Amnesty International, in an unusual report alleged violation of human rights in the military operations against Boko Haram insurgents in Northern Nigeria. No close observer of those events would be surprised at the report, given unofficial accounts emanating from the area of military operations.
The reaction of the military authorities to the Amnesty International report is to say the least irritating and must therefore be countered. After a week of embarrassing silence, army hierarchy eventually seemed to find its voice but only to worsen matters.
Initially, lower ranking officers claimed either to be still studying the report or spoke through the BBC world service radio that Nigerian soldiers are professionals who would not violate the human rights of fellow citizens. Did that answer the criminal allegations made in the Amnesty International report?
And as if to reinforce the findings of the Amnesty International report, a day later, there was another report on the BBC world radio service that some 50 unarmed male Nigerians were gathered and shot by soldiers somewhere in Borno State. Hospital staff confirmed the deposit of at least 40 bodies in mortuaries.
Yet, Nigerian Army authorities said if Amnesty International discovered during its investigations that soldiers mis-conducted themselves during operations, such criminal acts should have been brought to the notice of Nigerian Army. Such argument of convenience is untenable. Highly-placed and well-respected Nigerians had drawn the attention of army authorities to the crimes against humanity.
Reportedly close to (and perhaps in) tears, Emir of Kano, Ado Bayero had to publicly complain that he saw his male subjects cut down in cold blood by men in uniform (a plausible euphemism for military or police uniform). Before him, another top Nigerian, Shettima Ali Monguno (a first generation politician) openly demanded the withdrawal of soldiers from Brno because of their atrocities he noted. Monguno likened the situation to the pre-war crisis in the North in 1966.
With such eminent Nigerians on record, the Amnesty International report only confirms what had been going on. It is not even clear if Amnesty International deserves any commendation for its belated focus on crimes against humanity in Nigeria. Where was Amnesty International when the same Nigerian security personnel wiped out an entire Odi village in Bayelsa State under Olusegun Obasanjo?
Where was Amnesty International when Nigerian soldiers committed crimes against humanity in Zaki Biam in Benue State? If Amnesty International had highlighted the massacre in Odi and Zaki Biam, perhaps Boko Haram version might have been averted. Despite this, Amnesty International still serves a purpose. The agency’s problem all along was its relationship with, indeed, soft spot for the prevailing Nigerian leadership.
This is not an alibi for either President Goodluck Jonathan or the Boko Haram insurgents. The point must also be made that even in its current report, Amnesty International is half-hearted or what is the meaning of violation of human right in the anti-Boko Haram military operations?
The simple language is state murder of citizens without due process of law – arrest, trial and conviction before execution. And when the number of such cases rises to scores, hundreds and thousands to warrant the concern of not only fellow Nigerians but also Amnesty International in particular, that is crime against humanity, the very crime Amnesty International seems (too) feeble to slap on Nigeria. On its part, Boko Haram is a lawless group without any obligation to or value for humanity or society. To that extent, Boko Haram stands condemned and indefensible for its criminal activities of murdering fellow citizens, bombings of churches and unlawful violation of the fundamental human rights guaranteed under the constitution for every Nigerian to pursue freedom of worship and choice of religion.
When therefore Boko Haram insists on imposing its religious belief under the constitution on even fellow Muslims and Christians, that, at best is threatening behavior portending anarchy and consequently treason. Accordingly, government has the duty to protect the constitutional rights of potential victims of Boko Haram’s unprovoked aggression.
However, on no account must the government or security personnel descend low to the level of Boko Haram. By all means, Boko Haram must be contained. But whatever action of government along those lines must be strictly within Nigerian and international laws, for obvious reasons. While Nigerian government functionaries can be liable for trial for alleged crimes against humanity, no Boko Haram chap is as easily liable for the same crime.
The way out for Nigerian government or security personnel is therefore not to deny or try to discredit the allegations of Amnesty International. It is, for example, ridiculous and self incriminating for army authorities to challenge Amnesty International for not disclosing its sources of information on the allegations of violation of human rights. When Joint Task Force wipes out those it often describes as Boko Haram militants and justifies its actions on information supplied by patriotic Nigerians, that is no more than Amnesty International sourcing its reports to information supplied by concerned citizens. Pointedly, does JTF specify its informants?
What is more, there is abundant circumstantial evidence from the notorious reputation of Nigerian security personnel to justify Amnesty International report on violation of human rights in Nigeria. At the height of the agitation of Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), Nigerian soldiers leveled villages if not towns in Niger Delta. In 1999, Nigerian security personnel wiped out Odi village in Bayelsa State. Years later, Nigerian soldiers massacred hundreds of unarmed villagers in Zaki Biam in Benue State. At the onset of Boko Haram, its leader, Mallam Yussuf was arrested alive by Nigerian soldiers and pictured to the world bare-chested.
Handed over to Nigerian police, what happened to Boko Haram leader Yusuf? He was murdered and till today, nothing has been said officially about the man’s death, despite a purported investigation of the incident. Almost two years ago, a senior police officer was killed by the mob at Ijebu-Ife, Ogun State.
In retaliation and without recourse to legal procedure to bring the killers to book, a group of policemen invaded the town and murdered as many able-bodied men they could find. Again, last time at military barracks along Badagry road, senior police officers on a peace and reconciliation mission over the death of a military officer at a check-point, were murdered. Of course, it is intolerable that senior or even lower rank security personnel should be killed by the mob in whatever situations. But such sad incidents should be no excuse for soldiers or policemen to sustain their notorious operational method of reacting like mad dogs.
