Boko Haram: Nigerian Military Officers On The Spot | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Cover Choice, POLITICS

Boko Haram: Nigerian Military Officers On The Spot

Posted: Jun 7, 2015 at 12:01 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Augustine Adah and Ifeoma Ononye, Lagos

Politics AI Case Against Officers

The case against the officers was made in a new 133-page report based on hundreds of interviews, including military sources, and leaked defence ministry documents. The allegations were predicated on thousands of people which the body claimed were extra-judicially murdered by the security forces and its civilian vigilante allies, as well as crimes against those held in military custody.

“In the course of security operations against Boko Haram in north-east Nigeria, Nigerian military forces have extra-judicially executed more than 1,200 people; they have arbitrarily arrested at least 20,000 people, mostly young men and boys,” the report said.

It added that Nigerian forces “have committed countless acts of torture; hundreds, if not thousands, of Nigerians have become victims of enforced disappearance; and at least 7,000 people have died in military detention as a result of starvation, extreme overcrowding and denial of medical assistance.”

AI called for army commanders based in the Northeast to be “investigated for potential responsibility for war crimes of murder, enforced disappearances and torture,” and that top service chiefs in Abuja “should be investigated for their potential command responsibility for crimes committed by their subordinates given that they knew or should have known about the commission of the crimes, and failed to take adequate action.”

Hague-based ICC has opened a preliminary investigation into the Boko Haram conflict which, Amnesty claimed, has led to the death of no fewer than 17,000 people since 2009. The tribunal has previously said there was insufficient evidence tying Nigeria’s military to systematic and orchestrated atrocities targeting civilians.

The report, which includes new claims on specific acts of murder committed by Nigerian soldiers in the northeast, however noted that, “Amnesty International believes that the evidence contained in this report and submitted separately to the (ICC) Office of the Prosecutor is sufficient to reopen this issue.”

Amnesty International went on to state that it had separately shared its evidence with the ICC prosecutor’s office.

DHQ Denies AI Claims

Regardless, Defence Headquarters, on Wednesday, in Abuja, said the report by Amnesty International that accused some senior military officers, serving and retired, of war crimes, was intended to blackmail the Nigerian Military.

The position of Defence Headquarters was made in a statement issued by the Director of Defence Information, Maj.-Gen. Chris Olukolade.

Olukolade said the Defence Headquarters had noted with dismay the gruesome allegations made by the Amnesty International against some senior military officers, serving and retired, of the Nigerian Armed Forces. He said it was unfortunate that all efforts made in the allegation were geared toward continuation of blackmail against the military hierarchy.

According to him, Amnesty International had embarked upon the blackmail as far back as the inception of the military’s action against terrorists in the North-East. He said the officers mentioned in the report had no reason whatsoever to indulge in the allegation made against them.

Olukolade said it was unfortunate that the organisation just went out to gather names of specified senior officers, in a calculated attempt to rubbish their reputation as well as the image of the military.

His words: “The action, no doubt, depicts more of a premeditated indictment aimed at discrediting the country for whatever purpose. Each of the previous allegations had been thoroughly responded to and cleared in the public and officially. The title, down to the body of the allegation smacks of the extreme bias, which is disturbing, coming from an otherwise reputable organisation that is expected to be Just and fair to all. Unfortunately in this case, it has taken a premeditated position, which is far from noble.”

He also said it was curious that a body that had never been able to seriously condemn terror in Nigeria now claimed to have done an extensive research with the aim of discrediting the nation’s effort at curtailing terror.

“It is clear that Amnesty International (AI) becomes more active in presenting distractive allegations whenever the terrorists are losing ground in the battle.

“It is very unfortunate that Amnesty International has used this report to further confirm its questionable interest in the counter-terrorism efforts in Nigeria,” he said.

The Defence Spokesman recalled that the Joint Investigation Team was set up by the Defence Headquarters as part and parcel of efforts to ensure that no detainee suffered unjustly.

He assured that the detention facilities were thrown open for visits and inspections by independent bodies such as International Committee of the Red Cross and other reputable international organisations and personalities.

He advised Amnesty International to stop playing the role of an irritant coming up loudly only when the terrorists were losing out and remaining silent or complacent whenever the terrorists heightens their atrocities.

Olukolade said it was unfair to persist in effort to discredit Nigerian military by seeking all avenues to stigmatise individual officers of the nation’s military. He lamented that the stigimatisation was purely to satisfy an agenda against the security agencies and image of Nigeria before the international community.

He noted that the Nigerian Armed Forces were quite conscious of the fact that the operation had prompted the need to save citizens from abuse of their rights by mindless terrorists.

Accordingly, the forces have continued to state and restate its commitment to the rights of Nigerians and all its citizens while prosecuting its anti-terrorism campaign.

Hear him: “It is very unfortunate that Amnesty International has chosen to ignore all the responses and clarifications provided to its enquiries by the authorities. It is unfair to rely on records or reports provided by certain disgruntled elements or faceless collaborators who have axe to grind with the system as evidence against officers who have been conscientiously doing our duty to defend the nation and its citizens.”

