In line with its usual practice, international human rights non-governmental organisation, Amnesty International on February 22, 2017 issued its World’s Human Rights Report for 2016. The document detailed analysis of the states of human rights in the 159 countries “reviewed” by the NGO. In the wake of the report, Nigerian authorities have vehemently rejected the negative perception it created about the state of human rights about the country.
It is therefore imperative that an objective assessment is made of the sections pertaining to Nigeria in the report in the light of the conflicting claims by Amnesty International (AI) and the Nigerian side in the wake of its release.
Global Amnesty Watch (GAW), in its commitment to ensure that international actors are not deployed for the aim of undermining the stability of countries has carried out an assessment of the report in this regard because Nigeria has given the most vociferous rejection of the report among the countries reviewed.
Following from the assessment, GAW made the following observations:
While it is understood that the Boko Haram crisis in the north-eastern Nigeria has displaced over 2 million people from their homes, and caused the death of over 100,000 people, it is important to mention that the Amnesty International (AI) report carried some outright insinuations and illogical conclusions. For example, the opening paragraph of the report stated that:
1. “The conflict between the military and the armed group Boko Haram continued and generated a humanitarian crisis that affected more than 14 million people. The security forces continued to commit gross human rights violations including extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances. The police and military continued to commit torture and other ill-treatment. Conditions in military detention were harsh. The communal violence occurred in many parts of the country. Thousands of people were forcibly evicted from their homes.”
The impression the AI report is giving is that the Nigerian Military is solely responsible for the crisis in the Northeast. While this is understandable given that the content of the report was largely arrived at by words of mouth and hearsays, it in every sense of it lacks credibility.
2. “Boko Haram continued to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity in the northeast, affecting 14.8 million people. The group continued to carry out attacks and small-scale raids throughout the year. The national and regional armed forces recaptured major towns from Boko Haram’s control. In its response to Boko Haram attacks, the military continued to carry out arbitrary arrests, detentions, ill-treatment and extrajudicial executions of people suspected of being Boko Haram fighters − acts which amounted to war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.”
The allegation that the military carried out arbitrary arrests, detentions and extrajudicial executions of people suspected of being Boko Haram fighters cannot be substantiated. AI might want to add where such arrests took place, exact location and time. It is important because the military under the current dispensation has exhibited a zero tolerance for abuse of the rights and privileges of its citizens. And this has been demonstrated in instances where soldiers or officers were either demoted or faced court martial for acts inimical to the image of the military.
Also, the Nigerian military has always been open in its operations and do not hide its activities from the probing eye of the public, especially in the era of social media and citizen reporting. There is no way such infractions would have been carried out without an element published in any of the social media platforms. And again, one wonders where and how AI got its information, without cross-checking facts with the relevant authorities in the affected states and the military high command.
3. “In May, 737 men detained as Boko Haram suspects by the army were transferred to the prison in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state. They were charged for being “incorrigible vagabonds,” which carried up to two years’ imprisonment and a fine.” While it is understandable that AI has continued its campaign of tarnishing the image of the Nigerian military as customary, one might want to ask how it arrived at such outlandish figure. The enormity of the wreck and havoc caused by the Boko Haram insurgents in the past six years cannot be overemphasized. It is, however, important to state that the military would not keep in detention such number people without tangible evidence. More so, the Nigerian military is a professional one, and not a ragtag army as the AI is making the world believe. If the military were to be ragtag one and going by the allegations by AI, I am sure the 737 would have been eliminated. It is clearly a case of exaggeration.
4. More different the report of AI is when it stated that the military launched Operation Safe Corridor to rehabilitate repentant and surrendered Boko Haram fighters” this part of the story negate the allegation of extrajudicial killings. What is the point killing when you can rehabilitate?
5. “There remained at least 2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Nigeria; 80% of them lived in host communities, while the remainder lived in camps. The camps in Maiduguri remained overcrowded, with inadequate access to food, clean water, and sanitation. In the so-called inaccessible territories in Borno state, tens of thousands of IDPs were held in camps under armed guard by the Nigerian military and the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), a state-sponsored civilian militia formed to fight Boko Haram. Most of the IDPs were not allowed to leave the camps and did not receive adequate food, water or medical care. Thousands of people have died in these camps due to severe malnutrition. In June, in a guarded camp in Bama, Borno state, the NGO Médecins Sans Frontières reported over 1,200 bodies had been buried within the past year.”
Again, this allegation cannot be substantiated. The Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) is not an armed militia group. They are local hunters who have volunteered to assist the military in the fight against Boko Haram insurgents. On IDP’s not allowed to leave the camps, it is important to state that these people are Internally Displaced People (IDP) that sought refuge in camps. And leaving the camps in the first place does not arise not until the military fully flushes out Boko Haram insurgents that took control of their various homes. The government of Borno state is also working round the clock to ensure that these IDPs return to their various homes, but not without safety precautions and the provision of necessary amenities to make life more meaningful. The allegation of inadequate food and supplies is a half truth. The federal government has been making efforts to meet the needs of the IDP in the various camps. The Borno state government is also not left out, likewisw some other philanthropic organizations like the Dangote Foundation, which donated food items worth N1.5 billion to the IDPs in 2016, and many others too numerous to mention.
