It is not in the interest of Nigeria to expel Amnesty International

Still smarting from the reversal of an order to ban United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) from its theatre of operation in the North-east, the Nigerian Army has called for the closure of the Amnesty International (AI) offices in Nigeria, claiming it has ‘credible evidence’ the organisation is working to destabilise the country. According to a statement by the army spokesman, Sani Usman, this alleged attempt by AI was being carried out through the fabrication of ‘fictitious’ allegations of human rights abuses against the Nigerian security forces.

We object to the idea of expelling the AI from Nigeria on spurious grounds because such a move will not be in the interest of the country. Besides, the army statement seems more like a pre-emptive move to discredit the latest AI report titled, “Harvest of Death: Three Years of Bloody Clashes Between Farmers and Herders”, also released yesterday.

The AI, which collaborates and partners with governments and NGOs, is an independent organisation with presence in no fewer than 150 countries across the world, including Nigeria. But the organisation has for years been at loggerheads with the Nigerian armed forces, essentially over human rights. For instance, when its 2016/2017 report, “The State of The World’s Human Rights” was released last year, the then acting director, Defence Information, Brigadier-General Rabe Abubakar described the aspect of the report touching on Nigeria as a continuation of “series of spurious fabrications aimed at tarnishing the good image of the Nigerian military.”

One of the issues causing frictions between the army and AI is the continued detention of Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky who was arrested on 14th December 2015 following a violent clash between his group and the army during a procession in Zaria, Kaduna State. In that clash, 347 of El-Zakzaky’s followers, including one of his wives were killed by the military. Earlier in July 2015 some members of his family were also killed by the military. It is a case that has continued to draw strong statements from AI to the displeasure of both the military and the federal government. That is why we hope that the administration will not use yesterday’s statement as a convenient excuse to expel AI from Nigeria.

Meanwhile, we are not unmindful of the efforts of our military and the sacrifices they make. As crimes become prevalent within our society, several military personnel are now being deployed to assist the police in securing the peace. However, because of their operative rules and with insufficient training for their new roles, it is no surprise that there have been cases where the military evidently overstepped their bounds and engaged in activities that highlight conflicts between them and the civil populace. That has also led to the human rights abuses on which AI has focused.

While we can understand some of these infractions arising from the drafting of soldiers onto the streets, there can be no excuse for some of the excessive use of force. One mark of a professional military force is to display civility in dealing with non-combatants. But the history of the Nigerian military from the civil war to the present is almost an unbroken tale of brigandage – killings and casual torture to wit: Kalakuta, Odi, Zaki Biam, etc.

What the AI reports continue to do is to remind the leadership of the military of their obligations to citizens, especially in a democracy. That cannot be a justification to expel the organisation from Nigeria. The lesson that should be learnt from other jurisdictions with similar challenges to that of our country today is that if there is no cooperation with the civil populace, vital information that ought to assist in the detection of crimes would be withheld. And in such a situation, we are all losers.