According to Sir Winston Churchill “Do your worst and we will do our best “
The Nigerian Army had never had a good public image for several years until the present COAS, Lt Gen TY Buratai, took the mantle of leadership and the strong hold of Boko Haram at Sambisa forest ((camp zero) in Borno State was captured by the Nigerian Military, their ferocity degraded and manpower decimated. However, since August 2015, the Military image started having a positive narrative both locally and internationally due to their stomping all over the North East, the new sense of urgency, patriotism, transparency, rules of engagement and direction that was brought into the fight by the new leadership. The enormous improvement in military equipment, fire power and the overall capabilities, the exotic names given to military operations/exercises all over the country, the string of successes recorded by various military formations and commands culminating in the recapture of sambisa forest and Boko Haram greatly diminished their fighting ability and power all helped to turn around the image of the Nigerian soldier across the globe.
Since 2011 Nigerians and the international community have given a pat on the back to the Nigeria’s military for their national sacrifice to keep the country in unity and peace in spite of the daunting challenges faced not only at the war front but in also reducing criminality across the length and breadth of the country. But one major factor that has held the African military down in spite of their enormous efforts to defend her territorial integrity and safe guard of lives and property is the negative narrative of the Amnesty International that have pervaded Africa since the last decade of which Nigeria is not an exception.
According to Nigerians, it has being a systematic campaign of calumny against the Nigerian military and a narrative that have kept even the best of cynics astounded including the international community. Few years ago, the A1 had reported the death of 240 people including babies in Borno as well as another 177 pro-Biafran agitators, but the DHQ reacted sharply calling it another spurious fabrications from Al aimed at tarnishing the image of the Nigerian military, saying “Activities of Al in our nation have shown that Al never meant well for Nigeria and the situation is getting clearer to national and international communities what the Al is up to”. “This could be corroborated by inherent lopsidedness in Al’s portrayal of Nigeria, its involvement in local politics and taking side with terrorists and other belligerent groups, to cause internal disorder, which no country can tolerate”. Emphasizing that the military in this new dispensation has maintained open door policy and has been cooperating with all stakeholders in ensuring that Nigerian armed forces remains one of the best and a proud institution for all Nigerians. “For Al to be making spurious allegations, especially without substantiated and cogent reason, apart from those adduced by the Al itself for the reason best known to it and its collaborators 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 operate.” Concluding that “incessant negative report on Nigeria in general and the Armed Forces in particular by Al is condemnable by all well-meaning Nigerians who have seen and appreciate what the military and other security agencies have done to decimate BH terrorists and contain other criminal elements.” “The Al 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, criticism and observation that could help the institution to grow higher for the interest of our nation, the activities of the Al to say the least, is far from being noble, Al has negative mission in Nigeria.” “It is an agent of destabilization, masquerading as a reputable international NGO which Nigerians must rise up to this daunting challenge of not giving Al the chance to truncate our hard earned democracy and unity.” According to the military spokesman.
In furtherance of its antics in 2016, Amnesty Intentional reports the alleged mass abuse in the handling of the ongoing 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, Operation Lafiya Dole, picked holes in the report while addressing newsmen in Maiduguri, Borno State, on March 1st 2016, said “Whereas the contents of the 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,” Irabor noted. “What needs to be clear is that we have observed a consistent attack pattern on the institutions charged with the mandate to protect the nation against every form of insecurity.” “During the trying days of this operation, Al and other agents working against our nationhood, tried fruitlessly to incite the populace against the military through various malicious publication.” “In spite of their distractions, we forged ahead and decimated 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 Al and their ungodly allies,” adding that “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 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.”
Nevertheless, the Amnesty international, Al 2017/2018 human rights report, accused the Nigerian military of arbitrarily arresting and detaining thousands of young men, women and children. Under the sub -heading of Boko Haram conflict states that 65 attacks were carried out causing 411 civilian deaths in 2017, in May 82 Chibok girls abducted in 2014 were released, 16 woman including 10 police women abducted in June, while other highlight of the reports which includes Internally Displaced Persons of 1.7 million in Adamawa ,Borno and Yobe, including thirty five percent live in camps while 61% live in host communities and that the UN said that 5.4 million people in the North East remains in urgent need of food assistance, arbitrarily arrests by military, the Army released 593 detainees in April and 760 in October, 4,900 held in extremely overcrowded facility in Giwa barracks, disease, dehydration and starvation have killed at least 340 detainees and so forth including torture and ill-treatment and the killing of 12 IPOB members by soldiers in Umuahia, Abia State.
