By Omoba Kenneth Aigbegbele
Do your worst and we will do our best. – Sir Winston Churchill
The Nigerian Army has never had it so good for several years in its public image until the present Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen. T.Y. Buratai, took over the mantle of leadership, and in lightning military operations had the stronghold of Boko Haram at Sambisa Forest (Camp Zero) in Borno State captured, and their ferocity degraded. This new turn of positive events all over the North East, Nigeria made the Military proud both locally and internationally.
The Military leadership’s new sense of urgency, patriotism, transparency, rules of engagement and direction in the fight against insurgency and criminality galvanized the troops. The enormous improvement in military equipment, fire-power and the overall capabilities, displayed in military operations/exercises (with exotic names) all over the country, coupled with the string of military successes recorded against Boko Haram all helped to turn around the image of the Nigerian Army across the globe. But this did not go down well with just one entity, who against reasonableness, had turned deaf ears to this positive development in Nigeria. This entity, and international Non-Governmental Organization, NGO, is Amnesty International. Also its blindness to the Military’s impressive achievements in the North-East is ultimately strange..
Since 2011, Nigeria and the international community have continuously given a pat on the back of Nigeria’s military for their national sacrifices in keeping the country united and stable in spite of the daunting challenges faced not only in the North-East war-front, but also nation-wide in the fight against criminality. But Amnesty International since the last decade till now sees nothing good in Nigeria’s Military at all.
As already noted by many Nigerians, it has been an unceasing campaign of calumny by Amnesty International against the Nigerian Military with deliberately falsified reports. For example, a few years ago, Amnesty International had reported the death of 240 people including babies in Borno as well as another 177 pro-Biafran agitators, but the Military Headquarters reacted sharply, calling it another spurious fabrication aimed at tarnishing the image of the Nigerian military. The military spokesperson said: “Activities of Amnesty International in our nation have shown that it never means well for Nigeria and the situation is getting clearer to national and international observers. The lopsidedness in Amnesty’s portrayal of Nigeria, its involvement in the local politics and tacit support for terrorists and other belligerent groups, to cause internal disorder, in the country, remain acceptable to Nigeria and other nations.
Emphasizing that the Military in this new dispensation has maintained open door policy and cooperation with all stakeholders in ensuring that its forces maintain the best practices in the war against insurgents, the spokesperson said: “It is regrettable that Amnesty makes spurious allegations, without substantiating for the best reason known to it and its collaborators. This is disturbing and unethical of an international organization that is supposed to stay clear of local politics and to be seen as maintaining neutrality in its reportage of the countries it operates in.”
Concluding that “incessant negative reports on Nigeria in general and the Armed Forces in particular by Amnesty is condemnable by all well-meaning Nigerians who have seen and appreciated what the military and other security agencies have done to contain insurgents and other criminal elements in the country.
The spokesman added: “The Amnesty’s infamous act only succeeds in giving an insight to the possibility of the organization sponsoring various criminal gangs in our country with a view to achieving the sponsor’s intent. As much as the military welcomes comments, criticisms and observations that could help the institution to improve for the interest of the nation, the activities of the Amnesty to say the least, are far from being noble, its negative mission in Nigeria, is clear for all to see.
“Amnesty International is an agent of destabilization, masquerading as a reputable international NGO, which Nigerians must resist. Amnesty must not be given the chance to truncate our hard-earned democracy and unity.”
In furtherance of its antics in 2016, Amnesty Intentional reported the alleged mass abuse in the handling of the on-going anti-terrorism war in the North-East, and which was also faulted by the Nigerian Army. According to Maj-Gen. Lucky Irabor, the theatre commander, Operations Lafiya Dole, while addressing newsmen in Maiduguri, Borno State, on March 1, 2016: “Whereas the contents of the Amnesty’s report have been condemned, I wish to join in the condemnation by saying that the troops of Operation Lafiya Dole are professional in conduct and disposition. They operate within the strict guidance of the rules of engagement and the code of conduct for troops.
“What needs to be clear is that we have observed a consistent attack pattern on the Military charged with the mandate to protect the nation against every form of insecurity. During the trying days of this operation, Amnesty and other agents, working against our nation, tried fruitlessly to incite the populace against the military, through various malicious publications.
