Just before the National Assembly resumed from the last vacation, which coincided with the launch of the highly controversial military operation in the entire South East of Nigeria, there was video evidence of massive human rights violations by the Army in the South East.
These human rights violations ranged from the gruesome physical torture of suspected members of the unarmed indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB) to several cases of extralegal executions of civilians.
|Nigeria military humilating unarmed Biafrans|
Casualties were civilians caught in the crossfire which flared up when thousands of members of the self-determination group resisted the initial attempts by the armed security forces to invade the country home of the leader of the Indigenous people of Biafra located within the palace of the traditional ruler in a section of Umuahia.
The military invasion of a palace of a first class traditional ruler is an abomination.
It has never happened in the Northern region of Nigeria.
That the Army could okay such invasion because Nnamdi Kanu who was enjoying the Federal High Court bail was allegedly in breach of bail Conditions is unwarranted because there was no validly issued court’s order to arrest him. After that invasion, both the Parents of Nnamdi Kanu and Nnamdi Kanu himself have never been seen in public and for now, there is no certainty regarding their condition or whereabouts.
The Army, Abia State government and the Federal Government have all feigned ignorance of the exact response to the interrogation on their exact whereabouts. Nnamdi Kanu’s lawyer told the Federal High Court that the last he spoke with his client was few hours before the Army’s invasion of Nnamdi Kanu’s residence.
The above controversy apart, as is well documented, all these killings I spoke about in the preamble to this piece took place two clear days before the president Muhammadu Buhari’s government hurriedly packaged a proscription order through an ex parte application before the Acting Chief Judge of the Federal High Court which pronto acceded to the ex parte application and pronounced the hitherto unarmed and peaceful IPOB as a terror organization. The international community has however rejected the proscription of IPOB. In America as well as in the UK, IPOB remains validly operational as a civil society body registered under relevant laws.
The Indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB) which is registered in most countries of Europe and the United States has since applied for the revocation of the proscription order done hurriedly in Nigeria when it became clear that the military overreached itself and took the law into its hands in a bid to crush the civilian-led agitation for self-governing process for the South East of Nigeria as championed by some youngsters under the auspices of IPOB.
However, it must be stated from the onset that the above thorny and stormy legal challenges are not the bones of contention in this piece.
It is equally not the interest of this analyst to dwell on the action adopted by the Army’s media department which procured the services of a hack writer to attack this writer and the platform I coordinate for opposing the perceived massive violations of the rights of civilians belonging to the self-determination group.
It is, however, my concern in this piece to assess the gains and disadvantages of this recently ended military operation in the South East and to proffer possible panacea to avoid the pitfalls noticeable in the enforcement of the highly explosive internal military operation.
First, the Army told Nigerians that the operation python dance which was on its second stage was basically a military exercise but also meant to checkmate the activities of the pro-Biafra Indigenous association headed by Mr. Nnamdi Kanu.
The operation lasted approximately a month and the Army took it upon itself to periodically brief Nigerians on the activities of the operatives and officers during the internal military operation.
In line with the above methodology, the Army also briefed Nigerians on what it considers as the gains and mileages achieved during the month-long operation.
The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai officially ended operation Egwu Eke II, which took place at 82 Division of the Nigerian Army Area of Responsibility and Cross River.
Col. Sagir Musa, Deputy Director Public Relations of 82 Division Nigerian Army, Enugu, said this in a statement issued in Enugu on October 15th, 2017.
Musa said that Buratai, who was represented by the General Officer Commanding (GOC), 82 Division, Maj.-Gen. Adamu Abubakar declared the end of exercise at a ceremony in Sector 1 Tactical Headquarters at Umuahia, Abia at about 6 p.m.on Saturday, Oct 14.
He said that the exercise was ended with the traditional activation of a campfire to formally signify the successful completion of the operation.
Hear him: “The COAS, through Gen. Abubakar, commended all the officers, soldiers and personnel of Para-military organizations that collaborated and synergized, worked tirelessly and commendably throughout the one month period for the exercise”.
“The achievements recorded during the exercise in the areas of attainment of the mission specific training objectives, improvement in peace and security, curtailing the menace of violent irredentist groups in the theatre of the exercise (South Eastern part of Nigeria) is remarkable.”
The Army even played the traditional role of the Abia state ministry of information by reporting the state government this: “On the part of the government and good people of Abia State, the representative of the Governor of Abia State, Eng. Emmanuel Nwabuko expressed appreciation of the government and people of the state for the numerous achievements of exercise Egwu Eke II in terms of improvement of peace, security, and stability of the state.”
