Nigeria: The Injustice Pressure-Cooker Must Not Burst, By Jibrin Ibrahim
She notes that the country-wide patterns include the excessive use of lethal force by the police and military, in violation of applicable international standards, the lack of effective investigations, the absence of meaningful prosecution and the militarisation of policing. The result, she says, is further mistrust and breakdown of confidence in the security agencies…
This week, Agnès Callamard, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions published her end of visit report on Nigeria, in which she raises a number of important issues. She first raises her key concern about the Nigerian government presiding over an injustice-pressure cooker that could burst at any moment. Her consultations with stakeholders were focused on examining violations of the right to life by state and non-state actors; the government’s security strategy and the responses at the federal and state levels to the allegations of arbitrary deprivation of life in all parts of the country.
No Nigerian would be surprised by her findings. There have been increased numbers of attacks and killings in the country over the past five years. There is increasing criminality and spreading of insecurity. There is widespread failure by the federal authorities to investigate and hold perpetrators to account, even for mass killings. Nigerians indicated a lack of public trust and confidence in the judicial institutions, and state institutions more generally. She notes the high levels of resentment and grievances within and between communities, related to toxic ethno-religious narratives and “extremist” ideologies – characterised by dehumanisation of “others” and denial of the legitimacy of the claims of others.
All these have translated into a generalised breakdown of the rule of law, with particularly acute consequences for the most vulnerable and impoverished populations of Nigeria. She expresses the view that commentators, analysts and government officials appear to downplay or ignore the warning signs from these trends or assume that no matter their gravity, these will be overcome. She is emphatic that pretending Nigeria is anything short of a crisis situation is a major mistake, especially as in June, the World Poverty Clock reported that over 91 million (46.5 per cent) of 200 million Nigerians were living in extreme poverty. This is exacerbated by the spreading environmental degradation and desertification evident throughout West Africa and the reality that the increasing proliferation of small and military-grade weapons that are readily available, sets the stage for the comprehension of the gravity of the situation.
She notes that the country-wide patterns include the excessive use of lethal force by the police and military, in violation of applicable international standards, the lack of effective investigations, the absence of meaningful prosecution and the militarisation of policing. The result, she says, is further mistrust and breakdown of confidence in the security agencies, especially given the lack of transparency and effective communication on security issues. The Nigerian state, she says, has a one-track strategy – reliance on the military and securitisation approach. While this approach has reduced the progress of insecurity, at least on the surface, in the North-East, in many other situations, the security response appears to have only added new grievances and fostered further distrust, without either curbing insecurity or protecting the local population better, particularly those living in isolated areas in the North-West and the Middle Belt.
She draws attention to other eco-political systems of violence, such as the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) and IPOB, where the security response has taken a “dangerously quasi-prospective approach” in which individuals, communities and associations are actively targeted for what they may have done decades ago, or for what they may do or may become, rather than for what they are doing or have done. She pointes out that throughout the country, the securitisation strategy has also been used by local power-holders to enforce arbitrary and unlawful policies, decisions and action, such as the mass expulsion of city- dwellers living on the margins, to give way to money-making condominiums or other private-public developments.
She points out some dangers in the current situation. The current military strategy in the North-East involves the creation of “garrison towns” in which people are screened, some detained, while others are housed in consolidated “super camps”… She criticises the strategy because of the unknown numbers of civilians who remain in inaccessible areas; the lack of protection afforded to them…
She says that she heard numerous accounts from people who told her that the security forces killed their loved ones, or that they failed to protect them, even when warned of impending attacks, and that they have failed to investigate and prosecute those involved in the killings. This, she explains, is the root cause of the widespread loss of trust and confidence that is leading to the proliferation of self-protecting armed militia (vigilantes). The emerging, so-called, vigilante groups are practicing “jungle justice”, resulting in the gruesome killings of alleged criminal gang members and others, adding, in the medium to longer term, to the security challenges confronting federal and state authorities.
