It could be hard, but the right response is to conduct the war on Boko Haram within the rules of engagement
Amnesty International (AI) recently launched its annual report for the year. Notable lessons in the report include the human tragedy that has rendered Europe a major culprit in the handling of the global refugee situation, the imprisonment of political activists in Malaysia, the hacking to death of secular bloggers in Bangladesh, and the incarceration of human rights lawyers in China. In summary, A1 described 2015 as a calamitous year for human rights across the globe.
In many ways, according to the AI report, human rights have become more of accessories to many countries – something nice to have if you can afford them, but easy to discard when they become convenient to do so. However, in all these, nowhere has AI been given the elbow by those in authority as is the case in Nigeria, where its office is barely a few months old, even if its activities have spanned a longer duration of time.
We understand that a week before the launch of its annual report, the AI team from the international secretariat had sought audience with the defence headquarters to iron out some of the disagreements that seemed to have been causing friction between the security agencies in the country and the rights crusaders. But instead of an amicable meeting, both sides left in a no-retreat, no-surrender mood. While the Nigeria Army continues to defend its men of the atrocities that have been documented by AI, arguing that a desperate situation requires a desperate solution, AI officials insist that observing human rights can only enhance the credibility, sustainability and effectiveness of the strategies adopted by both the military and security agencies in the fight against terror.
While we support our armed forces and commend them for their sacrifices, especially in the difficult season that we are in, we also believe that upholding human rights enhances their efforts. Last year, AI issued two reports on Nigeria but it would appear that it is only one that attracted public awareness. The first, “Our Job is to Shoot, Kill and Maim” was a catalogue of the atrocities of Boko Haram insurgents while the second, “Stars on Their Shoulders, Blood on Their Hands” revealed some of the extra-judicial killings by the Nigerian troops. That particular report riled the military authorities and helped to cause further friction between them and AI.
The situation is not helped by the fact that for years, the Nigerian military has had a running battle with AI with the allegation that the human rights body was more interested in the rights of the Boko Haram murderers than in the rights of ordinary citizens who were at the receiving end of the brutalities of the insurgents. However, the counter-argument by AI is that it is looking at human rights from both sides and that military and securities officials should be held to higher standards of accountability.
We believe the two institutions should not be enemies but we understand some of the issues. Perhaps, because they were thrust into their role of combating a deadly insurgency without adequate preparations, there were cases where the military evidently overstepped their bounds and engaged in activities that highlight significant tension and conflicts between them and the civil populace. Yet as we have repeatedly highlighted, defeating the insurgents requires more than muscles.
Therefore, dismissing AI officials, especially since many of them are respected Nigerian patriots, as agents of imperialism is not in any way helpful. Fortunately, there has been a glimmer of hope since the last election of 2015 and the coming to power of President Muhammadu Buhari, who promised that all documented abuses by Amnesty International against Nigerians will be thoroughly investigated. We believe that is the right way to go.