Sagir Musa: Nigerian Army and allegations of human rights abuses – Daily Post Nigeria

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Human rights are basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death. These rights are fundamental, inalienable, natural and lawful and are attached to human existence. They are based on shared values like dignity, equality, fairness, respect and independence irrespective of sex, religion or ethnicity. Some of these rights include but not limited to rights to life, to peaceful assembly and association, freedom of movement, to have and express opinion, to family life, freedom of thought, conscience and religion. In Nigeria these rights are entrenched in chapter IV section 32 of the 1999 constitution.
Nigeria is a sovereign country with all the rights and privileges that goes with an independent nation. These rights are naturally extended to the citizens and violation of it is an abuse of such right. Hence, NA as a part of the Nigerian nation is not exempted from respecting these rights in or out of conflict situations.
The primary roles of the NA are to protect the territorial integrity of Nigeria and to assist the civil authority when called upon to do so. In discharging these constitutional responsibilities, there have been allegations of human rights violations against the NA by local and international human rights campaigners, – Civil Society Groups and Non Governmental Organizations like the Amnesty International, Transparency International and Human Rights Watch among others.
These allegations border on extra judicial killings, torture, extortion, arbitrary arrest and detention as well as sexual philandering or exploitation. Others are poor detention facility and pitiable medical access and supplies to suspects in military detention centers. These claims portray the NA in bad light, create rancor and distrust between the army and the civil populace, dampen the morale of troops in the operational arenas, have the tendency to distract the military leadership and malign the image and reputation of the NA.
Therefore, in order to address these accusations, the leadership of the NA has over the years, initiated and institutionalized certain measures intended to eliminate rights abuses by the personnel of the NA.
The NA has a Code of Conduct for its personnel which is a legal document, an ethical guide and a clear directive consisting of how members of the army should behave at any given time or situation. It is drawn based on the international human rights and humanitarian laws, and is a well thought-out and documented code and standard operating procedures especially for troops in operations. Any violation to any aspect of the document by any member of the NA attracts appropriate sanctions.
The extant tradition/rule in the NA is that for every illegal action or inaction, there must be consequences/retribution.For this reason; the tendency for rights abuses is being curtailed.
To ensure effective control of arbitrariness and lawlessness by NA personnel, deliberate, unambiguous rules or directives that define the circumstances, conditions, degree and manner in which the use of force or actions which might be construed as provocative may be applied, are given out by competent authority to every soldier on internal security operation. These rules are consistent, account for a variety of potential scenarios and the political and military aspects of a given situation. They describe appropriate action regarding unarmed mobs, the use of force in self defense, actions when faced with hostile fire, taking or treatment of prisoners and civilians among other issues.
In Nigeria, such awareness and the penchant for the respect for human rights by the military leadership, ensures that at all times, troops are aware of these rules before they are launched into the operational arena, and any violation is met with serious penalty. By so doing a lot of rights abuses are being checkmated.
Personnel of the NA are being trained on Military and Civil Laws, Laws of Armed Conflict/human rights Laws. Similarly, respect for others, selfless service, integrity, loyalty, professionalism and discipline have been some of the core values of the NA.
To ensure its personnel are sound in this regard, relevant seminars and workshops are occasionally being organized on legal awareness with a view to enhancing their capacity in legal acquaintance. Professional bodies such as the Nigerian Bar Association, Centre for Crisis Monitoring and Communications as well as some International NGOs like the International Committee of the Red Cross are periodically invited to deliver lectures/ training sessions on human rights, Laws of Armed Conflict and Protection of Civilians in Conflict Situations. The objective is to ensure that personnel respect human rights and are conscious of the consequences of their actions or inaction at any given situation.
On assumption of duty on July 2018, Lt Gen TY Buratai was never in doubt as to the enormous challenges he has to surmount in order to restore the dignity of an army and the nation terribly shattered by Boko Haram terrorists. As a polyvalent military strategist, he understands the key roles of excellent Civil Military Relations/Cooperation particularly in period of multiple, dynamic and intermestic security challenges such as terrorism, farmers – herdsmen clashes and violent secessionist agitation among others. And to this end, he instantly rejigged and empowered the Department of Civil – Military Affairs (DCMA) to function effectively, especially in the campaign for the protection and respect for human rights by the NA.
