Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja
Against the backdrop of its role in the 2019 general election, militarisation of some parts of the country and allegations of human rights abuses in its operations, the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, yesterday declared that the military must act within the law during military operations.
But the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadidue Abubakar, insisted that the Nigerian military was guided by the law of armed conflict.
Speaking as a special guest of honour at the 2019 Law of Armed Conflict Retreat for Nigerian Air Force legal officers held at the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) headquarters in Abuja, Justice Muhammad said the military institution was critical to the success of any democracy and must act within the laws during military operations.
“I want to reiterate that considering the asymmetric nature of the type of war we now engage in, the military cannot function effectively without public support.
“If we juxtapose this with the increasing focus and criticisms of military operations at both local and international levels, the need to act within the laws during military operations therefore becomes undeniably imperative,” he said.
The acting CJN said the military was critical to the success of any democracy.
“For me, the military is very critical to the success of any democracy. After all, of what use will our great wealth be if not well defended?” He said.
In his remarks, Air Marshal Abubakar said the military was guided by laws of armed conflict.
He said the law of armed conflict formed part of both domestic and international humanitarian laws that regulate the conduct of armed hostilities and covers overlapping areas such as the Hague Rule, the Geneva Law as well as the two additional protocols of 1977.
He added that the military, in carrying out its tasks, is focused on the features of the protocols which were designed to protect defenceless people and property that are not connected with hostilities.
Abubakar explained that the retreat was aimed at providing NAF legal officers with the opportunity to meet and interact with their colleagues within and outside the service, adding that it was designed to equip field commanders with current and emerging legal trends as well as issues associated with human rights in the conduct of internal security operations.
He said: “Retreats on LOAC have become recurring activities in NAF calendar of events because of our realisation that the success of any institution depends largely on the understanding and application of the laws under which it is established.
“To this end, the NAF has since 2016, organised annual legal retreats for its legal officers, fighter pilots and field commanders. This year’s edition is particularly unique because we have invited not only our legal advisers, field commanders, academicians, the diplomatic community as well as the judiciary under the same roof but we have also invited the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria as the special guest of honour.”
Earlier in his speech, the Chief of Administration, NAF, Air Vice Marshal Kingsley Lar said fighters ought to know the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) and ensure that the laws are respected and obeyed, adding that decisions made in the heat of battle must comply with LOAC.
He added that as an institution created by law to operate and function in a democratic and constitutionally governed nation, it was imperative and obligatory that the NAF conducts its activities, even in the simplest situations in accordance with the law.
Lar said the experiences over the years had shown that there was always a legal perspective to all issues and a legal question to answer in all matters.