In its response to the 2017/2018 report by Al, a serial negative narrative of the military since 2011 of accusing the Nigerian military of human rights violations, the defense headquarters berated Al for an unjust, biased and unsubstantiated report saying that, “the indictment is a gross disservice to the nation’s high security command, especially so when Al “has made it a routine duty to continue 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 Al allegations have followed specific trends and possible “ill-conceived to frustrate the on-going US- Nigeria anti-terrorism cooperation”. He said Al’s 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 AFN since 2011 to date “are largely unsubstantiated” He said “the figures released by the organization showed that 4,900 Boko Haram detainees were held in Giwa barracks in an overcrowded facility where 340 detainees had already died of diseases and dehydration. They further stated that 164 civilians were killed by the Nigerian Air force when an IDP camp was hit at Rann by a Nigerian Airforce fighter jet including also that 12 IPOB members were killed in Umuahia by the AFN. “Unfortunately, Al has 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 is over 500. 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. “It is notable that the arrested Boko Haram members from the ongoing ‘Operation Lafiya Dole’ were being tried by the Federal High Court at Wawa Cantonment, Kainji, since Friday 16th February, 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 Al in its report includes infringing the rights of lesbians, gay, bi-sexual and transgender as well as intersex persons”. “These Al championed rights have been strictly outlawed by laws of the federation of Nigeria subsuming the Nigerian constitution as well as the cultural practices of our people.” According to him “however, if Al feels strongly against the position of the Nigerian people on this issue and wants to assist the victims,” they could issue these class of people with green cards to enable them re-locate to other place across the world that accept such practice as it may not be necessary for them to remain Nigerians.” Echoing that “Generally, the authenticity and sources of figures generated by Al are worrisome. Regrettably, the military high commands were never contacted for clarification or guidance. “The Defence headquarters on its own made concerted efforts to meet with the country management of Al to discuss related issue without success, as they had consistently failed to show up“. The DHQ further stated that “this reaction of Al connotes that the body in Nigeria could had been sponsored to frustrate conflict resolution effort towards peace and positive development of the nation”. “The deliberate falsehood peddled by AI could cast the nation and its security apparatus in bad light”. “The DHQ also accused Al of not seeing anything wrong about the insurgent’s activities and known criminals until security agencies rise to the occasion of effectively containing their actions”.
The kidnap and the abduction of the 110 Dapchi school girls from Government Girls Science Technical College (GGSTC) on February 19th 2018, in Yobe State brought another mindboggling, antagonizing and sad commentary in the exchange of banters and blame games between the armed forces and Al. The frequent accusations and counter accusation of the military by the human rights body, Al of either and alleged violation of human rights after every operation or claiming it’s a lay back force after an attack by Boko Haram is becoming appalling and worrisome and Nigerians are beginning to think the Al has an ax to grind or has an ulterior motive down its spine against the military class in the country. These latest kidnap brought to the fore the long held view that indeed the Al really has something up it sleeves towards the security apparatus in the country. If the military hit the enemies Boko Haram camp as in the case of the current ongoing fight in the North East, Al will say they have violated the rights of the insurgents. But if the insurgents achieve maximum efficiency or have an upper hand of killing people, Al will rather keep quite or go to the public to say they are lay back force. Compared to what exist in other climes where schools children are killed from one state to another and gun-trothing men are entering schools killing teenagers and children, the AI will say nothing of such but when it comes to Africa, they are always vehement on reporting the issues and so people are indeed wondering what does Al have against Africa countries especially developing African nation’s like Nigeria. During the recent kidnap and abduction at Dapchi, the military was again accused by Al 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 30 days after at exactly 7:24pm of 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 19th February, 2018, and an assault reminiscence of the Chibok saga of 2014.
