Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has said the series of allegations levied against the nation’s security agencies by some local and international commentators, if left unaddressed, are capable of undermining the good work of the men and women of the Armed Forces who have largely conducted themselves in a disciplined and professional manner.
This is even as he has said the probe which will henceforth be on a regular basis, must not be seen as a witch hunt nor an attempt to denigrate the great work that the Armed Forces and uniformed forces are doing all over the country.
According to him, failure to examine some of these allegations will leave victims of such abuses without any recourse to justice, noting that such allegation is a recipe for greater conflict if justice is denied.
Osinbajo said this on Friday at the inauguration of the Presidential Investigation Panel to review compliance of the Armed Forces with human rights obligations and rules of engagement, especially in local conflict and insurgency situations.
The 7-man Judicial Commission, headed by a Justice of the Court of Appeal, Justice Biobele Georgewill, was appointed August 4th.
Other members of the Commission are Major-General Patrick Akem; Wale Fapohunda; Mrs. Hauwa Ibrahim; Jibrin Ibrahim; Abba Ambudashi Ibrahim, Mrs. Ifeoma Nwakama; and Dr. Fatima Alkali who is counsel to the Panel.
The Panel also has a secretary from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).
The Commission is expected to commence work immediately and submit its report within 90 days.
The Commission is empowered to review extant rules of engagement applicable in the Armed Forces of Nigeria and extent of compliance thereto.
It is also empowered to investigate alleged acts of violation of international humanitarian and human rights law under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), Geneva Conventions Act, African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act and other relevant laws by Nigerian security agencies.
The Commission also has a mandate to investigate factors that might be militating against a speedy resolution to local conflicts and insurgencies and advise on means of preventing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in conflict situations.
The panel is also to investigate matters of conducts and discipline in the Armed Forces in local conflicts and insurgencies; to recommend means of preventing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in conflict situations.
It is also to make further recommendations in line with these terms of reference as may be deemed necessary.
Osinbajo reiterated that the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration respect for the rights of our citizens is not just constitutional but also a moral duty.
He insisted that even as the armed forces maintain security in conflict zones, it is incumbent on the administration to interrogate on a regular basis alleged crimes and human rights abuses by all sides in this conflicts and in insurgences.
According to him, “President Muhammadu Buhari has repeatedly stated our administration’s focus on three broad issues security, the economy, and the fight against corruption. The first is security without which others may prove impossible. In any event, the fundamental functions of the state is the protection of lives and property and the likelihood of citizens in peace or in conflict.
“For us as a government, we add that respect for the rights of our citizens is not just constitutional but also a moral duty. This is why is incumbent upon us even as we maintain security especially in conflict situations to interrogate as we go on a regular basis alleged crimes and human rights abuses by all sides in this conflicts and in insurgences.”
Osinbajo recalled that in June 2015, President Buhari had directed the Military to conduct an internal inquiry into allegations of rights abuses by its personnel.
He the findings of the board of inquiries set up by the Nigerian Army to investigate extra-judicial killings and rights violation by Army personnel was submitted in June 2017 and would be made available to the panel.
According to him, “More recently in October 2016, the President ordered the Inspector-General of Police to investigate allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation in IDP camps in the Northeast. The outcome of this investigation is being awaited.
“It is also a fact that the conduct of the nation’s defence and security forces during the insurgency in the Northeast and militancy in the Niger Delta has in recent times attracted significant commendation.
“Upon assumption of office, many would recall that seven Local Government Areas were under the control of Boko Haram. Virtually all the territories have now been recovered by security forces.
“In the recent past, our Armed Forces have also fought against militants in other areas of the country; in some cases to protect critical national infrastructure and our natural resources.
“These brave men and women have fought valiantly to keep this country safe despite all odds and they are heroes and we must indeed celebrate them.
“There is no doubt that the nature of asymmetric or unconventional warfare that they have had to contend with presents unique challenges that most modern armies are ill-equipped to tackle with conventional warfare tactics.
“Indeed conventional human right norms and conventional human rights observers are challenged by some of the various nuances of asymmetric warfare. Nonetheless, there have been a series of allegations levied against security forces by some local and international commentators.
“It is our belief, that if left unaddressed, these allegations are capable of undermining the good work of the men and women of the Armed Forces who have largely conducted themselves in a disciplined and professional manner.”