It is difficult to know what the military means by ‘concocted’.
But since ‘tactical withdrawal’ can mean soldiers turning their backs on the scrawny rabid dogs of Boko Haram and fleeing to ‘refugee’ camps in Cameroun , ‘concocted’ must have some other ‘military’ meaning.
The evidence presented by amnesty international appears damning . Internal military memos revealing a frightening mortality rate of suspects in military detention camps. Res ipsa loquitur . A presumption of the existence of inhuman detention conditions and routine torture of suspects is almost irrefutable.
These are new troubles for our beleaguered military leaders. No one knows if the president’s certificate has been found. Their perceived biased meddlesomeness in the manner INEC was coerced to postpone the polls should also be forgiven. Our democracy is maturing. Like the DSS and their spokesperson , many presumably never contemplated the opposition’s victory. The president has promised to eschew vengeance. But he has a duty to uphold the law.
The Amnesty International released copious evidence of alleged human rights atrocities and mindless brutality perpetrated by Nigerian soldiers in the war against terrorism. These alleged acts are patently horrific. The new government has promised a thorough investigation while the military has characteristically dismissed accusations of brutality and war crimes . Nigerians have risen emotionally. A few , mainly residents of the north east region, welcome the searchlight of the rights groups.
Most wonder why Amnesty international and other human rights groups even bother about the rights of boko haram members , people whom they suggest have in a sense forfeited such rights by their inhumanity , by a predilection for mass murder and widespread wanton destruction property. Many others are offended by what they consider a skewed focus on the excesses of the armies of poor powerless nations while British and American soldiers routinely commit such atrocities and are never really held to account. They wonder if any US generals have been imprisoned for many acts that meet the definition of war crime and crime against humanity committed by the US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. They wonder why these organizations cannot preoccupy themselves with Guantanamo which is a log of inhumanity that must be addressed before anyone can talk about the speck of arbitrary detentions and torture anywhere else in the universe.
These sentiments and more are genuine and well founded. But they however do not address the unfortunate reality that many of those affected by arbitrary detentions in inhuman conditions and by acts of torture could be innocent Nigerians. The alleged atrocities have actual and potential consequences on the lives of citizens who live in these territories which are not helped by these excuses. Powerful nations and especially permanent members of the UN security council can get away with so much while less powerful nations cannot. It’s an entrenched inequity we must live with for now.
Human rights atrocities in the north east of Nigeria are widespread. Are they inevitable? Are they unavoidable collateral consequences ? It is true that it is difficult to engage an extremely brutal enemy like Boko haram without being extremely aggressive , without becoming correspondingly brutal. It is true that against such an enemy , respect for human rights and due process could be eroded by desperation. It is true that the more ill prepared and more poorly equipped the army, the greater their disregard for niceties of human rights and rule of war. It is hard to imagine how the army could have kept faith with due process in the north east where they were totally stretched to limits and where criminal justice structures practically no longer existed. I make no excuses for the army , I understand their difficulties. The rules are made for these sort of circumstances where the likelihood of war crimes and crimes against humanity is high.
There is admittedly no moral justification for rampant instances of extrajudicial execution of suspects and innocent people picked off the streets by gleeful soldiers and their civilian JTF counterparts. It is however a testament to the impossibility of that war at some stage for our military that so much fell on civilian vigilantes and militias. The militia boys are driven by self preservation and patriotism but ethical orientation.
The fact of the existence of a state of emergency is not a suspension of international humanitarian laws and laws that govern armed conflicts.
A truck driver well known to me had the misfortune of a flat tyre somewhere in Yobe in 2013. While fixing his vehicle , boko haram rebels attacked the vicinity and he was shot in the leg. Moments later, the military arrived and arrested the hapless , stricken, driver found crouched near the truck. He was dumped in one of the detention camps and no one knew his whereabouts for weeks. The magnanimity of a ‘good samaritan ‘ soldier who helped alert his family weeks after the arrest led to his discovery and a tedious process of his release. All through that ordeal he received no real medical attention. And hundreds of innocent people have met similar and perhaps worse fates.
The military may insist that the evidences of the human rights bodies are fabricated. They may choose to acknowledge that there have been a few instances of human rights abuses by a few ‘rotten apples’. Or that the report of the human rights group is, in the main, grossly exaggerated. They may argue that any such abuses are not systemic and not part of any policy or military strategy. And they may be right, who knows? But if anyone remembers Odi or remembers Zaki biam , one may not be in a hurry to exonerate our military. Our soldiers are patriotic . But an investigation is imperative and urgent. Who knows. The allegations may be false or exaggerated as the military insist.
In spite of the difficulties our soldiers have faced , it’ s doubtful that heavy handedness is a good strategy. It certainly didn’t help in the effort to win hearts and minds.
President Buhari , has a difficult task on his hand. Amongst many other consequences , a tarnished human rights records affords many western nations easy reasons not to avail Nigeria of much needed arms and training to combat the insurgency. He must act quickly. But Buhari must tread carefully. The military in any third world country remains a potent political force . Our soldiers have come to understand the sanctity of civilian rule but our democracy is not impregnable yet .Besides such dangers, any threats to the morale of senior military officers would impact negatively on the war against Boko haram and the security of the nation.
Many find it objectionable that we can even contemplate the prosecution of senior military officers who have sacrificed so much, who laid down their lives to protect us. So how can the president navigate these landmines? He must find a balance between military ethical compliance and military effectiveness . On the one hand , his troops must meet international legal standards in their conducts and engagements . On the other they must meet the expectations of our citizens by crushing the insurgency. Thorough investigations and a proper ethical re orientation of the military must proceed simultaneously with keeping the military highly motivated and efficient.
We want our soldiers to aspire to international ethical standards, we must aspire to treat them better. Soldiers’ well being must be our priority. Clear command and control structures, prompt attention to needs and adequate supply of equipment will raise the morale of soldiers and make any human rights investigations and prosecutions be appreciated as morally justified corrective and deterrent measures.
We hear so much and too frequently of erring soldiers and court marshals. We would like to hear more of the gallantry and the bravery of our soldiers . We want to see corporals and sergeants and captains , fighting at the fronts , bestowed with national honours at well publicized events on a regular basis. Fallen soldiers must be given due national acknowledgment and the often shabby treatment meted to their families should cease. Rehabilitation and reintegration of wounded and retired soldiers must meet international standards too.
Tactical times. The president must be tactful.