The Nigerian Army is once more in the eye of the storm caused by some indiscretions and unprofessional conducts of some of her operatives and officers with regards to internal military operations.
Under the current dispensation the Nigerian Army has had several face offs with International humanitarian groups over alleged widespread killings of civilians.
The latest challenge to the public and corporate image of the Nigerian Army is the alleged mass killings of over 150 unarmed protesters thought to be members or sympathizers of the Europe registered group known as the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
IPOB has for two years now waged global wide peaceful advocacy campaigns for self-determination of the people of South-East of Nigeria.
The members of the Indigenous People of Biafra are absolutely unarmed and are some of the most peaceful and peaceable advocates of self-determination Worldwide.
The British founded global human rights body known as Amnesty International has recently issued damaging but extensively verifiable reports of the killing spree conducted by the Nigerian Army in the South East of Nigeria in the last one year leading to the slaughter through extra-legal means of unarmed civilians belonging or exercising their sympathy for the messages of self-determination being spread peacefully by IPOB.
This report has understandably generated considerable volumes of reactions with the Army hurriedly denying any involvement but in another breath said it was only defending her operatives from violence. Which violence? One may ask.
The killings of civilians by the Army go against everything that constitutional democracy stands for because extra-legal execution of civilians is absolutely antithetical to civility and democracy.
For the better part of the last two decades, Nigeria embraced civilian democracy and an essential ingredient of this system of government is the constitutionally guaranteed right to peaceful protests the citizens are entitled to.
Importantly, the attempt to sweep under the carpets these senseless killings captured in audiovisuals and which are watched globally, offends everything that make us rational and thinking beings.
The killings if tolerated would amount to overturning all the efforts we have genuinely made to build a Nigerian nation whereby the Rule of Law would become our national ethos.
Professor Isawa. J. Elaigwu who contributed a piece in the university of Jos Alumni association lecture series even alluded to the basic fact that impunity and cover up by government officials and all other relevant authorities would deny Nigeria the benefit of becoming a civilized polity in line with global best practices.
His Words: “While laws, structures and processes are useful in the operation of federalism as a mechanism of managing conflicts in the process of nation-building, the human dimension poses the greatest challenges to the polity. It does not matter what laws and structures are in place, human beings must run the system. Human operators must imbibe the values of justice, equity and accommodation of opponents…”
I must say it straight away that the attempts by the Army’s directorate of Public relations and the Nigerian political establishment in Abuja headed by President Muhammadu Buhari to sweep under the carpets these serious allegations of mass killings of members of IPOB by the Nigeria Army can only succeed in graphically presenting our society as primitive, brutish, violent and blood tasty.
Even in a state of nature the crude and primitive resorts to self-help measures and open use of lethal weapons as used by the Nigerian Army against IPOB members made up of unarmed men, boys, women, girls and their babies amounted to grave crime against humanity.
The only option open to the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai and the President, retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari is to dispassionately take legal notice of this large scale evidence of mass killings as presented by Amnesty International, arrest and prosecute the offenders or else the International Criminal Court could be asked to step in.
It is a sacred fact that the Nigerian Army is not set up as a bunch of some armed brutes on specific assignment of occupation, domination and elimination of dissenting voices.
The constitution created the Nigerian Army to comply and to operate in line with the rules of engagement which totally prohibits the deployment of maximum force to kill off political or ideological opponents of the government.
Not even under late Colonel Saddam Husseini or the Ugandan warlord Idi Amin Dada will such malfeasance be expected to be swept under the carpets and the perpetrators celebrated as heroes rather than villains and war criminals.
Looking through the relevant sections of the Constitution particularly Section 217(1), the Nigerian Army just like the other segments of the Armed Forces was created to protect the people and not to kill the people at the slightest provocation.
The Constitutional duty (217(2) (c)) of ‘suppressing insurrection’ as contained in the Constitution did not lift the ban placed on the abolition of extra-legal killing which is the intendment of Section 33(1) thus: “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which has been found guilty in Nigeria.”
Besides, Chapter Four of the Constitution allows Nigerians to assemble freely and associate with other persons just as the fundamental freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed to all citizens including supporters of the Indigenous People of Biafra.
The recorded evidence whereby armed Nigerian Soldiers were seen running helter skelter, and opening fire on unarmed members of IPOB must be forensically investigated. The Nigerian Army must not view these reports as direct indictment of Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai but the individuals responsible ought to be identified, prosecuted and punished in accordance with the Constitutional norms.
There’s therefore a constitutional imperative on the Chief of Army Staff to ensure that those of his boys that violated the law are sanctioned.
In fact the statements credited to both the Army and the Presidency has made it necessary that only an Independent body such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) or the United Nations Security Council can be trusted to deliver justice to all the parties involved.
In the report, Amnesty International Stated thus: “By far the largest number of pro-Biafra activists were killed on Biafra Remembrance Day on 30 May 2016 when an estimated 1,000 IPOB members and supporters gathered for a rally in Onitsha, Anambra State. The night before the rally, the security forces raided homes and a church where IPOB members were sleeping.”
“On Remembrance Day itself, the security forces shot people in several locations. Amnesty International has not been able to verify the exact number of extrajudicial executions, but estimates that at least 60 people were killed and 70 injured in these two days. The real number is likely to be higher.”
“Ngozi (not her real name), a 28-year-old mother of one, told Amnesty International that her husband left in the morning to go to work but called her shortly afterwards to say that the military had shot him in his abdomen. He said he was in a military vehicle with six others, four of whom were already dead. She told Amnesty International: “he started whispering and said they just stopped [the vehicle]. He was scared they would kill the remaining three of them that were alive… He paused and told me they were coming closer. I heard gunshots and I did not hear a word from him after that.”
“The next day Ngozi searched for her husband and finally found his body in a nearby mortuary. The mortuary attendants told her that the military had brought him and six others. She saw three gunshot wounds: one in his abdomen and two in his chest, which confirmed her fear that the military had executed him.”
“Amnesty International has also reviewed videos of a peaceful gathering of IPOB members and supporters at Aba National High School on 9 February 2016. The Nigerian military surrounded the group and then fired live ammunition at them without any prior warning.”
“According to eyewitnesses and local human rights activists, many of the protesters at Aba were rounded up and taken away by the military. On 13 February 13 corpses, including those of men known to have been taken by the military, were discovered in a pit near the Aba highway.”
How on Earth should a civilisation deliberately overlook this planned genocide as documented by this global organisation? Only in a Banana Republic will such large scale mass killings be consigned to the dustbin of history.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is the head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and blogs @ www.emmanuelonwubiko.com