“In spite of their distractions, we forged ahead and degraded Boko Haram. We worked assiduously to improve on our civil-military relations, the result of which is manifest in the unparalleled support, accolades and encouragement we have received from the populace. This position seems to have disappointed Amnesty and their ungodly allies.”
Irabor added: “It is sad that when our national security institutions are gaining traction, these agents after fabricating their reports, sit back and push Nigerians to make the reports known to the public just to give a national colour of some sort. We must rise up and stand against this subtle and increasing level of neo-colonialism. We all have a role to play in this direction. Our national institutions must be strengthened. It is our responsibility to do so, no one can love Nigeria better than Nigerians, I only ask you, the press, to shine your eyes.”
Also Amnesty International’s 2017/2018 human rights report accused the Nigerian military of arbitrarily arresting and detaining thousands of young men, women and children. It stated that 65 attacks were carried out causing 411 civilian deaths in 2017; that in May, 82 Chibok girls abducted in 2014 were released, 16 women including 10 police women abducted in June. Other highlights of the reports said that Internally Displaced Persons of 1.7 million live in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, including 35 per cent in camps while 61 per cent live in host countries, and that the UN said that 5.4 million people in the North East remain in urgent need of food assistance. It also said that the Army released 593 detainees in April and 760 in October, 4,900 held in extremely over-crowded facility in Giwa barracks, where diseases, dehydration, torture, ill-treatment and starvation have killed at least 340. The killing of 12 IPOB members by soldiers in Umuhia, Abia State, was also included in the report.
In its response to the report, the Defence Headquarters berated Amnesty for its unjust, biased and unsubstantiated report, saying that, “the indictment is a gross disservice to the nation’s high security command, especially so when it “has made it a routine to generate tension among Nigerians by releasing unconfirmed and unsubstantiated claims and figures relating to the military operations in the country to the public.”
The Acting Director, Defence Information, Brig Gen. John Agim, said the Amnesty’s allegations have followed specific trends and possibly “ill-conceived to frustrate the on-going US-Nigeria anti-terrorism cooperation.” He said this action seems to “be geared towards weakening the efforts of the armed forces of Nigeria at ensuring peace and security in the country,” and claimed that the organization’s allegations made against the Military since 2011 to date “are largely unsubstantiated.”
He said that this height of unprofessionalism in giving unsubstantiated figures of persons detained and killed, has unfortunately, failed to acknowledge the on-going fair trial and conviction of culpable members of the dreaded Boko Haram sect and the release of those not found guilty, the number of persons released, re-orientated, de-radicalized and re-integrated with the larger community.
He explained that both the convicted and freed suspects were earlier arrested from different locations across the country and taken to Kainji, a place that is relatively safer with enough space to accommodate them while providing the detainees with three square meals daily. The suspects were also given proper medical attention by military medical team attached to the detention facility.
He said: “It is notable that the arrested Boko Haram members from the on-going ‘Operation Lafiya Dole’ were being tried by the Federal High Court at Wawa Cantonment, Kainji, since Friday, February 16, 2018, convicting 205 detainees to various jail terms while 526 suspects have been freed for want of evidence.
“Other sins of the Nigerian Government as captured by the Amnesty in its report included infringing the rights of lesbians, gay, bi-sexual and transgender as well as intersex persons. These so-called rights have been strictly outlawed by the Federal Government of Nigeria subsuming the Nigerian constitution as well as the cultural practices of our people.”
According to him, “however, if Almnesty feels strongly against the position of the Nigerian people on these issues and wants to assist the victims, they could facilitate the exit of this class of people to other places across the world that accept such practices as it may not be necessary for them to remain Nigerians.”
Echoing that “generally, the authenticity and sources of figures generated by Amnesty are worrisome,” the military high commands said they were never contacted for clarification or guidance. The Defence Headquarters said on its own it made concerted efforts to meet with the country management of Amnesty to discuss related issue without success, as they had consistently failed to show up.”
The Defence Headquarters further stated that “this reaction of Amnesty connotes that the body in Nigeria could have been sponsored to frustrate conflict resolution efforts towards peace and positive development of the nation. The deliberate falsehood peddled by Amnesty could cast the nation and its security apparatus in bad light.” The Military also accused Amnesty of not seeing anything wrong about the activities of insurgents and known criminals until security agencies rise to the occasion of effectively containing them.”
