General Tukur Yusuf Buratai will on April 12th 2018 launch the updated Army headquarters directives on standing rules of engagement, use of force as well as detention and interrogation.
The event which is entirely a military event but will however be symbolically witnessed by select members of the organized human rights community.
To the over 159 million Nigerian civilians, this event should be of utmost concern since the guiding principles of military internal operations will either impact negatively or positively on all of us.
How the military of Nigeria carries out her functions in protecting the territorial integrity of Nigeria and assist the police to maintain internal peace goes to the roots of our constitutional democracy.
This is why the Army for instance is called Nigerian Army and not just the Army.
But just as Nigerians wait for the Army to inaugurate this official legal frameworks that ought to emphasize the necessity of compliance to extant human rights provisions, it is important to also highlight the need for Nigeria to dispassionately fish out the soldiers who inflicted torture and allegedly committed extra-legal killings of civilians in all previous operations.
This task is essential not necessarily because anybody wishes to name and shame the military institution but more importantly because it is essential that the military is seen as a highly professional institution that does not tolerate impunity and lawlessness.
The Nigerian Army has over the past many years become synonymous to professional discipline and loyalty to the Constitution.
It is difficult to process loyalty to the Constitution if the rule of law is thrown to the dogs and treated with disrespect by those trained to work as soldiers.
So, arriving at a clear determination of the various violations of human rights that occurred in the recent past, must be the most essential beginning point in the hierarchy of the Army gets prepared to inaugurate the updated rules of military engagement.
The past indiscretions of the bad eggs amongst the military must be unraveled and the perpetrators prosecuted to serve as effective deterrent.
This is because the conclusions reached by the panels set up by both the Army and the Nigerian presidency to investigate allegations of extra-legal executions by military of civilians in some of the previously staged military operations all around Nigeria did not meet global best practices.
For instance, it is a notorious fact that during last year’s Operation Python Dance II in the South East of Nigeria, pictorial and eye witness accounts of several killings and torture of civilians trended.
But because the present government was all out to inflict maximum force against any perceived supporter of the hurriedly proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), not many eye witnesses who could give credible evidence appeared before the investigative panels.
This writer is in possession of concrete proofs of gross human rights violations committed by the Army.
The conducts of the defunct investigative panels did not meet best global practices because they operated like persons hired to do a predetermined job to burnish and garnish the waning public image of the military institution.
By the way, the internal Army’s Investigative Panelists were also part of those that constituted the government empaneled body of investigators which was headed by a jurist with considerable links to military authority.
Most of the members are civil servants whose promotions or stability on their career paths may be imperiled should they decide to follow the way of independence and objectivity.
The rest of the members are known affiliates of some military Generals. Critical questions of security and safety of real witnesses were not considered.
How were the sympathizers of the organization that was hurriedly branded a terrorist group expected to show up to render evidence when the Nigerian state was and is still all out to arrest, prosecute and detain any one with identifiable sympathy to this group?
This precisely was the reason for my resolute opposition to the arbitrary declaration of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) as a terrorist group by Buhari’s administration even when the members have never professed arm struggle or use of force.
John Nnia Nwodo stated that Ohanaeze Ndigbo had since the end of Operation Python Dance exercise, followed with protests and correspondences to the Nigerian Army’s high command about the killings of innocent Igbo during the operation and would not relent until those involved were brought to book.
How can IPOB sympathizers genuinely tender evidence before those panels when the current government has made the carrying of common flags of IPOB a punishable offence?
So, getting credible eye witness accounts of the extra-legal killings was a near impossibility in the South East.
The global rights body called Amnesty International already documented a body of what is considered as believable evidences that can be relied upon to realistically deal with the issues of gross human rights abuses that actually took place during that militia operations.
But even the Amnesty international was declared persona non grata. How does any rational observer accept that the Nigerian State was willing to know the truth?
By the way, why should anyone be in doubt that human rights were abused by armed security forces during the last military operation when even the media were victimized when soldiers invaded the premises of the Nigerian Union of Journalists and inflicted injuries, pains and agonies on the media workers in the Abia state capital?