The first step taken to checkmate human rights abuses was to rejig and strengthen the DCMA. Consequently, sensitization workshops and campaigns on protection of human rights are dynamically conducted for members of the NA.
Similarly, corporate social responsibility projects like construction of boreholes, feeder roads, renovation of medical centres and schools among others across selected communities in Nigeria were conducted particularly during operations and exercises. This has endeared the troops to the locals and ushered in a sense of togetherness and mutual respect.
Likewise, the NA through the department, partners with some human rights organizations such as the United Nations (UN) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to develop capacity that will enhance professionalism and responsiveness in promoting humanitarian principles and conduct during operations. Such human rights sensitization workshops harped on operational civil – military interactions, humanitarian principles, perception, actions, guidelines, security and coordination as well as humanitarian access.
While declaring human rights workshop open in 8 Task Force Division, the Chief of Civil – Military Affairs Maj Gen Nuhu Angbazo who represented the COAS stated that “the NA has embarked on this sensitization workshop so that our troops can become knowledgeable in the Laws of Armed Conflicts and therefore avoid those unprofessional conducts that could destroy their career and tarnish the good image of the NA” (Vanguard, Jun 2018).
Another laudable initiative by the current NA leadership in its consistent efforts to checkmate right abuses was the establishment of Human Rights Desk at the Army Headquarters and in all the formation headquarters across the nation.The functions of the human rights desk include receiving documents; investigate complaints from individuals, organizations and institutions on rights violations involving NA personnel, make findings to the COAS on human rights complaints in the country, produce annual reports and reviews. Others are update existing training manuals, liaising and facilitating interaction with human rights organizations, strategize and strengthen capacity of the NA in promoting human rights.
While commissioning the human rights office at the Headquarters of 7 Division NA in Maiduguri, the COAS who was represented by the Chief of Civil – Military Affairs said “the establishment of the desk office was borne out of the increasing interest of local and international rights bodies on what the army is doing in the North East and other parts of Nigeria”. “The NA is trying to open up the system and close the gap with the civil populace, human rights bodies and Civil Society Organizations; the nature of inquiries, commentaries and claims from these institutions requires a response of professional and specialized in nature by the NA. What we are witnessing today has been facilitated by the Nigerian Bar Association and National Human Rights Commission”, he added.
At the occasion, the Senior Human Rights Adviser to the United Nations Resident Coordinator and UN Security Team in Nigeria, Mr Martin Ejidike commended the initiative of the NA. “The NA is setting important precedence for the human rights work in Nigeria. This will create a context of engagement and information sharing between the CSOs and the NA. The NA has done commendable work for improved human rights records. We want to extend the support of the UN system and to furnish you with technical support to the desk,” Ejidike assured (Daily Post, 18 Feb, 2016, Daily Trust 4 Oct, 2014).
On 19 June 2018, at a Military – Media – Public Awareness Programme at Jabi Motor Park, Abuja organized by CLEEN Foundation, the COAS through the Army Human Rights Desk Officer, Major Naazem Langpoe stated that -“the army is passionate about the rights of civilians, and had measures in place to ensure that rights of civilians are protected”.
“These measures include the opening of Free Toll Line 193, designated Toll Free Call Centre and Public Complaints Rapid Response Unit”. The offices and the toll line 193 are opened to members of the public whose rights have been infringed upon; they can always walk in to the office and lodge their complaints. Also during the first quarter COAS conference, the army has launched some books on respect for human rights during operations. All these are deliberate efforts by the NA’s leadership to eliminate rights abuses by its personnel.
In response to complaints of human rights abuses of detainees due to poor state of the detention facility in Giwa Barracks Maiduguri, in the areas of poor sanitary condition/ventilation, overcrowding and irregular water supply, the COAS has on Friday April 29, 2018, commissioned 400 capacity Joint Investigation Centre and Detention Cells for Boko Haram suspects in Maiduguri.The facilities are built with heat and ordour extractor, coupled with constructed borehole to enable detainees access water.