6. “The military arbitrarily arrested thousands of young men, women, and children who fled to the safety of recaptured towns, including Banki and Bama, Borno state. These arrests were mainly based on random profiling of men, especially young men, rather than on reasonable suspicion of having committed a recognizable criminal offense. In most cases, the arrests were made without adequate investigation.” This allegation is also baseless. For a start, the report stated that the military arrested thousands of young men, women, and children who fled to the safety of recaptured towns, including Banki and Bama in Borno state. The curiosity in this allegation is where did these young men, women and children flee from? How did they know that the towns of Banki and Bama have been recaptured? And were there designated IDP camps in Banki and Bama?
It is important to state that the Amnesty International is not a security outfit and therefore its knowledge of security issues is limited. It would, therefore, be sufficient to say that most of its reports are widely dependent on hearsays and speculations; but largely without verifiable facts. The Nigerian military won’t make arrests based on random sampling because it’s a highly organized entity with chains of commands. The Nigerian military does not carry out arbitrary detentions. And this is a statement of fact.
7. “The mass arrests by the military of people fleeing Boko Haram led to overcrowding in military detention facilities. At the military detention facility at Giwa Barracks, Maiduguri, cells were overcrowded. Diseases, dehydration, and starvation was rife. At least 240 detainees died during the year. Bodies were secretly buried in Maiduguri’s cemetery by the Borno state environmental protection agency staff. Among the dead were at least 29 children and babies, aged between five years.”
This allegation cannot be substantiated. It remains a speculation that Amnesty International choose to believe.
8. “There was continued lack of responsibility for serious human rights violations committed by security officers. No independent and impartial investigations into crimes committed by the military had taken place despite the President’s repeated promises in May. Moreover, senior military officials alleged to have committed crimes under international law remained uninvestigated; Major General Ahmadu Mohammed was reinstated into the army in January. He was in command of operations when the military executed more than 640 detainees following a Boko Haram attack on the detention center in Giwa barracks on 14 March 2014.”
In the case of Major General Ahmadu Mohammed, the Nigerian Army asked for evidence to prove that he indeed committed the crimes. But till date, Amnesty International could not because its reports are mostly based on hearsays. The Nigerian Army did release a statement signed by then Acting Director, Army Public Relations, Col Sani Usman. The report said.
“The attention of the Nigerian Army has been drawn to media reports that the human rights group-Amnesty International, has frowned at the reinstatement of Major General Ahmadu Mohammed into military service, alleging that he was involved in human rights abuses while he was the General Officer Commanding 7 Division. The Nigerian Army wishes to thank the exalted body for this observation. “Although, it is not an aberration for the international human rights organization to raise such an observation, however, it did not take into cognizance of the circumstances leading to his illegal retirement and the legal procedure that was followed in his reinstatement.
“The compulsory and premature retirement of Major General Mohammed did not follow due process and was rather arbitrary. The senior officer was never charged, tried, let alone found guilty of any offense that justified his premature retirement. “The action was, therefore, a clear violation of extant rules, regulations, as well as Terms and Conditions of Service of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. This apparent violation prompted the senior officer to seek redress using the appropriate legal means. “Consequently, the realization of these omissions called for a review of the case by the Army Council and his subsequent reinstatement into the Service.”
9. “The military was deployed in 30 out of Nigeria’s 36 states and in the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja where they performed routine policing functions including responding to non-violent demonstrations. The military deployment to police public gatherings contributed to the number of extrajudicial executions and unlawful killings. Since January, in response to the continued agitation by pro-Biafra campaigners, security forces arbitrarily arrested and killed at least 100 members and supporters of the group Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). Some of those arrested were subjected to enforced disappearance.”
This is farther than the truth. The military doesn’t perform policing function. Policing is not the statutory role of the Nigerian military, but instead the Nigerian police force. The military is in some instances called in emergency and often violent demonstrations. The allegation by AI that the deployment of military personnel to public gatherings contributed to extrajudicial executions and unlawful killings is another false representation of the Nigerian military by Amnesty International. The army as a professional outfit understands the rules of engagement and as such its public conduct is guided by these provisions. So, therefore, to assume that the military would be deployed to non-violent protest is defective. And also to assume that its participation in violent protest as in the case of pro-Biafran agitators is also in bad taste and deliberate attempt to discredit the Nigerian military.
10. “On 9 February, soldiers and police officers shot at about 200 IPOB members who had gathered for a prayer meeting at the National High School in Aba, in Abia state. Video footage showed soldiers shooting at peaceful and unarmed IPOB members; at least 17 people were killed and scores injured.” Nigeria is not a banana republic where the security agencies would open fire on peaceful and unarmed IPOB member gathered for a prayer meeting at the National High School, Aba. This cannot happen in the present dispensation, and not under the watchful eyes of the Nigerian public. It is glaring that Amnesty International didn’t bother to get confirmation from its sources before the allegations.
11. “On 29 and 30 May, at least 60 people were killed in a joint security operation carried out by the army, police, Department of State Security (DSS) and Navy. Pro-Biafra campaigners had gathered to celebrate Biafra Remembrance Day in Onitsha. No investigation into these killings had been initiated by the end of the year.” This is another baseless allegation from the Amnesty International. And the best description of this claim is a deliberate campaign of calumny against the Nigerian military. What Amnesty International failed to highlight is the fact that the pro-Biafra campaigners killed two policemen who were deployed to monitor the protest and threw two others into the River Niger in Asaba. They also failed to state that a soldier was also killed by the protesters who were clearly on a mission to cause havoc. It was on the strength of these violent behaviours that the military was called in to restore sanity.
GAW will not draw any conclusion at this point but leaves Nigerians and the world to decide who lied and who was truthful.
Human Rights Law Researcher,
Middlesex University London.