It got to a very notorious extent that the Abia state government made a public broadcast to denounce the flagrant violations of the Human Rights of the citizens of that South East state.
Still debating about how some human rights violations took place in the South East, we may have to read the well thought out remarks made by the President of the Igbo ethnicity body called OHANAEZE NDI IGBO in which this erudite Nigerian explicitly stated that indeed people died from the military operation to the South East region.
The Ohanaeze Ndigbo vowed that it would not rest until the Nigerian Army court marshals its officers involved in extra-judicial killings of Igbo youths during the Operation Python Dance last year.
It said soldiers massacred scores of youths and that these civilians were massacred in the Southeast during the exercise, stressing that the action was against the rules of engagement.
John Nnia Nwodo stated that the leadership of the apex Igbo organization, had since the end of the military exercise, followed with protests and correspondences to the Nigerian Army’s high command about the killings of innocent Igbo during the operation and would not relent until those involved were brought to book.
He said, “I had the opportunity to confront the Army over the Operation Python Dance and they assured me that they will court martial all soldiers who are identified who were involved in the extra-judicial killing of our children contrary to their rules of engagement.
“I have been following this matter with correspondence and I will continue to follow it until we know those who massacred our children without cause and ensure they are brought to book.”
Nwodo, who lamented that the authorities had shown less concern in the massacre of no fewer than 700 Igbo youths of Delta State extraction by federal troops during the war, stated that the act should not be allowed to continue in Igbo land.
“I am happy that I led the national executive of Ohanaeze to Asaba last year when we remembered 700 of our people who were murdered by federal troops contrary to the rules of engagement, similar to what we experienced during Operation Python Dance,” he said.
Chief Nwodo is a believer in the corporate existence of Nigeria. He is a very honest statesman.
He served Nigeria as a Federal minister. He has therefore nothing to gain by not standing behind his convictions.
This is the reason I am calling on the military authority to sincerely find ways of fishing out those who breached the rules of engagement during that controversial exercise in the entire South East so the impression is not created that the military can kill and go.
The violators of HUMAN RIGHTS in the North East of Nigeria must also be prosecuted.
My candid appeal to the military authority is to do the needful to clean up the institution by punishing and prosecuting violators of human rights and this is because the military as a critical constitutionally created institution, is obliged to operate within the confines of the rule of law.
General T.E.C. Chiefe in his book “military law in Nigeria under democratic rule” also alluded to the above imperative.
Albert Venn Dicey described as a famous jurist in his book “Law of the constitution 1895”, said as follows about the concept of rule of law:
“Rule of law can be defined from three different perspectives.
“Firstly, the rule of law regulates government power or activities by limiting arbitrariness and abuse thereby making government more rational and intelligent in both its policies and actions.
“Secondly, the rule of law means equality before the law, that is, no person is above the law but that every person, whatever the rank or position is subject to the ordinary laws of the land. Thirdly, that the rule of law means formal or procedural justice.”
Brigadier General Chiefe (Ph.D.) wrote:
“As we have seen so far the rule of law as a concept is meant to ensure that well known rules and regulations take precedence over and above the arbitrary acts of individual sovereigns or governmental authority”.
Chiefe, who before he died headed the Legal directorate at the Army headquarters, argued that in relation to the conduct of military operations by the Nigerian armed forces, the rule of law ensures that from the outset when troops are called out or committed to operations, and during the operations, the spirit and terms of the law must be followed.
The Chief of Army Staff is therefore tasked to ensure that all members of the armed security forces are sufficiently educated to understand the rudimentary details of this regulatory framework and must abide by the terms and conditions enshrined in these sets of rules that must comply with the chapter four of the Constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria.
The Army is pivotal to the maintenance of constitutional democracy and so all eyes will be on the hierarchy of the Army to see how so effective it will implement and enforce the rules in line with constitutional norms and practices.
Emmanuel Onwubiko heads the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @www.emmanuelonwubiko.com; www.huriwanigeria.com.