According to Osai Ojigho, Country’s Director of Al said that “the Nigerian military must investigate the inexcusable security lapses that allowed this abduction to take place without any tangible attempt to prevent it”, emphasizing 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 “school,” that “evidence available at their disposal, suggests that they are 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 the 19thFebruary, before and during the raid of the girls. But in a swift reaction to the allegations by Al, Brigadier General John Agim, the military spokesman, said apart from questioning the motives of Al, that it is pertinent to state that most of the narratives are outright falsehood and a calculated attempt to whip up sentiments and misled unsuspecting Nigerians, demoralize friendly nations and people collaborating with security forces against forces of evil in the North East. He said Al does not mean well for Nigeria going by their previous antecedents and reputation of denigrating the armed forces anytime they make again against the forces of evil to incite the Nigerian public and international community against the military. He emphatically said that “Al 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.” And asked very pertinent questions on the telephone numbers used to inform the military or the police? And why has Al failed to communicate their findings to the Federal Government Committee set up to investigate what happened before, during and after the kidnap or is Al trying to undermine the outcome of the committee and said “Al 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 Al intentions in all of these? What does Al really want from the Nigerian military? Is the Al after the Nigeria military and for what purposes? So far, so good, the Nigerian military looks at the Al as an organ established to embark on an orchestrated campaign of calumny against the Nigeria military and undermine the laudable achievements against Boko Haram which has formed the narratives that have happened over the years and even looking at some of the critical allegations of Al on most of the nationalistic operations carried out by the military. Nigerians and keen observers are of the view, that it seems that the Al are not interested in a united and indivisible nation like ours, but are out to denigrate the institution of the military and stop the funding’s by the Western nations knowing fully well that the same reports from Al stopped the funding’s during the Obama’s era. However, looking at this pertinent circumstance, according to Brig Agim, “within this year, Al issued reports against the military in January 2018, February 2018 and now March 2018, the question is, what is the motive of the AI? “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 Al 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, Al had refused to appear, make or send representatives to the presidential probe panel with proof of evidence of alleged human right abuses, tied mainly to extra-judicial killings, tortures, mass graves of victims etc. it was also absent at various sensitive and security fora, absent at the opening session of the panel in Maiduguri, Borno State, where Al 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” by Al, its publishes allegations on rights abuses, which many Nigerians countered and declared as malicious and spurious against the Nigerian military and other security agencies. While calling then for an independent presidential probe, Al at the same time, ‘directed’ the Federal Government to pay monetary compensations to the supposedly victims.
Al’s report which mainly indicted the Nigerian Army motivated then the 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, Al 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 the yearnings of Al and in fairness to all parties, the Buhari administration who on the onset promised to institute a probe based on Al alleged fabricated reports eventually set up a special presidential panel by the then Acting President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, to review the compliance of the Nigerian military with human rights obligations and the rules of engagement on August 4th 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 Al and others were conspicuously absent at all engagement 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. The chunk of the people we spoke to in Maiduguri are victims. We wanted more of the victims. There was allegations of mass grave by Al but nobody could show us this, this is one of the difficulties we had with Al. We went to the military cemetery we 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 pleads and begs for proof of the mass grave from Al, but they suddenly have lost sights of the grace location. Sometimes, it is much easier to make allegations than justify any of its strands. Nigeria has suffered greatly based on Al 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 the insurgency. In its maiden human rights seminar is Nigeria, the Global Amnesty Watch (GAW) provided instructive insights into the weird operations of Al, especially in Nigeria as a terrorist propaganda tool to mar the operations of Nigerian military against Boko Haram. As the Al has advertised itself more as aligning with the agenda of terrorists, than the interest in protecting the dignity, rights and the rule of law 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 signpost of the Nigerian Army in all its operations.
The brash and crude force applied by soldiers on internal assignments have been replaced with amiable, 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 endangered 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 since the Nigerian Army leadership of Buratai came on board and since the emergence of the different operational exercises in the country to quail and reduce criminal elements like; 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 and others too numerous to mention. They have followed international best practices and rule of engagement during war as the Nigerian Army is determined at sustaining 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 development have taken place in making the Nigerian Army a 21st century compliance. The human rights desk and the civil-military relations department are fully operational and 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 defense 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 and protectionist agenda of our nation and therefore its activities across the country should not be misguided or misconstrued by mischief makers to serve their self-serving interest and deceive gullible Nigerians. Therefore, in its task to safeguard and protect the lives of Nigerians, it has lost and sacrificed gallant young career men and officers with aged parents and families left behind whereas in developed societies these select groups of people are seen as celebrities, patriots and heroes while 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 deserves our accolades, commendation and not vilification from Al 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 (GAW) 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 Al is unacceptable and should be disregarded. Al reports mostly smacks of bias and is capable of undermining the hard fought war by the military against the insurgents and demoralizing the Nigerian military personnel in the performance of their constitutional assigned roles including the various casualties suffered in human capital, resources and loss of lives of the soldiers in the discharge of their national duty to defend the territorial integrity of the nation. Nigerians and indeed Africans, are worried about the manner Al reports is made to accuse the Nigerian military of unethical practices and the laid down procedures of engagement during and including 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 pf these reports are inaccurate and over exaggerated as regards extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests, detentions and torture of prisoners in the line of duty.
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 mission and assignments across the globe on professional competence. The present leadership of the army has centered it core values on professionalism, human capital development, discipline, transparency and above all, reforms in all its ramifications like never before. And so also are they abreast of the security situation and challenges in the middle belt by the herdsmen and has presently 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 name “cat race” which is yielding dividends and soonest the return to normalcy. As regards the criticism trailing the military in the discharge of her responsibilities in Taraba State as bias and ethnic cleansing, the COAS has inaugurated a 10 man panel to investigate the authenticity of these allegations and terms of reference given to the members to be able 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 inNigeria (COCMEGG)