The kidnap and the abduction of the 110 Dapchi school girls from Government Girls Science Technical College (GGSTC) on February 19, 2018, in Yobe State, brought another mind-boggling, antagonizing and sad commentary in the exchange of blame games between the Military and Amnesty. The frequent accusations of the military by the human rights body of alleged violation of insurgents’ human rights after every operation or after an attack by Boko Haram are becoming appalling and odious and Nigerians are beginning to think the organization has an ax to grind or has an ulterior motive in its barrage of accusations against the Military.
This latest kidnap brought to the fore the long held view that indeed Al really has something up its sleeves towards the security apparatus in the country. If the military hit the enemies Boko Haram camp as in the case of the current on-going fight in the North East, Amnesty will say they have violated the rights of the insurgents. But if the insurgents achieve maximum efficiency or have an upper hand in killing people, Amnesty will rather keep quiet or go to the public to say they are a lay back force.
Compared to what exists in other climes where schools children are killed from one state to the other and gun-trotting men enter schools, kill teenagers and children, the Amnesty will say nothing of such, but when it comes to Africa, particularly Nigeria, they are always vehement on reporting the issues and so people are indeed wondering, What does Amnesty have against security agencies in Nigeria and African?
During the recent kidnap and abduction at Dapchi, the military was again accused of ignoring repeated warnings about the movements of Boko Haram fighters before the kidnap of the 110 girls, the youngest of whom was 10 years old in virtually identical circumstances to those of the Chibok, Borno State until their eventful return on Wednesday, March, 21, 2018, to the Nigerian Government. The human rights group said our military failed to respond while Boko Haram conducted an armed raid on the Government Girls Science and Technical College (GGSTC) in Dapchi, Yobe State on February 19, 2018, an assault reminiscent of the Chibok saga of 2014.
According to Osai Ojigho, Amnesty’s Country’s Director: “the Nigerian Military must investigate the inexcusable security lapses that allowed this abduction to take place without any tangible attempt to prevent it.” It emphasized that authorities appeared not have learned anything from the abduction of 276 school girls in Chibok in 2014 and failed to ensure protection of civilians in the Northeast Nigeria, especially girls’ schools.
Ojigho said that “evidence available at their disposal, suggested that they were insufficient troops deployed in the area and that the absence of patrols and the failure to respond to warnings and engage Boko Haram contributed to this tragedy.” The human rights body said that their researchers visited the scene of the incident, interviewed people including girls, who escaped, parents of the abducted, local officials, eye-witnesses to document the abduction, including security officials and the verification of list of Nigerian security officers, who were alerted on February 19, before and during the raid of the girls’ school.
But in a swift reaction to the allegations, Brigadier General John Agim, the military spokesman, said apart from questioning Amnesty’s motives, that it is pertinent to state that most of the narratives are outright falsehood and a calculated attempt to whip up sentiments and mislead unsuspecting Nigerians, demoralize friendly nations and people collaborating with security forces against forces of evil in the North East.
He said Amnesty does not mean well for Nigeria going by their previous antecedents and reputation of denigrating the armed forces anytime they seemingly support the forces of evil to incite the Nigerian public and international community against the military. He emphatically said that “Amnesty simply conjured all the information they churned out to the public as they did not speak to any military source nor showed them their findings before releasing the reports to the public.” He asked Amnesty to release the telephone numbers used to inform the military or the police?
“Why has Amnesty failed to communicate their findings to the Federal Government Committee set up to investigate what happened before, during and after the kidnap or is Amnesty trying to undermine the outcome of the committee. Amnesty is not ready to contribute towards finding a solution to our problems; if anything, they are ready to complicate the problems,” he stated.
So the questions begging for answers today are: what are the Amnesty intentions in all of these? What do they really want from the Nigerian military? Why are they against the Military? So far, so good, the Nigerian military the organization as an organ established to embark on an orchestrated campaign of calumny against the Nigerian military and undermine the laudable achievements against Boko Haram.