She, however, draws attention to some positive signs. For example, the extent and level of arbitrary deprivation of life in the North-East, including arbitrary killings by security forces, appears to have gone down since 2016. While accountability for violations in the course of the conflict against Boko Haram has not yet been delivered, the decreasing number of allegations in 2018 and 2019 is a positive development, which ought to be further examined, including for the purpose of identifying the lessons therefrom.
She also praises the National Human Rights Commission, which has over time become a strong institution that has delivered important work. Its full independence must continue to be respected and additional resources provided to it, so that it can work to the full extent of its mandate. She also shows appreciation for Nigeria’s “vibrant civil society”, which has been supporting the most vulnerable segments of the population, including in their quests for justice.
She points out some dangers in the current situation. The current military strategy in the North-East involves the creation of “garrison towns” in which people are screened, some detained, while others are housed in consolidated “super camps”. With the exception of these towns and super camps, the state’s territory is seemingly emptied out in an effort to break up Boko Haram’s supply routes and make it impossible for the group to rely on local communities for their food and fighters. She criticises the strategy because of the unknown numbers of civilians who remain in inaccessible areas; the lack of protection afforded to them against Boko Haram attacks; and, the likely assumption that all those remaining are likely supporters of the insurgents.
On March 8, 2017, the military set up a special board of inquiry (SBI) in line with the provision of Section 172(1) of the Armed Forces Act CAP A20 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004. The SBI found that the delayed trials of Boko Haram detainees, resulting in cases of deaths in custody, constitute a denial of the detainees’ right to fair trial. However, the SBI found no evidence of arbitrary arrests or extra judicial executions of detainees – a conclusion that runs contrary to the many allegations that she had received. This ties in with the findings of the Presidential Panel on Human Rights Violations against the military, which I served on and which was established after the work of the special board of inquiry report she refers to. Unfortunately, the White Paper on our report has not yet been published and remedial action is yet to be taken.
…she draws attention to the fact that since 2015, members of IPOB have faced arbitrary arrests, torture and extrajudicial executions, predominantly in the context of demonstrations. Between 2015 and 2016, it is alleged that law enforcement officials killed at least 100 IPOB members in different events in Aba, Awka and Onitsha.
She is categorical that the farmer-herder conflicts may have become or will become Nigeria’s gravest security challenge, owning to the following factors: the number of casualties involved and the extent of the existing humanitarian crisis; the rapid geographical spread of the violence and killings, extending now well into the Southern and North-Western states; the ethno-religious dimensions of the conflict and the highly toxic rhetoric that seek to explain and justify the killings; the seemingly intractable problem of shrinking arable lands as a result of desertification; the sub-regional tentacles of the conflict, with similar problems reported in other countries of the sub-region; and the potential for greater propagation of the conflict due to the accessibility of weapons and the existence of ethno-religious narratives. She admits that the extent of the killings attributable to the conflict is unknown but says that there are allegations that 11,000 persons have been killed in Plateau State alone since 2001.
She draws attention to what she terms as the arbitrary killings of members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN). She recalls the findings of the Kaduna State Judicial Commission of Inquiry to investigate the December 2015 incident that the Nigerian Army committed serious human rights violations against IMN members, including disproportionate use of force and failure to keep record of recovered casualties. However, no further action was taken at the state or federal level to investigate and prosecute those criminally responsible for the killings. She also laments the violent repression of IMN demonstrations for the release of their leader, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, in which many of their members were killed.
Finally, she draws attention to the fact that since 2015, members of IPOB have faced arbitrary arrests, torture and extrajudicial executions, predominantly in the context of demonstrations. Between 2015 and 2016, it is alleged that law enforcement officials killed at least 100 IPOB members in different events in Aba, Awka and Onitsha. Another 150 persons were alleged to have been killed in September 2017 during Operation Python Dance II.
These are serious issues and I hope the government will give this report the attention it deserves.
Picture credit: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse.