An army in defense of human rights
In recent times, the Nigerian Army has engaged the Nigerian populace in various enlightenment programmes in the spirit of transparency and loyalty to the Nigerian people. While combating various insurgency and insecurity issues in the country, the Nigerian military, and the Army, in particular, continue to manage some misguiding media portraits that drive false and misleading perceptions among the populace.
A perception of the Nigerian Army in the past years of military rule in the country is one that continues to live with a segment of the Nigerian media and society, even when the Army in recent years has moved on and become completely professionalized, modernized and made completely loyal to civil political authority. The phobia of a segment of the media for the military continues to feed public perception in ways that many ordinary people who have had no significant interaction with the military think of the latter largely in terms of force and violence.
Against the backdrop of unfounded accusations by some media organizations, aided by social media, that it uses the torture technique in dealing with insurgents and criminals, the Nigerian Army recently threw open its holding facilities across the country to journalists for inspection and independent investigation.
Holding facilities are temporary cells where suspects and renegade persons, military and civilian, are kept before they are transferred to the appropriate enforcement agencies for prosecution. Matters relating to financial crimes are sent to the EFCC, matters relating to the threat to lives, properties and peaceful co-existence in a state or in the country are sent to the Department of State Security, and general civil or criminal matters go to the Nigeria Police, among others.
At the 6 Division Military Police Detention, the Military Police Commander, Colonel Sule Sani took journalists around the facility to see for themselves that the Army is not in the business of detaining people. “In cases where civilians are arrested in relation to any case,” Sani said, “the suspects are transferred immediately to the relevant security or enforcement agency.”
The Military Police is an arm of the Army that is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that all military personnel conduct themselves strictly by standard operational guidelines, and it often brings to book soldiers and officers who offend or use their positions to undermine the well-being of civilians.
Even in the war against insurgency in the Northeast, soldiers and officers understand the rules of engagement within which they must operate in cases of captured or arrested Boko Haram terrorists. The Joint Investigation Centre (JIC) is a security facility that is run by a combination of the personnel of the Nigerian Army, the Defence Intelligence Agency, the Nigeria Police, the Department of State Security, the Civil Defence Corps, and the Nigerian Immigration Service. It is used for interrogating the Boko Haram terrorists, among others. Located at the Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri, the centre engages arrested terrorists and their collaborators using internationally approved psychological and coercive strategies to extract critical information from the fallen insurgents.
Speaking to journalists in the cell where he was being held at the centre, a detained Boko Haram terrorist stated that he had been treated well by the soldiers since he was arrested. “They talk to me like a brother and made me to see the country in a new light,” he said, speaking in Hausa. Journalists also found out that at least two lawyers from the Office of the Attorney General visit the detention centre every week to ensure adherence to due process, and that individuals are not kept in the centre in perpetuity. Cases are prepared for prosecution in the relevant courts of law. The prevalent attitude is that the enemy, despite the paradox, retains his human rights and has the right to seek justice and redress within the competent structures of democracy.
Shortly after his release from the JIC, one Suleman Isa from Yobe State, who had spent some time in the facility before his innocence was proven, spoke thus to journalists: “I don’t see any problem with the military. Every three days we came out to have our bath and clean the environment. We will gather our clothes and some of us will be assigned to wash them.” He reported that the centre contacted his family to assure them of his safety and to help him get witnesses so that he could be released. “I did not see any soldier beat any suspect here. Some of the soldiers even advised some of us to seek education so that we can better ourselves, and not to get involved in any semblance of criminal activities. When I was made to face the interrogators, no one beat me.”
The JIC is equipped with a clinic, and detainees that become critically ill are transferred to the nearest Military Hospital. Isa had fallen ill at the JIC and was at the clinic for a few days before he was transferred to the Military Hospital where he eventually recovered his health.
Like any other organization peopled by human beings, the Nigerian Army sometimes has to contend with an errant soldier or officer who falls out of line and drags the service to disrepute. Often, such isolated cases are blown and bloated by a segment of the media and its civil society counterparts. Various officers and soldiers who spoke with the journalists in the course of the visit to holding facilities pride themselves as belonging to “one of the most disciplined institutions in the country.”
That fact about discipline cuts across the various Army formations in the country. The service has developed a pocket-sized handbook which outlines the rules of engagement for all divisions and units of the Army. The handbook incorporates significant decimals of human rights, among other matters. In order to further entrench the culture of harmony with civilians, the military police are responsible for monitoring human rights issues within the various units and apprehending and punishing violators of human rights.
To underscore the extent to which the Army leadership treasures a harmonious relationship with the civilian population, an entire department of the service is devoted to army-civilian relations and is headed by a principal staff officer to the Army Chief. To achieve linkage at every level of its operations, there are Human Rights Desks at the Army Headquarters Department of Civil-Military Affairs and in all the divisions of the Army across the nation. These desks are accessible and open to all Nigerians. The design is for any Nigerian or foreigner in Nigeria to make a complaint and seek redress in any case of abuse or violation by any soldier or officer.
Captain Seiyefa Amgbari, the Human Rights Desk Officer at the 6 Division in Port Harcourt buttressed the consistent application of the service’s standard operating procedure. The Army Policy on Human Rights was approved by the Chief of Army Staff, General TY Buratai in 2016, and has been in use since then. Sections of the policy handbook are founded on global best practices regarding arrests, detention and interrogation of suspects, criminals and terrorists.
“The Army regularly organises training and re-training programmes for its officers and soldiers on human rights issues in order to constantly sensitise them and remind them of its human rights policies,” said Major General Hamza Bature, the Chief of Civil-Military Affairs at the Army Headquarters. It is sacrosanct that any military person who violates the human rights of civilians would face disciplinary action, no matter the rank. The Nigerian Army rule of “No Exception” on the matter of human rights has led to dire consequences for some soldiers who crossed the red line, and the practice has further fostered strict compliance with the rules. “There is no member of the Nigerian Army who is not aware of the human rights policies of the Army,” said Bature. “Anyone who is found guilty faces the Military Police. We have the Military Police in all theatres of operation in the country, and they investigate defaulters of human rights, among others. We also have the extant provision of the Armed Forces Act CAP A 20 of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, where all issues relating to human rights and other offences are domiciled, and whoever violates them and is found guilty would be charged, no matter the status, and will undergo prosecution accordingly.”
The rule of respect for human rights relates to every facet of Army operations in the country. “Even in a situation where the military personnel are required to use ‘deadly force’, there are stipulated conditions that must be established before the execution of action,” said Major General Anthony Omozoje, the GOC 2 Division of the Nigerian Army. Whenever any military battalion is to be deployed for any operation, “the roles, actions, processes and procedures are planned with sophistication and are executed with briefings,” Omozoje stated.
The Nigerian Army is currently elaborately structured and programmed in practical ways that enable it to effectively and significantly protect and defend the human rights of Nigerians and foreigners in Nigeria. There is thus an unprecedented degree of harmonious civil-military relationship in rural and urban communities in the country, and this has resulted in continuing and enhanced collaboration between the Army and the civil populace.
From its meagre resources, the Army has embarked on numerous intervention and development projects such as the rehabilitation of public school buildings, construction of roads, boreholes, and primary health centres, deployment of medical personnel to care for civilian populations, etc. This is in communities across all the geopolitical zones of the country. Beyond defending the sovereignty of the nation, the activities of the Army have been so designed in ways that would endear officers and soldiers to the hearts of Nigerians. In the context of its renewed professionalism, the Army continues to exert itself as a defender of the human and civil rights of Nigerians, and quite importantly, as a defender of their right to democracy.