Nigerians and keen observers are of the view, that it seems that the organization is not interested in a united and indivisible nation like ours, but it is out to denigrate the military and stop the funding by the Western nations, knowing full well that the same reports from them stopped the funding during the Obama’s era. However, looking at this pertinent circumstance, according to Brig. Gen. Agim: “Within this year, Amnesty issued reports against the military in January 2018, February 2018 and now March 2018, the question remains, what is their motive? “The answer is simple, President Trump of the United States of America has agreed to collaborate with the current government of Nigeria to end insurgency in the North-east and Amnesty wants to do everything within its powers to make sure that the US – Nigeria anti-terrorism cooperation does not succeed in accordance with their paymasters’ design.”
Consequently, it is on record that the international organ had severally failed to honour invitations and also failed to defend its reports on Nigeria when called to do so. A lot of instances can be deduced from what had transpired over most of its findings and allegations as substantiated below: thrice in Maiduguri and Port Harcourt, Amnesty had refused to appear or send representatives to the presidential probe panel with proof of human rights abuses, tied mainly to extra-judicial killings, tortures, mass graves of victims, among others. it was also absent at various sensitive and security fora, absent at the opening session of the panel in Maiduguri, Borno State, where they alleged two mass graves of victims of human rights abuses were kept by the military. Also in 2016/2017 report tagged ‘State of human rights in Nigeria’, it published allegations on rights abuses, which many Nigerians countered and declared as malicious and spurious against the Nigerian military and other security agencies. Calling then for an independent presidential probe, Amnesty at the same time, ‘directed’ the Federal Government to pay monetary compensations to the supposed victims.
Amnesty’s report which manly indicted the Nigerian Army, motivated the then Chief of Army Staff, COAS, Lt Gen. TY Buratai, to set up a special military board of inquiry to probe the alleged rights violations. After the meticulous and clinical assignment and findings released, Amnesty and its cohorts discountenanced the report and opted for presidential inquiry, and later went to town to dispute and reject the findings of the Nigerian Army and to satisfy their yearnings and in fairness to all parties, the Buhari administration who on the onset promised to institute a probe based on Amnesty’s alleged fabricated reports, eventually set up a special presidential panel. According to the then Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, the panel was to review the compliance of the Nigerian military with human rights obligations and the rules of engagement on August 4, 2017, with special terms of reference chaired by Justice Biobele Georgewill, to unravel the veracity or otherwise of the allegations.
The panel published its notice of collection of public memorandum from all parties which spanned a month, traversing the country to engage, interact and collect or be led to evidences, from the accusers and victims. But Amnesty and others were conspicuously absent at all engagements of the panel, which made Prof. Hauwal Ibrahim, Secretary of the panel to say thus: “In Maiduguri, for example, we are coming from there, that is why I am using that place. Most of the people we spoke to in Maiduguri were victims. We wanted more of the victims. There were allegations of mass grave but nobody could show us this, this is one of the difficulties we had with Amnesty. We went to the military cemetery, and could not see the mass grave. So far we have only one side of the narrative, so we hope Amnesty will come to prove its allegations.”
The presidential panel pleaded and begged for proof of the mass grave, but they suddenly have lost sights of the grave’s location. Sometimes, it is much easier to make allegations than justifying any of its strands. Nigeria has suffered greatly based on Amnesty’s reports on human rights violations and others including the initial refusal of America and its allies to sell critical military weapons to the country to fight insurgency.
In its maiden human rights seminar in Nigeria, the Global Amnesty Watch provided instructive insights into the weird operations of Amnesty, especially in Nigeria, as a terrorist propaganda tool to mar the operations of Nigerian military against Boko Haram. As the Amnesty has advertised itself more as aligning with the agenda of terrorists, than the interest in protecting the dignity and rights of law-abiding citizens in a country that has accorded them so much hospitality and respect. Analysts, pundits and discerning Nigerians posit that protecting the human rights of Nigerians has been the sign-post of the Nigerian Army in all its operations.
The brash and crude force applied by soldiers on internal assignments have been replaced with friendliness with host communities which has brought to the fore the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of the Army to its host communities in critical areas of needs. This has engendered peaceful coexistence between the soldiers and host communities working together for a common purpose that led to the birth of the civilian JTF, to fight a common enemy -Boko Haram.
