By Emmanuel Onwubiko
Exactly two years today being Monday October 26th 2020 in the wake of the controversy over the handling of the endsars protests by the armed forces of Nigeria and the role played by them at the peak of the protests only six days back to that stated date, the then Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai addressed the multifaceted issues that evolved from those socio-political developments and gave robust responses to the charges made against the Army regarding the alleged violations of the fundamental human rights of the citizens.
We will very shortly return to evaluate those strong words of defense offered by the General then but first let us state that Nigeria has just had the celebration of the 62nd anniversary of the nation’s independence and this was marked with pomp and fanfare including high profile speech made as a national broadcast by the President Muhammadu Buhari which he used to highlight what he considered as his milestones since assuming power in 2015 and his last tenure which ends next year May but which commenced after the 2019 General election which his party the All Progressives Congress won the Presidency.
However, what was missing from that speech was the place of human rights in internal military operations or rather the government of the day and the current Chief of Army Staff did not brief Nigerians on how the military hierarchy is mainstreaming respect of the fundamental human rights of all Nigerians in the frequently conducted internal security operations. Nigeria is increasingly battling all kinds of armed non state actors constituting dangers to the national security of Nigeria. On the last count by the Security Tracker which is a think tank of a strategic institutional platform of the USA, over 52, 000 Citizens of Nigeria have been killed by terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and insurgents including armed herders. These upheavals therefore create the need for increased levels of internal security operations in Nigeria and when these are operationalised, there is bound to be explosions of accusations from the law abiding citizens about their constitutionally guaranteed fundamental freedoms being wantonly abused by men and officers of the Army essentially.
This is key to understanding the necessity for constant civil military dialogues and relationships.
The Independence day anniversary could have been used to try to seek the understanding of the populace and the closer partnership with the military to realise effective accomplishment of the Constitutional Mandates of the armed forces of Nigeria which in summary is to defend the territorial integrity of Nigeria and defend and uphold national security interests. That auspicious opportunity was missed.
Well, it is not too late for the current Army chief to do that.
Indeed the Army chief of Staff has a bigger platform to do that on December 10th 2022 being the international Human rights day.
His media minders had better table this issue before him timeously.
Now to the question of how the former and the longest served Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai mainstreamed human rights promotion and protection in all internal military operations, we will get the correct responses from that text of a media conference he addressed exactly two years today.
Then we will conclude by recalling what the current Army chief has said about what his men and officers must do to expand the frontiers of respect for the fundamental human rights of all Nigerians.
This is important because there are a lot of reports documenting human rights violations by the Army under the current leadership of the military just as always. But in the last two years the intensity of the reports against the Army are overwhelming no thanks to the slow response rate from the hierarchy on such matters.
But there is a particular report that has just hit the press about hundreds of women detained without prosecution allegedly by the Army in the South East of Nigeria which need to be addressed by the current hierarchy of the Army.
So understanding how the mind of the current Army chief of Staff works will in a long way determine if the issues arising from the accusations of human rights abuses against civilians made in the over a dozen reports, would be addressed satisfactorily.
Now to the press conference by the then Army chief of Staff coordinated by the then Army’s spokesman Colonel Sagir Musa.
He told Nigerians as follows-:
The Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt Gen Tukur Yusufu Buratai has just finished an important meeting with his Principal Staff Officers (PSOs), General Officers Commanding(GOCs) and Field Commanders this morning here at the Army Headquarters Conference Room.
At the meeting, the COAS Lt Gen TY Buratai made it unambiguously clear to the PSOs, GOCs and Field Commanders that there will be no room for disloyalty amongst all officers and soldiers of the Nigerian Army (NA). He directed that they (PSOs, GOCs and Field Commanders) must reiterate to all their subordinates that the NA is determined to ensure democratic stability in Nigeria as the only panacea for development and progress. General Buratai also said – “The best system of governance is democracy and we must all ensure that Nigeria’s democracy remains stable and steady. We will not allow any force, elements or destabilising agents in or outside our country to set our beloved country on fire. We remain resolute in doing everything possible to ensure that subversive elements, detractors and other enemies of this great nation do not achieve their aims and objectives of destabilisation”.
General Buratai drew the attention of all the participants at the meeting that – “The events of the past few days in our dear nation have shown the determination of some unscrupulous individuals and groups to destabilize Nigeria by all means. These individuals, groups and other undesirable elements have hijacked the peaceful #ENDSARS protest marches resulting to widespread violence, acts of wanton destruction and looting of public and private properties in many parts of the country. These acts led to the imposition of curfew in several states of the federation” – he stated.
He also said that right from the onset of ENDSARS protest, the NA has been aware of the grand design by the sponsors of the protests to draw it into the crisis. The plan was to embark on massive propaganda to discredit the military and the government so as to set the people against the NA once it is called out to aid the civil authorities. The NA being aware of the devilish plan was careful not to be dragged in and issued the initial warning through a press release on 14 October 2020 of our resolve to secure and safeguard a United Nigeria. Now the detractors alongside their local and international collaborators have mischievously and deliberately misrepresented troops’ efforts to ensure compliance with the curfew imposed by legitimate civil authorities in Lagos and other states. These agitators are falsely accusing the NA of being responsible for the activities of the miscreants despite glaring evidence to the contrary. They have continually threatened to report the NA to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and also threatened various forms of sanctions against personnel and their families. Thankfully however, a large percentage of Nigerians and the international community have started seeing through the smokescreen of falsehood and deliberate misrepresentation of facts being orchestrated by enemies of Nigeria and have retracted their earlier false publications.
The COAS further said -“Despite all these, the NA has continued to exercise restraint applied all the Principles of Internal Security Operations and fully abided by the internationally recognized Rules of Engagement as contained in our published Standard Operating Procedures for Internal Security Operations which are derived from the International Human Rights Laws and are in accordance with the international principles guiding the use of force”. He used the opportunity to re-emphasize that none of the PSOs, GOCs, Field Commanders and other officers and soldiers of the NA should be afraid of the ICC for carrying out their legitimate duties as stated in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and other extant laws, rules and regulations of Nigeria. He further averred that -“They have every right under the Constitution to carry out assigned and legitimate roles of maintaining law and order in aid of civil authorities and other security agencies. He reiterated that anyone who doubts their commitment to their constitutional responsibilities must be made to know that they remain committed, loyal and unwavering in ensuring the unity, stability and security of our dear country Nigeria. He charged them to show the detractors and other elements of destabilization that they are neither part of them nor in anyway supportive of their activities at all times. He directed that any act of arson or attempt to kill or maim any military or security personnel and other law abiding civilians must be responded to quickly and decisively.
According to him -“In dealing with any security threat, they must fully cooperate with personnel of the Nigerian Police Force and other security agencies and must ensure that everyone is in full compliance with imposed curfews and any other extant security instructions in force”.
General Buratai also alerted the PSOs, GOCs and Field Commanders that -“The recent activities by unscrupulous elements have shown their desire to acquire arms and ammunition at all cost from security personnel. No less than 10 AK-47 rifles have been lost to these miscreants in the past 2 weeks across the country with attendant lost of lives of personnel. He charged Commanders to nip in the bud this emerging trend at all cost, and directed them to warn their troops on internal security or on guard duties outside the barracks to be at maximum alert at all times and to also deal decisively with any attack on their duty locations”. General Buratai concluded that – “There is no choice between a democratically United, strong and prosperous Nigeria and a nation disunited in a state of anarchy and retrogression. We must all strive for a united, strong, stable and progressive Nigeria”.
At the end of the meeting, the PSOs, GOCs and Field Commanders resolved to: Remain Loyal to the Federal Government of Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari; Ensure the unity and indivisibility of our country; Assist the Federal Government to bring an end to insecurity across the country and to prevent miscreants and criminals from hijacking the ENDSARS protest nation wide; Remain focus and not to be deterred by any local or international threats; All Commanders have been directed to intensify joint training with the Nigerian Police and other Sister Security Agencies to enhance interagency collaboration and cooperation; Finally, I wish to extend the appreciation and best regards of the COAS.
Fast forward to the present time and the focus will be on what the Army said it is doing to ensure that human rights of citizens are maintained by soldiers during internal military operations.
This is even as the Nigerian Army launched three field training exercises to tackle the security challenges in four geopolitical zones of the country.
These exercises – Still Water, Enduring Peace and Golden Dawn – are to be conducted simultaneously in South-East, South-South, South-West and North-Central regions.
“They will be conducted in collaboration with sister security agencies, including the Nigeria Police, Department of State Services, Air Force, Immigration, NDLEA, NSCDC, FRSC, Federal Fire Service, as well as other stakeholders who will provide the necessary support for the exercise,” said the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Farouk Yahaya.
Yahaya, who flagged off the exercises at an event on Monday in Enugu State, believes the exercises will confront the multifaceted and contemporary security challenges prevalent in different parts of the country.
The army chief explained that the aim of the exercises was to restore law and order in the affected regions, as well as create enabling environment for socio-economic activities to thrive.
He asked officers and soldiers to remain professional, steadfast and diligent in the discharge of their responsibilities in consonance with the objectives of the exercises.
Yahaya also urged troops to ensure the respect and protection of fundamental human rights of the people in line with the provisions of the Constitution as they discharge their responsibilities.
He called on the people to be law-abiding and cooperate with security agencies in order to restore law and order in the country.
The army chief stated that the exercises, which would later metamorphose into real operations, would witness collaboration with other security agencies in the area of exchange of ideas and sharing of intelligence.
In his remarks, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, Major General Taoreed Lagbaja, assured the army chief of the readiness of the Division to combat all security threats and crimes within the region.
He also warned all criminals within the area of responsibility to desist from their atrocious activities or get ready to face the wrath of the law.
Meanwhile, Yahaya presented a patrol vehicle to the 82 Division, saying the gesture was to empower Regimental Sergeant Majors (RSMs) of the army.
“This empowerment scheme will enable the RSMs to effectively carry out their duties as custodians of traditions and regimentation of the NA,” he was quoted as saying in a statement by the Director of Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu.
The flag-off was witnessed by various commanders, heads, and representatives of other security agencies in Enugu state.
It is heartwarming that the Army has said it will respect human rights.
The challenge for the Army as I write is to prove that it is not easier said than done but that action speaks louder than words.
There is need for openness and accountability in dealing with issues that are about human rights violations so it is known by all and sundry that the authority of the Army mean every words that have been stated on the commitments and readiness of the military institutions to operate within rules of engagement and global vest practices. It will not augur well for the image of the military institutions if the idea is globalised that the operatives sent out on internal security operations are left to carry out those assignments in such a way that the tenets of the laws are abused and then MIGHT BECOMES RIGHT. The onus is on the current holder of that high office of Chief of Army Staff.
*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.