the leader of the self-determination group in Umuahia, Abia State, and the mystery surrounding his whereabouts goes to justify the widely-held beliefs that the operation was undemocratic. 

The bad blood and lack of trust engendered by the operation took a much more sinister turn when school children no longer trust the Nigerian Army for any planned medical exercises of inoculation, for fear that they may be poisoned with monkeypox infestation. 

The Army has denied these allegations.

But the grandfather of all the bad sides of this Operation Python Dance II, remains the many unresolved cases of human rights violations, including the alleged cases of extra-legal killing of civilians in the streets of Aba, and Umuahia. Looking at all the statutes and the constitutional norms, it is difficult to pin down any provision that allows for the kind of comprehensive human rights breaches that occurred during the military operation.

Apart from sections 217 and 218 of the Constitution (as amended), spelling out modalities for the deployment of military forces – which were breached wantonly in the just-ended operation under discussion – Chapter Four of the Constitution is replete with relevant sections that absolutely prohibits torture and extra-legal killings.

Section 33(1) says: “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in the execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.”

Section 34(1) (a) states: “No person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.”

But, sadly, during the one month-long exercise by the Army in the South-East –  apart from the fact that millions of Nigerians were deprived of their constitutional rights to freedom of movement following certain restrictions – the imposition of corporal punishments, which amounted to physical and emotional torture were widespread.

Abia State suffered the worst forms of torture inflicted on civilians by armed soldiers, to such an unpardonable extent that even the weak Abia State Governor issued a public notice deploring the widespread use of torture by the Army. This is the same government that the deputy spokesman of the Nigerian Army reported as applauding the just-ended Operation Python Dance II.

Governor Okezie Ikpeazu had protested thus: “The unwholesome activities of some men of the Nigerian Army who have formed the habit of subjecting members of the civil populace in the state to corporal punishments, and most times, extortion of money for no just cause, has reached the Government of Abia State.

This is more prevalent along the Bende Umuahia Road, Ohafia township, and within Aba and its environs.”

Dr Ikpeazu continued: “These acts are not only illegal and extremely provocative; they are also capable of triggering off some form of civil unrest in the state, which can distort the peaceful atmosphere we have worked very hard to put in place in the state. 

“While the State Government has always indicated its preparedness to cooperate with all security agencies in their lawful operations within the state, we shall not condone a situation where the presence of the Army in the state becomes a platform to assault the basic rights of our people and subject them to inhuman and degrading treatments, without any lawful excuse.”

The Abia State Governor then sounded a resolute note of caution as follows: “The Commander of the 14 Brigade, Ohafia and, indeed, all heads of Army formations in the state are, by this notice, requested to closely monitor the activities of their men in the field, and ensure that these untoward practices are stopped at once. 

The Government of Abia State shall no longer condone this unwarranted assault on the people of the state. Our people, as law-abiding citizens, are fully deserving of their basic freedoms and fundamental rights to life, personal liberty and dignity of the human person. These rights are guaranteed under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the same law from which the Army derives its authority, and these rights can only be tampered with in accordance with laid down legal procedures, and not according to the whims and caprices of individual Army officers.” 

Unofficially, there are several recorded evidences of many civilians killed by the bullets of the Nigerian Army, because the operatives opened fire on crowds of protesters, using live bullets. This resulted in many fatalities.

There were photographic, video and eye witness accounts of the torture of several civilians. These are all offences that must not be swept under the carpets.

This is because the laws governing military internal operations envisages that armed operatives must comply with global best practices and rules of engagements; or else those who breach the laws must be prosecuted and punished.

This much were disclosed in the book entitled Military Law in Nigeria: Under Democratic Rule, by Maj-Gen TEC Chiefe of blessed memory, who holds a doctorate in Constitutional Law.

He articulated these positions in Chapter 8 of the book, captioned: ‘Rule of law and conduct of military operations’.

He stated: “The conduct of operations by the Nigerian Armed Forces, under any circumstances, demands that military operations be conducted with due regard for the provisions of the law.”

It also requires that officers and soldiers who partake in these operations comply with the dos and don’ts relating to the conduct of operations, he noted. 

The latter requirement, according to Gen Chiefe, is particularly important, in view of the dual legal status of a soldier, which has been described as the doctrine of compact.

This doctrine, in his thinking, stipulates that service personnel are subject to both military laws and the ordinary civil laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and the involvement in an operation may not necessarily absolve a soldier from blame, if he infringes on any of these two different legal regimes. 

“Even the armed forces itself, as a corporate personality, ought to comply with the relevant laws in all its dealings, including conduct of operations,” he averred, adding:

 “It is necessary in dealing with the rule of law, as it concerns the conduct of military operations, to divide military operations into two categories. This categorisation is based on the two different regimes of law, which govern military operations.”

Expounding on the above categorisation, the learned military author stated that the first, are military operations that are conducted internally within the territorial borders of the country. Examples of such internal military operations, he said, are internal security (IS) operations, which are conducted in aid of civil authority to restore normalcy within the territorial boundaries of a state or a part thereof. 

Recent examples include the operations at Odi, in Bayelsa State, in 1999 and the operations to restore normalcy in the Tiv/Jukun areas of Taraba and Benue states in 2001. 

The second category of military operations, noted the erudite author are those which can be described as ‘international’, in the sense that they are mostly conducted outside the borders of the country, or involve engagement with foreign forces. 

Typical examples of these categories of operations, he stated, are the various peace-keeping and humanitarian operations embarked upon within and outside Africa.

He explained: “Having categorised military operations, and recalling that in a nutshell, the concept of the rule of law requires that actions of government authorities and the rights of individuals be determined not in accordance with the arbitrary dictates of law, it is important to discern the interface between the concepts of the rule of law, on the one hand, and the conduct of military operations on the other.” 

Broadly speaking, this interface, according to him – requires that military operations like all other activities of government – should be conducted only in accordance with the dictates of law. In effect, it implies that from the onset of military operations, till the conclusion, all relevant regulations governing the conduct of such operations must be followed.

The National Assembly has great roles to play in such a way that those who had violated the laws are prosecuted and sanctioned. The Senate president, Dr Bukola Saraki, had promised to investigate the widespread allegations of human rights abuses by the military in the South-East, but it seems the senators aren’t interested anymore; or may have been intimidated and harassed by President Buhari, to abdicate their constitutional duty to the people of Nigeria. The National Assembly should also take steps to make the Nigerian Army a truly national army, by ensuring that the strategic assets of the military are decentralised to all parts of Nigeria, as against the practice whereby 80 per cent of all Army’s strategic national assets are being localised in the North-West, as if the army is Northern Nigeria Army. 

These steps and mechanisms must be adopted to sanitise the military and weed out brutes and irrational beings abusing their powers while wearing the nation's military uniforms.

RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). He can be reached via 08033327672 (sms only) or via doziebiko@yahoo.com

Source News Express

Posted 28/10/2017 2:28:08 PM

 

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