The COAS was represented by the then Theatre Commander, Operation LAFIYA DOLE, Maj Gen Rogers Nicholas who stated during the commissioning that – “this modern facility will go a long way in changing the narrative in the criticism of the Nigerian military, this is a clear indication that we welcome positive criticisms to see where we can improve on it, and this is what we have demonstrated here”, he added (Leadership, 29 Apr, 2018).
On the 15 November 2018, the NA leadership approved the commencement of the construction of additional holding facility to improve the management of detainees during investigations.
At the foundation laying ceremony, the Chief of Logistics NA, Maj Gen Enobong Udoh stated that the ongoing counter terrorism and counter insurgency operations in the North East, has made it mandatory for arrest and detention of suspected insurgents who must be properly taken care of in accordance with international best practices while in custody. According to him “the quest for a functional transit safe holding and detention facility, with adequate sanitary conditions for the effective management of suspected Boko Haram Terorists for further investigation activities, is the driving force behind the execution of this project by the COAS”.
At the occasion, Mr Markus Dolder, the Head of Sub Delegation of the ICRC, described the ground breaking ceremony as “indicative of the compliance of the NA with global best practices. This will further strengthen the cooperation between the army and stake holders, especially in the management of suspects undergoing investigation”.
The establishment of Special Board of Inquiry by the COAS in March 2017, to probe alleged cases of human rights violations leveled against the NA personnel, especially in the ongoing counter terrorism operation is another commendable effort to probe and checkmate human rights abuses by the NA.
During the inauguration of the board, Lt Gen Buratai stated that “Individuals and organizations like the Amnesty International reports, indigenous People of Biafra have made allegations of human rights violations of arrested Boko Haram Terrorists against some of our senior officers and commanders”. “The allegations range from extra-judicial executions, arbitrary arrests, detention, torture and enforced disappearance of suspected Boko Haram terrorists”. “These allegations are not good for civil-military relations and are capable of demoralizing NA personnel in the performance of their constitutional roles”, he added (Leadership, April, 29, 2018).
According to him, it is expedient to thoroughly and impartially investigate the allegations in order to find out the facts to enable relevant authorities to take appropriate actions. “Those wrongly accused should be exonerated, but those found guilty should be treated in line with the full military justice system”, he further stated (Punch, March 8, 2017).This further attests to the efforts being made by the NA to eliminate human rights infractions among its personnel.
Regular, timely and effective enforcement of extant rules/application of sanctions to human rights violators is one of the ways the NA uses to curtail human rights abuses by its personnel. At the moment, any confirmed case of rights infraction is being met with maximum punishment.
This way, human rights abuses are also drastically being curtailed in the NA.
The NA has made the establishment of information centre a key component of any exercise or operation. At the centre is where low scale briefing on the exercise to important dignitaries is conducted. Additionally, the centre serves as an avenue for information dissemination through the press to members of the public. Being the first point of call, such centre is open to members of the public with credible information or complaints especially where human rights are trampled upon. This way, rights abuses by the NA are checkmated during operations and exercises.
NA has also effectively encapsulated in the operations order the issues of respect for human rights and avoidance of collateral damages. All troops participating in any operation are sensitized and warned about these, and the consequences of disobedience to these instructions.
The allegations of human rights abuses against the NA, particularly in the conduct of counter insurgency operation are issue of great concern to the NA. Consequently, various actions have been taken to ensure that rights violations by NA personnel are fully curtailed.
Instructively, the three key concepts endemic in the COAS Lt Gen TY Buratai’s vision for the NA,- Professionalism, Responsiveness and Working within the ambit of the Constitution of Nigeria, – signify that excellent Civil – Military Relations anchored on adherence to the Rule of Law and Respect for Human Rights are necessary to the attainment of the vision.
In this regard, efforts are being made in the areas of strengthening of the existing Rules of Engagement, Code of Conduct, empowering the DCMA, sensitization workshops, establishment of Human Rights Desk, and establishment of Free Call Numbers and prompt enforcement of sanctions to rights violators among others with the aim of checkmating rights abuses by the NA.
Generally, currently, there is serious reduction in the reported cases or accusations of human rights violations against the NA. It is obvious with the present tempo of the NA, it is just a matter of time when rights abuses will be effectively curbed or eliminated.
Colonel Sagir Musa is the Deputy Director Public Relations 82 Division
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