Amnesty International’s Gambit, By Dele Agekameh
In actual fact, it is the Boko Haram leaders – Abubakar Shekau and his sponsors – who deserve to appear before the International Criminal Court at The Hague, to answer charges for human rights violation and other heinous crimes they have committed against humanity.
At a time attention seems to be focused on the new President, Muhammadu Buhari and what his tenure portends for the country, Amnesty International (AI), the global human rights watchdog, has raised a serious issue about the activities and conducts of the Nigerian military in the ongoing war against the Boko Haram terrorists in the North-East of the country. And the damning report is already drawing the ire of the Nigerian public against the global body.
Delivering its report titled: “Stars on their shoulders, Blood on their hands: War Crimes Committed by the Nigerian Military” at a press conference held in Abuja last Wednesday, AI said: “Since March 2011, more than 7,000 young men and boys died in military detention and more than 1,200 people were unlawfully killed since February 2012.” AI called for the investigation of certain senior officers and commanders in the Nigerian military, for allegedly participating in sanctioning or failing to prevent the deaths of more than 8,000 people in the course of the ongoing war in the North-East. The body then called on President Muhammadu Buhari to end the culture of impunity that has blighted Nigeria, and for the African Union (AU) and the larger international community to encourage and support efforts to “ensure the alleged perpetrators are brought to justice”.
AI is not alone. The United Nations (UN) has also added its own voice. In a report issued at its headquarters in Geneva last Friday, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, the organisation’s top human rights official, asked the Nigerian president to investigate reports of horrifying crimes by Boko Haram terrorists and alleged abuses by the Nigerian military. He cited evidence gathered by his office on atrocities committed by Boko Haram and also said that the military too had carried out a lot of human rights violations which need to be investigated. The only difference between the AI’s report and that of the UN is that rather than narrowing its own report to cover the military alone, the UN dwelt more on the heinous crimes committed by Boko Haram and probably did a balancing act by touching on the atrocities of the military as well.
From a rag-tag fighting force in 2009, the terrorists have since become more sophisticated and daring, deploying weapons of large scale violence, including Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), and suicide bombers, among other lethal weapons. Till date, no one can rightly say anything about the fate that may have befallen the more than 230 Chibok school girls who were abducted from their school dormitories on the night of April 14, 2014.
Since the AI report was made public, many prominent Nigerians and commentators on social media have taken the human rights body to the cleaners by accusing it of being one-sided and biased in its report. They have also demanded to know why, for instance, AI completely ignored the unspeakable bestiality, human rights violations and crimes against humanity committed by the Boko Haram terror group itself. Based on past indictments by the global body, which had become too frequent, the consensus of opinions is that AI has the habit of condemning the military, which has been trying to protect the territorial integrity of Nigeria from the marauding antics of Boko Haram.
The feelings of several Nigerians were reinforced by the military, which also dismissed the accusations by AI by calling these a witch-hunt and a deliberate attempt to tarnish the military’s image. In his reaction, Chris Olukolade, a Major General and the Director, Directorate of Information at the Defence Headquarters, condemned AI’s gruesome allegations against retired and serving senior Nigerian military personnel and the Armed Forces in general and described it as blackmail. According to him, “the action, no doubt, depicts more of a premeditated indictment aimed at discrediting the country for whatever purpose.” He stated that each of the allegations made in the past by the organisation had been thoroughly responded to and cleared in the public domain and officially, adding that, the title of AI’s most recent report, down to the body of allegations, smacked of extreme bias, “which is disturbing, coming from an otherwise reputable organisation that is expected to be ‘just and fair’ to all.”
I cannot but agree with Olukolade that the AI report is one-sided. In a war, two parties are involved. In this case, you have the senseless, mindless and blood-thirsty Boko Haram terrorists on one hand, and on the other hand, you have the Nigerian military fighting on behalf of Nigeria and Nigerians to return peace and normalcy to the affected areas. In actual fact, it is the Boko Haram leaders – Abubakar Shekau and his sponsors – who deserve to appear before the International Criminal Court at The Hague to answer charges for human rights violations and other heinous crimes they have committed against humanity. These are people whose bestiality knows no bounds. They have slaughtered quite a number of innocent people, including pregnant women, old people, school children, infants and all that.
I am not trying to absolve the military of any wrongdoing or blame at all. We are all witnesses to the unnecessary and needless brutality usually meted out to innocent Nigerians by some overzealous elements in the nation’s military even at peace time. And it cuts across the entire gamut of the uniform services.
For an upward of five gruesome years now, the country and, particularly, the military have been engaged in a fierce fight with these evil-minded terrorists. Operating under the guise of a pseudo-religious belief which has been variously described by adherents of Islam as pure heresy, the group has declared a total war in the North-East of Nigeria. In the three most affected states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, both the social and economic lives of the people have become comatose. Also, majority of the schools and other government establishments in these states have either been burnt down or have remained under lock and key as a result of the prevailing insecurity in the areas. Killing, maiming, arson and wanton destruction of lives and property have become the order of the day. Many of the villages and cities in the affected states have been frequently invaded by the terrorists, who randomly kidnapped young, innocent girls and took them to their stronghold in the Sambissa Forest, an expanse of land almost the size of Belgium. The unlucky ones were brutally killed with gunshots to the head or had their throats slit like rams. Surprisingly, AI, now operating like the propaganda wing of Boko Haram, doesn’t seem to care a hoot about all these atrocities.
From a rag-tag fighting force in 2009, the terrorists have since become more sophisticated and daring, deploying weapons of large scale violence, including Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), and suicide bombers, among other lethal weapons. Till date, no one can rightly say anything about the fate that may have befallen the more than 230 Chibok school girls who were abducted from their school dormitories on the night of April 14, 2014. Unfortunately, AI seems unperturbed about the plight of the Chibok girls. Instead, it has focused its binoculars on the military who are doing all they can to put these marauders in check.
Mind you, I am not trying to absolve the military of any wrongdoing or blame at all. We are all witnesses to the unnecessary and needless brutality usually meted out to innocent Nigerians by some overzealous elements in the nation’s military even at peace time. And it cuts across the entire gamut of the uniform services. It is obvious that Nigerians are incensed because with Buhari coming to power on the crest of a modest posture and popular support, expectations are high that the new President will enthrone good governance in the country and this will surely be the starting block for many good things to come. Therefore, they see the timing of AI’s allegations against the military as unnecessary distraction for the new president and the military establishment.
At any rate, there is no smoke without fire. It is quite difficult to believe that Amnesty International just sat down and cooked up its report. In that case, we can only get to the root of this allegation by embarking on a painstaking investigation or public enquiry. Before then, the military should learn to adhere strictly to the rules of engagement so as to avoid this type of mess, now and in the nearest future.