Army and human right obligations
It is no longer news that the Nigerian Army has commenced an internal military operation in the largely peaceful South Eastern states of Abia, Enugu, Anambra, and Ebonyi. They have not been withdrawn.
It is also no longer news that the key civilian population that inhabit this geopolitical entity of the South East of Nigeria stridently opposed the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to so deploy such heavy weapons and operatives in the streets of the South East states.
This deployment has clearly constituted a cog in the wheel of economic progress of millions of people in the South East of Nigeria who due to panic and social upheavals created by the activities of the Army had to shut down their business premises to be safe.
These wide ranging misunderstanding and the total rejection of the military’s deployment have indeed led to ugly scenarios such a social discontents amongst the largely unarmed members of the indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB) whose leader, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu now stays in Umuahia, Abia State.
The consequences of the mutual disharmony brought about by the controversial military deployment likened to an occupation includes the skirmishes that nearly broke up when soldiers obstructed the free movements of persons suspected to be heading to the premises of the leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB).
The main reason for some of these social discontents amongst the civilian population is the avowed determination of the Nigeria Army to crush what the hierarchy calls aggressive agitation.
The greater percentage of the civilian population in the South East of Nigeria have the perception that since President Muhammadu Buhari cornered the entire strategic command and control structures of the Armed forces of Nigeria to Hausa/Fulani without any representation of the South East of Nigeria, it therefore follows that the Nigeria Army is simply an occupying force.
The Chief of Army Staff on whose instruction the military were deployed to the South East had also stated that it was meant to be used as military show of force to combat what the Army calls violent kidnappings and other manifestations of criminality in the South East.
But these objectives for which the controversial military operation kicked off in the South East are basically the statutory jurisdictions of the Nigeria police.
Notable opinion leaders have also questioned the rationale for deploying soldiers to the East using such excuses of the rate of crime when statically the South East of Nigeria is amongst the lowest when compared to North West and Lagos in the South West.
Even as the strong case of bias and double standards are drawn from the ongoing selective military’s internal operation in the South East, the conflicts that have flared up in Aba, Abia State, Port Harcourt, Rivers State were sparked off because the Army reportedly invaded the home of Nnamdi Kanu.
Kanu, it must be recalled, is on bail from the Federal High Court, Abuja whereby the present administration instituted some controversial charges of treason following the peaceful agitations for self-determination by his group known as IPOB in short form.
The attempt to either place Kanu or his supporters on house arrest without any valid order of a competent court violates their constitutional rights to freedom as enshrined in the chapter four of the Nigerian Constitution.
Moreover, under a constitutional democracy, the president not being an absolute monarch, must respect the constitution.
The president cannot arbitrarily order the detention of a citizen without the valid order of a competent court in compliance with Section 6 of the constitution.
Section 6(1) of the constitution provides that; “6. (1) the judicial powers of the Federation shall be vested in the courts to which this section relates, being courts established for the Federation.”
Even a person undergoing trial in the court of law is entitled to fair hearing and the presumption of innocence as enshrined in section 36(5) is sacrosanct.
Therein lies the affirmation that the deployment of military force to civilian population becomes unconstitutional and unnecessary.
There is a universal agreement that empirically, the activities of the indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB) have remained peaceful, orderly and in line with relevant constitutional laws on freedoms of peaceful assembly and movement.
Some rented supporters of the latest military operations in the South East are seeking to convince their readers that it was necessary to display overwhelming show of military force because in their warped imagination, the indigenous people of Biafra(IPOB) recently, established the Biafra security service and kitted the members with uniform.
These persons are of the warped logic that the wearing of uniform has automatically transformed IPOB to an enemy militia and therefore should be dismantle by military force of arm.
There can be no greater and grave fallacy than the above infantile argument.
This is because, in Kano state, there is an Islamic police putting on uniform but the Nigeria Army has not gone after them.
Then again, in the North East, the joint civilian task force known for short as civilian-JTF are kitted in their uniforms and even carry hunter’s riffles but they are embedded in the counter terrorism operations of the military.
What therefore marks out IPOB’s so called Biafra security service as a threat when they are similarly set up just like a mere civilian non- arms’ bearing vigilante?
Be that as it may, the military operatives and those who control and command them must be told in black and white that they have serious obligations under the international human rights laws-whilst carrying out all internal military operations.
In his scholarly book, the then Brigadier General T.E.C Chiefe (Ph.D) titled: “Military law in Nigeria under democratic rule”, made the same point loud and clear about the imperative of complying to norms and laws of human rights.
His words: “The conduct of operations by the Nigerian Armed forces under any circumstances demands that military operations be regulated by the provisions of the law.”
Chiefe, who until his demise few years back was the Army’s Director of legal services, also profusely reminded military operatives that they can be prosecuted in both civil and military courts if they wilfully violates the human rights provisions contained in the Constitution.
Onwubiko is head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).
The gentleman soldier had further affirmed in his iconic law book that the dual legal status of a soldier, which is described as doctrine of compact implies that service personnel are subject to both military laws and the ordinary civil laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
General Chiefe reminded the Nigeria Army that military operations like all other activities of government should be conducted only in accordance with the dictates of the law.
The men and officers of the Nigeria Army are bound by the following laws; four Geneva conventions of 1949; Multilateral and bilateral agreements to which Nigeria is a signatory and have bearing on military service or operations and decisions of international court of justice, amongst other global legal instruments.
General Chiefe then summed up the major human rights obligations of the military in internal operations thus: “The two additional protocol of 1977 to the Geneva conventions of 1949 are to supplement the 1949 Geneva conventions and modernise the laws of war. Protocol I deals with the laws of war in international army conflicts while protocol 2 addresses the laws of war applicable in internal armed conflict.
“It is noteworthy that the four Geneva conventions and the two additional protocols of 1977 have been formally given effect in Nigeria by the enactment of the Geneva conventions Act Cap G3 laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.”
In sum, the conventions and protocols which are now an Act of the National Assembly, he argued, elaborately spells out the laws of armed conflicts on the use of force and the legal implication of disregarding rules regulating the means and methods of warfare, among other things.
Specifically, Section 3 of the Act provides for trial for breach of the Geneva conventions as follows: In case of grave breach involving willful killing of a person protected by the convention, is punished by sentence of death and in any other such grave breach, imprisonment for 14 years.
The President and his military chiefs need to know that even if the internal systems and mechanisms are manipulated to delay their prosecution should any civilian be unlawfully killed, there are global mechanisms that can be activated to compel their prosecution in international criminal court just like the erstwhile Liberian President Mr. Charles Taylor.
Onwubiko is head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).