He said the Nigerian Military did not encourage or condone abuse of human rights, neither would any proven case be left unpunished. He said the kind of impunity being alleged by Amnesty International had no place in the Nigerian Military. According to him, every officer in the field is responsible for his action and is duly held accountable.

He said so far, no allegation had been sufficiently proved against those whom Amnesty International was so desperate to convict, and he noted that the statistics were largely spurious or manipulated to satisfy a clandestine motive.

He said the loud publicity given to these damning allegations suggested an intention to blackmail the military, “and particular, senior officers rather than a sincere advise to the government. This cruel tendency is not new, despite the timing.”

He maintained the position of the military that the report was biased and concocted.

Buhari Assures Nigerians

Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed confidence in the ability of the Nigerian military to eradicate the menace of Boko Haram, having earned a good reputation across the world as a virile fighting force. Buhari spoke in Niamey, Niger Republic, at an interactive session with journalists after talks with President Issoufou Mahamadou of Niger.

“I am four days in office today and we have already started the process of ending the insurgency,” the President said.

He explained that his previous day’s meeting with heads of Armed Forces and Security Agencies reviewed on-going operations against Boko Haram for better results.

Buhari noted that because of the peculiarities of terrorism, the movement of terrorists across borders and the unconventional nature of the war against terror, Nigeria would continue to seek the support of neighbouring countries in its bid to overcome the insurgents.

Mixed Reactions from Commentators

Just as some people questioned the credibility of the report, others wanted the government to carry out the prosecution of those involved.

The former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, was one of the few that support the Amnesty report. He described the call by Amnesty International for the trial of some soldiers who committed crime against civilian populations in the north-east as timely and a welcome development.

Musa in a telephone conversation with Daily Independent said such trials would be in the interest of the country. “I believe the trial is in the interest of humanity and Nigeria government,” he said.

He stated that a lot of civilian populations were targeted by the military operations in course of fighting Boko Haram insurgency in the north-east of the country stated that the action was against humanity and must not go unpunished.

“A lot of people, especially civilian populations, who could be more than those killed by Boko Haram members were subjected to torture or killed by the military which in a civilized society such action deserves prove and those found guilty must face the law.”

Nevertheless, some hours after the report was released, Constitutional lawyer, Emeka Etiaba, countered the Amnesty International Report by saying that the report is not enough to commence prosecution.

Etiaba told Daily Independent that the mere fact that the Amnesty International called for the prosecution of these senior military officers over their alleged roles in violations of people’s rights is not enough to commence trial as according to him the issue is not civil in nature but criminal and as such it requires proper in estimation to ascertain the level of their culpability of innocence as the case may be.

His words: “My take on it is that the prosecution of such matters is not a civil matter but a criminal so that means there should be a thorough investigation, as such whatever evidence Amnesty International claims to have must be subjected to a thorough investigation, let them furnish whatever report that they have to the appropriate authorities for an independent investigation. The mere fact that they called for the prosecution of these military officers is not enough to go ahead and rush to court, it must be properly investigated by the security agencies after which the next line if action would now be known.

Similarly, Human rights lawyer, Fred Agbaje, agreed that Amnesty International did not have sufficient facts for a prosecutable case. He explained that the report is deficient for relevant crime and therefore has no prosecutable case.

“I am not saying that they should not be brought to justice if they committed a crime. All I am saying that the facts and evidence should be right before you prosecute,” he said.

Rumble in the South-East

The report also stirred up warnings from South-Eastern group, Ohaneze Ndigbo. Ohaneze Ndigbo warned President Muhammadu Buhari, the International Community, and Amnesty International that another civil war would break out if attempts were made to touch the former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika, who was named among officers recommended for prosecution.

The President of the youth wing of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Okechukwu Isiguzoro, told journalists in Umuahia that the new scheme was only targeted at the former Chief of Staff because of his spirited efforts to ensure that the insurgents did not over-ride the entire country.

Speaking against the backdrop of the promise by President Buhari to implement the report handed over to him by Amnesty, Isiguzoro wondered why the Nigerian President would give such a promise without first studying the report and finding out what the overall intention of Amnesty was.

According to him, the general intention of Amnesty was to totally allow Boko Haram and other insurgency groups that may crop up to have the upper hand by first of all crippling those who had played key roles in containing their excesses, and those who were currently battling to subdue their movement.

“The last insult Ndigbo can take from those who think they are the owners of Nigeria is to allow them to touch Gen. Ihejirika who served his fatherland meritoriously,” Isiguzoro said, insisting that the hate programme against Ndigbo was because of their overwhelming support for the immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan.

“What Gen. Ihejirika and other military personnel who staked their lives fighting Boko Haram deserves is commendation and not politically motivated prosecution. Where was Amnesty International when Boko Haram fighters were annihilating Christians in Northern Nigeria? Where was AI when Boko Haram was throwing bombs inside churches, motor parks and killing innocent Nigerians?”