It seems all-round deterioration set in with independence in 1960. Under colonial rule, whatever the provocation, legal procedure would be followed. In 1958, there were large-scale riots throughout the defunct western region of Nigeria in protest over the death of opposition leader Adegoke Adelabu in a motor accident. Among the fatal victims of the riots wee policemen.
But to halt the potential anarchy, Nigeria police (under colonial rule) did not massacre either the rioters or innocent law-abiding on-lookers. Instead, suspects were arrested, investigated and tried in various law courts under the legal procedure. Those found guilty, scores of them, were duly hanged. That is the law, even today. A situation where supposed disciplined security personnel will go on rampage in the unlawful role of complainants, prosecutors and judges to inflict death on even criminal riot culprits must be prevented from becoming the norm.
When I wrote in this column against the massacre at Odi, Zaki Biam and Niger Delta in the past, the aim was to be in a position to similarly condemn any massacre in the future, such as contained in the Amnesty International report. The massacre document by Amnesty International must not rattle or provoke Nigerian government or military officers. Such is not uncommon in military operations. Official reaction in such situations, which Nigerian authorities must embrace, is to investigate and punish the security personnel involved. During Vietnam war, American soldiers were exposed to have carried criminal massacre in My Lai Village, South Vietnam. Instantly, American government directed full scale investigation and guilty officers and other ranks were convicted and dismissed from the army.
Some months ago, American soldiers found guilty of urinating on the corpses of Afghans killed during operations were tried and convicted to prepare them for dismissal from the army. And only a fortnight ago, American Staff Sergeant Robert Bales was arraigned on a sixteen-count charge of murder and other crimes while serving in Afghanistan. The massacre of innocent civilians around Boko Haram environment, as documented by Amnesty International, is no doubt, a fallout of government capitulation to foreign and domestic pressure as if the criminal Boko Haram insurgents are not fellow Nigerians.
When such foreign pressure mounts, President Goodluck Jonathan should be bold enough to remind or even enlighten the foreign do-gooders (and some fellow Nigerians) that at a stage during its history, any country can experience its share of domestic insurgency. Boko Haram insurgency must therefore be contained strictly within military code of conduct for combat operations to ensure the safety of defenceless non-combatants.
In the sixties, United States had its experiences of domestic insurgency with nation-wide bombings by terrorists claiming to be WEATHER MEN. Throughout the emergency, there was no massacre or criminal murder of innocent ones. The BLACK PANTHER group led by late Stokeley Carmichael also came and were not massacred by America’s national guard. Britain had to confront IRISH REPUBLICAN ARMY (IRA) insurgency in 1968 with strict code of conduct for the security personnel to ensure no massacre. And when overzealous security operatives unlawfully murdered innocent ones in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1972, successive British governments were barraged with public demands for investigations into the Black Sunday massacre.
Les than twenty Irish men were killed in the 1972 tragedy. But it fell the lot of current Prime Minister David Cameron, to apologise last year on behalf of British government to the relatives of the deceased. And only last week, an IRA terrorist was believed to have ambushed the warder of a prison where IRA bombers are serving time. The terrorist killed the warder on motor highway with a shotgun and escaped. Security forces did not, on account of the warder’s murder, invade the area of the incident to kill indiscriminately in retaliation.
The British government standard of investigating cases of official murder or massacre by security personnel should be the yardstick for Nigerian government and its security forces in reacting to the series of criminal acts documented by the Amnesty International report on operations against the Boko Haram bombers. Lately, there have been strange developments in the operations again Boko Haram in the North.
The tactic crept in rather surreptitiously. Said to be armed robbers, the gang usually comprises at least well-armed men killing any number of innocent Nigerians returning from early morning prayers, from mosques. If the murderers usually number up to 20, we can only guess the number of victims killed. It first happened in Kaduna, and that was suspected to have caused the recent bombing of a church in the city in retaliation with some churchgoers killed by the murderous bombers. This particular incident almost caused inter-religious fratricide.
A similar incident occurred later in Zamfara State. Are these parts of the country not supposed to be under tight security to combat the Boko Haram insurgents? Nigeria cannot brush aside the Amnesty International report. What with the operation pattern in Boko Haram areas? All we are told is the killing of the insurgents. So far, how many of them have been killed? What are the identities of those killed? How and where were they buried? Obviously in mass graves. How many of such mass graves exist? Were their relations informed?
Poor families in suspected Boko Haram areas now experience the disappearance of hundreds and perhaps thousands of their able bodied females after night round-ups. Such families are now in grief. One way to challenge the Amnesty International report is to open such mass graves to the public, tell Nigerians the number and identities of the deceased. With OPC in South-West, MEND in Niger Delta, MASSOB in South East, MOSOP in Ogoni, along with BOKO HARAM in the North, all these groups have the potential for insurgency in the future, each of them defining the legitimacy of their grievances.
If and when the time comes, you don’t have to agree with them first as many Nigerians today do agree with Boko Haram. It is, however, essential to speak out on today’s violation of human rights as documented by Amnesty International on Boko Haram so that none of the other contemporary groups will warrant its own lot of Amnesty International Report on tomorrow’s violation of human rights. Over to you National Assembly, Nigerian Bar Association, Nigerian media and civil rights groups.