Posted by News Express | 14 April 2018 | 1,990 times
The Chief of Staff, Nigerian Army, Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai, on April 12, 2018 launched the updated Army Headquarters directives on standing rules of engagement, use of force, as well as detention and interrogation.
To the over 159 million Nigerian civilians, this event should be of utmost concern, since the guiding principles of military internal operations will either impact negatively or positively on all of us. How the military of Nigeria carries out its functions in protecting the territorial integrity of Nigeria and assist the police to maintain internal peace goes to the roots of our constitutional democracy. This is why the Army, for instance, is called Nigerian Army and not just the Army.
But just as Nigerians wait for the Army to inaugurate this official legal framework that ought to emphasise the necessity of compliance to extant human rights provisions, it is important to also highlight the need for Nigeria to dispassionately fish out the soldiers who inflicted torture and allegedly committed extra-legal killings of civilians in all previous operations. This task is essential, not necessarily because anybody wishes to name and shame the military institution, but more importantly because it is essential that the military is seen as a highly professional institution that should not tolerate impunity and lawlessness. The Nigerian Army has over the years become synonymous with professional discipline and loyalty to the Constitution. It is difficult to profess loyalty to the Constitution if the rule of law is thrown to the dogs and treated with disrespect by those trained to work as soldiers. So, arriving at a clear determination of the various violations of human rights that occurred in the recent past must be the essential starting point, as the hierarchy of the Army gets prepared to inaugurate the updated rules of military engagement. The past indiscretions of bad eggs in the military must be unravelled and the perpetrators prosecuted, to serve as effective deterrent.
This is because the conclusions reached by the panels set up by both the Army and the Presidency to investigate allegations of extra-legal executions of civilians by the military in some of the previously staged military operations all around Nigeria, did not meet global best practices.
For instance, it is a notorious fact that during last year’s Operation Python Dance II in the South-east, pictorial and eye-witness accounts of several killings and torture of civilians trended.
But because the present government was all out to inflict maximum force against any perceived supporter of the hurriedly-proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), not many eye-witnesses who could give credible evidence appeared before the investigative panels. This writer is in possession of concrete proofs of gross human rights violations committed by the Army. The conducts of the defunct investigative panels did not meet best global practices, because they operated like persons hired to do a predetermined job, to burnish and garnish the waning public image of the military institution.
By the way, Army's internal Investigative Panelists were also part of those that constituted the government-empanelled body of investigators, which was headed by a jurist with considerable links to military authority. Most of the members were civil servants whose promotions or stability on their career paths may be imperiled should they decide to follow the way of independence and objectivity. The rest of the members are known affiliates of some military Generals. Critical questions of security and safety of real witnesses were not considered.
How were the sympathisers of the organisation that was hurriedly branded a terrorist group expected to show up to render evidence, when the Nigerian state was and is still all out to arrest, prosecute and detain any one with identifiable sympathy to this group?
This, precisely, was the reason for my resolute opposition to the arbitrary declaration of Indigenous People of Biafra as a terrorist group by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, even when the members have never professed arm struggle or use of force. How could IPOB sympathisers have genuinely tendered evidence before those panels when the current government has made the carrying of common flags of IPOB a punishable offence?
So, getting credible eye-witness accounts of the extra-legal killings was a near impossibility in the South-east.
The global rights body, Amnesty International, already documented a body of what is considered as believable evidences that can be relied upon to realistically deal with the issues of gross human rights abuses that actually took place during that military operations. But even the Amnesty International was declared persona non grata. How does any rational observer accept that the Nigerian State was willing to know the truth?
By the way, why should anyone be in doubt that human rights were abused by armed security forces during the last military operation when even the media were victimised, when soldiers invaded the premises of the Nigerian Union of Journalists and inflicted injuries, pains and agonies on the media workers in the Abia State capital? It got to a very notorious extent that the Abia State Government made a public broadcast to denounce the flagrant violations of the human rights of the citizens of that South-east state.
Still debating how some human rights violations took place in the South-east, we may have to read the well-thought-out remarks made by the President of the Igbo cultural body called Ohanaeze Ndigbo, in which this erudite Nigerian explicitly stated that, indeed, people died from the military operation to the South-east region.
Ohanaeze Ndigbo vowed that it would not rest until the Nigerian Army court marshals its officers involved in extra-judicial killings of Igbo youths during the Operation Python Dance II last year. It noted that soldiers massacred scores of youths, and that these civilians were massacred in the South-east during the exercise, stressing that the action was against the rules of engagement.
John Nnia Nwodo stated that the leadership of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, had since the end of the military exercise, followed with protests and correspondences to the Nigerian Army’s high command, about the killings of innocent Igbo during the operation, and would not relent until those involved were brought to book.
He said: “I had the opportunity to confront the Army over the Operation Python Dance, and they assured me that they will court martial all soldiers who are identified who were involved in the extra-judicial killing of our children, contrary to their rules of engagement. I have been following this matter with correspondence and I will continue to follow it, until we know those who massacred our children without cause and ensure they are brought to book.”
Nwodo, who lamented that the authorities had shown less concern in the massacre of no fewer than 700 Igbo youths of Delta State extraction by federal troops during the war, stated that the act should not be allowed to continue in Igbo land.
“I am happy that I led the national executive of Ohanaeze to Asaba last year when we remembered 700 of our people who were murdered by federal troops, contrary to the rules of engagement, similar to what we experienced during Operation Python Dance,” he said.
Chief Nwodo is a believer in the corporate existence of Nigeria. He is a very honest statesman. He served Nigeria as a federal minister. He has, therefore, nothing to gain by not standing behind his convictions.
This is the reason I am calling on the military authority to sincerely find ways of fishing out those who breached the rules of engagement during that controversial exercise in the entire South-east, so the impression is not created that the military can kill and go. The violators of Human Rights in the North-east of Nigeria must also be prosecuted.
My candid appeal to the military authority is to do the needful, to clean up the institution by punishing and prosecuting violators of human rights. And this is because the military as a critical constitutionally-created institution is obliged to operate within the confines of the rule of law.
Late Brig-Gen TEC Chiefe in his book, Military Law in Nigeria Under Democratic Rule, also alluded to the above imperative.
Albert Venn Dicey, described as a famous jurist, in his book Law of the constitution 1895, said as follows about the concept of rule of law:
“Rule of law can be defined from three different perspectives. Firstly, the rule of law regulates government power or activities by limiting arbitrariness and abuse, thereby making government more rational and intelligent in both its policies and actions. Secondly, the rule of law means equality before the law, that is, no person is above the lawbut that every person, whatever the rank or position is subject to the ordinary laws of the land. Thirdly, that the rule of law means formal or procedural justice.”
Chiefe opined: “As we have seen so far, the rule of law as a concept is meant to ensure that well-known rules and regulations take precedence over and above the arbitrary acts of individual sovereigns or governmental authority.”
Chiefe, who until his death headed the Legal Directorate at the Army Headquarters, argued that in relation to the conduct of military operations by the Nigerian armed forces, the rule of law ensures that from the outset, when troops are called out or committed to operations, and during the operations, the spirit and terms of the law must be followed.
The Chief of Army Staff is, therefore, tasked to ensure that all members of the armed security forces are sufficiently educated to understand the rudimentary details of this regulatory framework and must abide by the terms and conditions enshrined in these sets of rules that must comply with Chapter Four of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Army is pivotal to the maintenance of constitutional democracy, and so all eyes will be on the hierarchy of the Army to see how so effective it will implement and enforce the rules in line with constitutional norms and practices.
•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist (www.huriwanigeria.com, www.emmanuelonwubiko.com), is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).
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