Beyond Amnesty International Reports: Civil – Military Relationship in Nigeria

While some are debating about Big Brother Naija(BBN), Amnesty International (AI) published a bashing human right report on the Nigerian Military, I think these are more pressing issues that tell directly on us and our perception in the International sphere than BBN. The general perception of the average young Nigerian has always been towards entertainment and the arts, which are not wrong in themselves, but requires balance to make us global citizens and engage more in active statesmanship. The quest for development cannot be achieved until we collectively get involved in those things that matter and concerns national development the most, this isn’t stopping them from being social or interact within the social space but to place emphasis on these various issues will go a long way to make these issues potent in the public domain.

The disappointments and the mystery many shares from the backlogs of bad governance and social injustice could be a justifiable reason for this wide lack of morale, but we must all collectively understand that the future must be better than the past, hence the need to be more active citizens than just active netizens, engaging more in the collectivity of our reality and steering the ship of state to focus more on pressing issues covertly influencing governmental policies, human and civil rights to the point where spaces will be vacated for young people to show what they have gathered over the years as political power will not just fall on our laps, we must work (hard) for it.

Some people deliberately have raised serious issues on the details of the report with more focus on killings of civilians by the military following various claims by CSOs, Amnesty claims its reports are concrete following the kind of methodology it used including the world acclaimed ‘triangulation’. The document which is over 400 pages, highlights the human rights abuses and violation world over in an alphabetical order. This report is a yearly survey which is geared majorly towards ‘state actors’ with little or no importance to ‘non-state actors or parties to conflict’.This emphasis has made it a little difficult for people to fully comprehend why not enough credence is giving to the military with all its successes in the offensive against terrorists and its strides in protecting the territorial integrity of the Nation.

Nigerians may not understand vividly what all these means, while conflict entrepreneurs may use these as a bashing tool against the government and military, I am not taking sides here but just analyzing these issues based on facts and available data, to be able to strike a balance from the whole situation, no matter how confusing it may look like.

I watched the Researcher from Amnesty International on Sunrise daily (24/02/2017) talking about the report and how the army has been indicted and to balance up immediately was the Spokesman of the military, who debunked all allegations and also opined that the videos and pictures released are cropped and hence not true, stating vehemently that the Army should be celebrated for its feats in keeping the nation together as one through all the various unrests in all parts of the country as if they are doing us a favor in discharging their job responsibilities.

The disconnect here is however how the Army has consistently denied ALL these allegations stating that it doesn’t kill citizens and just abides by the Rule of Law and Rules of Engagements as it is enshrined in the constitution as their responsibility. Truth is, in the past, the military has proven to be above the law and has dealt ruthlessly with civilians in purely civil issues, they have ruled as gods on the street as we have seen so many times physically and on Social Media, beating, maiming, threatening harmless civilians at different locations and times in the country. This shameful act has over the years characterized the military as their presence anywhere only exudes fear and panic. This reality has developed an impression in the minds of every Nigerian, young and old which has further deepened and widen the gaps of interaction between the military and civilians in the country, the fear is not location sensitive.

I have had my fair share of military brutality, and it wasn’t a palatable one. Sometime in 2012, I was enroute Makurdi, Benue State, with some students in an 18 seater bus for a wedding, I have had a foreknowledge of the madness that comes with Military brutality as a regular traveller, before this time I wasn’t a victim and as such never had a close shave with the military, we got to a military checkpoint at the fringes of Okene, Kogi State, the driver had not seen that kind of sights before and was very amused, he saw people ‘frog jumping’ in a row, the other occupants in the bus expressed such amazement, but I cautioned them silently, we were about moving past the checkpoint when the husky voice thundered “stop dier”, I immediately knew there was trouble, when the driver was too excited and laughed out loud, we were all paraded out of the bus leaving out the ladies and a man who identified himself as a Pastor. The rest of us tried insisting that we were undergraduates with ID cards flashing everywhere to no avail, we filled out in a line like the victims before us and perform the delegated punishment for our driver’s laughter.

I was quite unfortunate that day as we returned to the bus after the punishment for laughing, though very angry and could hardly walk well, I tried to hide my anger in a smile only for the soldier to tell me to go start from the beginning again as he opined I was ‘smiling too much’. Some will opine that this is a result of the military hangover from the days of dictatorship and military incursion in politics, but we will bear witness to the fact that in recent times the military have started purging itself of these civil abuses with the way it handled the cripple man who was abused by its men.

In the times of War, as we have in the North East, International best practices enshrined in the IHL (International Humanitarian Law) and other conventions and protocols, places a definite demand on State actors to protect the civilian populace and further gives detailed guidelines of how to treat Prisoners of War (POW), maintaining the HUMAN RIGHTS and to treat with all sense of HUMAN DIGNITY of even the insurgents and other non-state actors involved in the armed conflict, when they are arrested .

This is a point where many defer, as they simply cannot comprehend why when a terrorist is caught, he should not be killed without been tried first by a competent court, and not just to be shot arbitrarily, why a terrorist still have ‘human rights’ and that rights must be protected with the terrorist having his own share of relief materials and should not be tortured to give information. This thought bothered me so much as a postgraduate student studying International Humanitarian Law as a course, I could not comprehend either at first but as I dug deeper, I got more clarity about the various dimensions of these issues. Unfortunately, the mandate of Amnesty International is to sustain advocacy on International Humanitarian Law and other issues that pertain to Human Rights abuses.

My opinion should be for the Military to intensify its efforts on bringing to book those within its ranks whenever issues of human right abuses occur with fairness and justice in time as to continue to allay the fears of Nigerians. More must be done to ensure the fusion of the military with civilians to enable the populace to see the military as partners in the Nigerian project and also build mutual trust with the same to further deepen the synergy. The military must not see CSO’s as enemies but partners, we do not need them to come out and flagrantly deny these allegations with illogical rhetoric but to check itself and purge its own systems of those who have vowed not to adhere to the rules of engagement as enshrined in the constitution of the ‘Federal’ Republic. The successes of the Military notwithstanding will be maintained when the Military points its searchlight on its men who would not do the right things, taking laws into their hands and bashing the hard work that seems to have been put in place to ensure its smooth running of its mandate as it concerns security and protection of our territorial integrity as a Nation. Just as the case of the crippled man that was brutalized for wearing a camouflage trouser, that kind of swift response with investigation and strict disciplinary measures must be sustained, this actions will build a support base for the military and will continue to bridge that gap that has been in existence from the days of Military dictatorship

Finally, the government must train, retrain and empower the police to take full responsibility for its job regarding civil matters, it is an aberration to see the military deployed as if they do not have a much bigger job of protecting our territorial integrity and keeping us safe, as I see more Military uniforms daily than that of the police. The State must wake up to its responsibilities before we begin to experience and witness more damning reports like this.

IMAGE CREDIT: Amnesty International 

Busayo Oluwadamilare Morakinyo is a Humanitarian and Refugee Expert and a Peace Scholar.