According to reports, the leadership of the Nigerian Army yesterday inaugurated an eight-man Special Board of Inquiry to investigate allegations of rights abuse levelled against its officers by Amnesty International (AI).
While commissioning the Major General Ahmed Jibrin (rtd)-led panel yesterday in Abuja, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai, noted that besides the commendations for the professional conduct of the soldiers in the ongoing anti-insurgency fight in the North East, there had been allegations of misconduct perpetrated by some of them, “especially in the early days of the operations.”
The empanelling was consequent upon the 2016 report of the global rights organisation which indicted the military and security agencies of gross rights violations. The document particularly claimed that more than 170 members of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) and 240 civilians had been extrajudicially killed in different parts of the country by soldiers. A claim, which the military vehemently denied.
Since the army had consistently brushed aside the allegations, its latest move signals a readiness to purge itself of its alleged excesses and make its operations and the individual conduct of its officers to be in sync with civilised society. However, the credibility of the exercise can only be determined by its report.
Other members of the investigating panel include Brig.-Gen. A. Dadan Garba (rtd); Brig.-Gen. Abdulquadir Gumi (rtd); Brig.-Gen. O. Olayinka; Col. L. Mohammed and Col. U. Wambai. Lieutenant Colonel C. Akaliro is to serve as secretary.
Earlier, the Concerned Professionals’ Congress (CPC) and Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) took divergent positions on the report.
While the CPC faulted the document in its entirety, HURIWA on the hand, advised the Defence Headquarters to scientifically address the issues it raised.
During a briefing in Lagos, CPC’s Chief Media Strategist, Mr. Emeka Nwankpa, accused the global rights organisation of acting the script of vested interests determined at undermining Nigeria.
His words: “We join our counterparts in Global Amnesty Watch (GAW), Africa Arise for Change Network, Coalition of Civil Society Group (COCSG) and others in putting pressure on Amnesty International and its mischievous collaborators to desist from undermining the integrity of our military and security forces that have continued to rescue defenceless Nigerians from the dastardly activities of Boko Haram and similar groups.”
The group commended the “excellent professional conduct of the military and other security agencies for keeping to the rules of engagement anchored on best global practices in deterring criminal acts of destruction of our national oil and gas installations, preventing militancy as well as stopping crude oil theft, piracy and others.”
Nwankpa, who lauded government’s initiative for the rebuilding of the North East and the consultative approach adopted in resolving the renewed militancy in the oil-rich Niger Delta, prescribed the method for the resolution of the political agitations in the South East.
But HURIWA, backing the report, advised the Defence Headquarters to stop issuing out threats against international non-governmental bodies for speaking against the country’s human rights record.
In a statement by its National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko and Media Affairs Director, Zainab Yusuf, HURIWA urged Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to encourage the constitution of an independent panel headed by the United Nations to investigate the claims of extrajudicial killings of demonstrators raised by the global rights watchdog and similar bodies.
It recalled that the Amnesty International said: “The military was deployed in 30 out of Nigeria’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory 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.”
HURIWA advised the Defence spokesman, Brigadier-General Balarabe Abubakar, to be moderate in the use of language in order not to send the wrong signals to the outside world that Nigeria is a banana republic where might and brute reign supreme.
It argued that the document in question spoke to the critical issues of brutal encounters the citizens had had with a section of the nation’s armed forces in the period under review.
Besides, AI condemned the spate of arrests and detentions of journalists and bloggers, saying the development stifles freedom of expression. In a presentation in Abuja by its Nigeria’s board chairman, Auwal Rafsanjani, the organisation said 10 journalists and bloggers were arrested and detained last year without trial. It, however, commended the military for attempting to probe the rights violation allegations against it.
Also yesterday in Lagos, a group, Igbo Ekunie Initiative (IEI), in a statement by its president, Chief Tochukwu Ezeoke, called for the release of detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kalu, and other agitators.