It is instructive to add, that the Nigerian Army leadership of Buratai came on board it has been determined to quell and reduce insurgency and criminality with the emergence of the different operational exercises in the country – Operation Egwu Eke 11, Operation Lafiya Dole, Operation Delta Safe, Operation Crocodile Smile, Operation Safe Haven, Operation Safe Conduct, Operation Mesa, Operation Iron Fence, Operation Awatse, Operation Sharan Daji, Operation Safe Corridor, Operation Cat Race, just to numerous to mention a few. They have followed international best practices and rule of engagement during war as the Nigerian Army is determined to carry out its constitutional mandate of defending the territorial integrity of the nation as well as commitment to aid the civil authority to bring about peace and security of the country.
During this period in question a lot of transformational development has taken place to keep the soldiers abreast of development, new techniques of fighting and rules of engagements; a lot of institutional capacity building and human capital developments have taken place in making the Nigerian Army a 21st century compliant force. The human rights desk and the civil-military relations department are fully operational, which also includes the legal desk, procurement, enhanced welfare packages, prompt payment of salaries and allowances for soldiers at battle fronts, purchase of equipment through the defence headquarters/ministry, promotions and courses upgraded, enhanced living condition of soldiers, model barracks and the enhanced ‘espirit de corps’ and high morale amongst the ranks and file is now a thing of pride to not only the nation but Africa, since the present COAS took over the mantle of leadership.
He has broken the relationship glass ceiling of over 150 years of the existence of the Army and the civil populace by the constant training of its personnel across board in building relationship with the civilian population where it operates. Whatever it does today has national security agenda of our nation and therefore its activities across the country should not be misguided or misconstrued by mischief makers out to serve their self-serving interest and deceive gullible Nigerians. Therefore, in its task to safeguard and protect the lives of Nigerians, it has sacrificed gallant young career men with aged parents and families left behind, whereas in developed societies these national casualties are patriots and heroes, in Nigeria the reserve is the case. So we need to look at our military men and officers as assets and heroes, who are ready to pay the ultimate price for our peace and unity, and therefore deserve our accolades, commendations, not vilification from Amnesty and others.
The Coalition of New Nigeria in her communique dated June 16, 2016, on the prevailing security situation in the country, a coalition of all civil societies in Nigeria and NGOs rated the Nigerian military high for its role in peace keeping operations and so also the Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Global Amnesty Watch applauded the Nigerian Army in the prosecution of the war against Boko Haram insurgents.
It is now on the lips of every Nigerian, African and indeed the world that the Nigerian military is walking the talk as a result of the multi-dimensional reforms introduced and implemented by the military hierarchy. The name-calling, casting of aspersions and the negative narrative of the Nigerian military by Amnesty is unacceptable and should be disregarded. Their reports mostly smack of bias and is capable of undermining the hard-won war by the military against the insurgents. These false reports should not be allowed to demoralize the Nigerian military personnel in the performance of their constitutional assignments.
Amnesty’s reports are made to accuse the Nigerian military of unethical practices with the frequent dabbling and perception index attributed to our proactive military in engaging and safe guarding the nation. It has also proven over time, that most of these reports are inaccurate and exaggerated as regards extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests, detentions and torture of prisoners.
Nigerians have rated the army higher since the prosecution of the war in an opinion poll conducted recently, buttressing the world acclaimed fame of the Nigerian military which has risen tremendously on peace keeping operations and other special missions and assignments across the globe on professional competence. The present leadership of the army has centered its core values on professionalism, human capital development, discipline, transparency and above all, reforms in all its ramifications like never before. And they are also abreast of the security situations and challenges in the Middle Belt by the herdsmen and has at present redoubled its efforts to see that these killer herdsmen are not only brought to book but are dealt with in accordance to the rules of engagement with the approved military operation code named ‘Cat Race,’ which is yielding dividends and soonest there would be a return to normalcy.
As regards the criticism trailing the Military in the discharge of its responsibilities in Taraba State as biased with ethnic cleansing, the COAS has inaugurated a 10-man panel to investigate the authenticity of the allegations, and to carry out their mandate without fear or favour, so as to do a comprehensive report and unravel the true situation of things.
Omoba Kenneth Aigbegbele is of Citizens Watch Nigeria (CWN), President, Coalition of Civil Societies and Media Executives for Good Governance in Nigeria (COCMEGG