The Army’s deputy spokesman said that the government gave assurance that it will always leverage on the existing relationship between its people and the Nigerian Army whenever the need arises.
Musa said that top commanders of formations and units within the division and representatives of Army Headquarters and Defence Headquarters attended the closing ceremony.
The phantom celebrations by the Army continued in the nation’s capital which has assumed the role of the capital city for ready-made hired fake demonstrators who can organize solidarity rallies at the speed of lightening once paid their pittance.
So the propaganda arm of the Army seems to have perfected the celebration of the so-called achievements made during the operation python dance II when it reportedly paid some jobless people in Abuja to carry placards to the Aso Rock presidential complex to “thank” the government for conceptualizing and implementing that military exercise.
Some of the demonstrators claiming to be Igbo were actually said to be totally deficient in Igbo language and most looked like street urchins normally seen around Nyanya and Mararaba in the neighborhood of Abuja.
Spokesperson of these hired protesters repeated the same praises read by the Army’s spokesmen in the Enugu division.
Whilst, these poorly paid sycophants were busy singing praises to the Army in what they said was done on behalf of the people of the South East of Nigeria, those with gifts of discernment and wisdom are asking why the Nigerian government and particularly the National Assembly has not made good the pledge by the Senate President to investigate the altercations that ensued in the South East during the military operation.
Then again, reading through the media statement of the Army from the Enugu division which contained what are considered as the achievements of the just ended operation, one is left to then ask why Nigeria has a policing institution if it will take the Army to embark on internal military operation to undertake the arrest of even hard drug addicts even when there are specific agencies set up by law for such legal mandates.
All these areas of achievements said to have been made by the military during the operation python dance, part two, could have been done by the Nigeria Police Force, the National Drugs Law Enforcement Authority and the Department of state services.
The above trend of thought, therefore, reinforces my conviction that the operation python dance, part two was substantially unconstitutional, illegal and provocative and remains a mere waste of time and resources that would have been channeled towards battling the resurgence of Boko Haram terror attacks in the North East of Nigeria.
The operation python dance and the other variants currently ongoing in the guise of military operations in the Southern parts of Nigeria have been dismissed an attempt by the president to wield military force to scare aware advocates of restructuring and campaigners for self-determination.
The reported attack on the home of the leader of the self-determination group in Umuahia, Abia State and the mystery surrounding his whereabouts goes to justify the widely held beliefs that the operation was undemocratic.
The bad blood and lack of trust engendered by the operation took a much more sinister turn when school children no longer trust the Army for any planned medical exercises of inoculation for fear that they may be poisoned with monkeypox infestation.
The Army has denied these allegations.
But the grandfather of all the bad sides of this operation python dance, part two, remains the many unresolved cases of human rights violations including the alleged cases of extralegal killings of civilians in the streets of Aba, and Umuahia.
Looking at all the statutes and the constitutional norms, it is difficult to pin down any provision that allows for the kind of comprehensive human rights breaches that occurred during the military operation.
Apart from sections 217 and 218 of the constitution which spells out modalities for the deployment of military forces which were breached wantonly in this just ended operation under discussion, chapter four of the constitution is replete with relevant sections that absolutely prohibits torture and extralegal killings.
Section 33(1) says “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in the execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offense of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria”.
Section 34(1) (a) states that: “No person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment”.
But sadly, during the one-month-long exercise by the Army in the South East of Nigeria, apart from the fact that millions of Nigerians were deprived of their constitutional rights to freedom of movement following certain restrictions, the imposition of corporal punishments which amounted to physical and emotional torture was widespread.
Abia State suffered the worst forms of torture inflicted on civilians by armed soldiers to such an unpardonable extent that even the weak Abia State Civilian governor issued a public notice deploring the widespread use of torture by the Army. This is the same government that the deputy spokesman of the Army reported as applauding the just ended operation python dance.
The Abia state governor had protested thus: “The unwholesome activities of some men of the Nigerian Army who have formed the habit of subjecting members of the civil populace in the state to corporal punishments, and most times, extortion of money for no just cause has reached the Government of Abia State.”
“This is more prevalent along the Bende – Umuahia Road, Ohafia Township and within Aba and its environs. ”
Abia state governor Dr. Okezie Ikpazu continued thus: “These acts are not only illegal and extremely provocative; they are also capable of triggering off some form of civil unrest in the state which can distort the peaceful atmosphere we have worked very hard to put in place in the state”.
“While the State Government has always indicated its preparedness to cooperate with all security agencies in their lawful operations within the State, we shall not condone a situation where the presence of the Army in the State becomes a platform to assault the basic rights of our people and subject them to inhuman and degrading treatments without any lawful excuse.”
Abia state governor then sounded a resolute note of caution as follows: “The Commander of the 14 Brigade, Ohafia and indeed all Heads of Army formations in the State are, by this notice, requested to closely monitor the activities of their men in the field and ensure that these untoward practices are stopped at once.”
“The Government of Abia State shall no longer condone this unwarranted assault on the people of the State. Our people, as law-abiding citizens, are fully deserving of their basic freedoms and fundamental rights to life, personal liberty and dignity of the human person. These rights are guaranteed under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the same law from which the Army derives its authority, and these rights can only be tampered with in accordance with laid down legal procedures and not according to the whims and caprices of individual Army officers”.
Unofficially, there are several recorded evidence of many civilians killed by the bullets of the Army because the operatives opened fire on the crowds of protesters using live bullets resulting in many fatalities.
There were photographic, video and eyewitness accounts of the torture of several civilians.
These are all offenses that must not be swept under the carpets.
This is because the laws governing military internal operations envisages that armed operatives must comply with global best practices and rules of engagements or else those who breach the laws must be prosecuted and punished.
This much was disclosed in the book titled: “Military Law in Nigeria: Under Democratic Rule”, authored by Major General T.E.C. Chief who holds a doctorate in constitutional law.
He articulated these positions in chapter 8 of this book and this chapter was captioned as “Rule of law and conduct of military operations”.
He wrote thus: “The conduct of operations by the Nigerian Armed Forces under any circumstances demands that military operations be conducted with due regard for the provisions of the law”.
It also requires that officers and soldiers who partake in these operations comply with the do’s and don’ts relating to the conduct of operations, he stated.
The latter requirement, General Chief said, is particularly important in view of the dual legal status of a soldier, which has been described as the doctrine of the compact.
This doctrine in his thinking stipulates that service personnel are subject to both military laws and the ordinary civil laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the involvement in an operation may not necessarily absolve a soldier from blame if he infringes on any of these two different legal regimes.
“Even the armed forces itself as a corporate personality ought to comply with the relevant laws in all its dealings including the conduct of operations”, he averred.
Chief argued that: “It is necessary for dealing with the rule of law as it concerns the conduct of military operations to divide military operations into two categories. This categorization is based on the two different regimes of law, which govern military operations.”
Expounding on the above categorization, the learned military author stated that the first, are military operations that are conducted internally within the territorial borders of the country.
Examples of such internal military operations, he said, are internal security (IS) operations, which are conducted in aid of civil authority to restore normalcy within the territorial boundaries of a State or a part thereof.
Recent examples include the operations at Odi, in Bayelsa State in 1999 and the operations to restore normalcy in the Tiv/Jukun areas of Taraba and Benue States in 2001.
The second category of military operations, according to the erudite author who has since joined the Saints triumphant, are those which can be described as “international,” in the sense that they are mostly conducted outside the borders of the country or involve engagement with foreign forces.
Typical examples of these categories of operations, he stated, are the various peacekeeping and humanitarian operations embarked upon within and outside Africa.
He submitted further that: “Having categorized military operations and recalling that in a nutshell, the concept of the rule of law requires that actions of government authorities and the rights of individuals be determined not in accordance with the arbitrary dictates of law, it is important to discern the interface between the concepts of the rule of law on the one hand and the conduct of military operations on the other”.
Broadly speaking, this interface, according to him, requires that military operations like all other activities of government should be conducted only in accordance with the dictates of law. In effect, it implies that from the onset of military operations, till the conclusion, all relevant regulations governing the conduct of such operations must be followed.
The National Assembly has great roles to play in such a way that those who had violated the laws are prosecuted and sanctioned. The Senate President Dr. Bukola Saraki promised to investigate the widespread allegations of human rights abuses by the military in the South East of Nigeria but it seems the Senators aren’t interested anymore or may have been intimidated and harassed by President Muhammadu Buhari to abdicate their constitutional duty to the people of Nigeria. The National Assembly should also take steps to make the Nigeria Army a truly national Army by ensuring that the strategic assets of the military are decentralised to all parts of Nigeria as against the practice whereby 80 percent of all Army’s strategic national assets being localised in the North West as if the Army is the Northern Nigeria Army.
These steps and mechanisms must be adapted to sanitize the military and weed out brutes and irrational beings abusing their powers whilst wearing the nation’s military uniforms.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and email@example.comOnwubiko.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.