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Monday, May 27, 2024

What Defence Chief Should Do

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President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Christopher Gwabin Musa, is obviously a very young man, but indeed the most senior General in Nigeria’s armed forces today.

To find such a young, but senior military officer with fresh perspectives on a number of issues is a welcome idea.

His perspective on constitutional democracy encompassing the indubitably accurate fact that the military should be loyal to the constituted civilian authority under the supreme law called the Nigerian Constitution in order for democracy to thrive, is very refreshing and profoundly philosophical.

The Kaduna state-born military General has also pledged to curb the excesses of his operatives who often violate the fundamental human rights of Nigerians during internal security operations.

Excellent as this pledge sounds particularly because it is an admission that there are issues around protecting the human rights of civilians by his men and women, but the sound bite is already a constant sing-song amongst top military officers for so long now. Nigerians, especially the few who aren’t prone to quick forgetfulness, are already used to this repeated line from different military service chiefs in the past.

What has remained the focal point is the inability and unwillingness of the service chiefs including the chief of the Defence staff to work out strategic implementation mechanisms for the enforcement of disciplinary measures to stave off abuses of the rules of engagement in Internal military operations by members of the armed forces of Nigeria. Extrajudicial killings of civilians by the military have continued with no hope of abating.

I will return to the above, first, let me also say that General Chris Musa blundered in his perspective on the place of social media vis-a-vis the war on terror.

General. Christopher Musa, chief of defence staff (CDS), says globalisation, international antagonism and social media, are hampering the fight against insecurity in Nigeria.

Musa spoke in Abuja [1] at the opening of the 6th edition of the Nigerian security expo (NISECEXPO), themed: “Home Land Security – Africa’23″.

This gentleman General Musa, represented by Emeka Onumajuru, chief of defence training and operations, dwelt on Africa’s defence force participation in peace missions.

The Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), was a West African multilateral armed force established by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), he said.

Musa said some people are of the opinion that the capabilities of the Nigerian army have declined since ECOMOG.

He, however, said the armed forces have received improved training and acquired better and more sophisticated equipment to deal with insecurity.

Hear him: “I will use this opportunity to respond to the issues on why the armed forces are slow in achieving the same speed recorded during the ECOMOG era to restore normalcy in Nigeria,” he said.

“Many security analysts have attributed the development to the meddling of politicians in the affairs of the military.

“Others are of the opinion that the capabilities of the Nigerian military have declined since ECOMOG [2] operations.

“I want to state that presently, the armed forces have acquired better and much more sophisticated equipment and also, received improved training, compared to the ECOMOG days.”

He said the peculiarities surrounding the operations of the military in its efforts to restore peace and security in Nigeria, were not the same as what obtained during the ECOMOG era.

Musa said every action of the military is currently under scrutiny in the social media space.

He said these actions are often available to the public including insurgents.

“Consequently, members of civil society organisations and other activist groups levy unfounded allegations against the troops that serve as huge distractions”, he said.

“The consequences are that the troops are more careful in dealing with the insurgents.

“Some of the insurgents could form various right groups or become activists or social media influencers while they carry out activities against the Nigerian military.

“This was not the case during the ECOMOG operation period.”

The CDS further said hostile media is another challenge being faced by the military, which he said was not the case during the ECOMOG era.

He said the advent of social media, without monitoring and regulation of bloggers and social media influencers, has affected the response of the Nigerian military to security threats.

The aforementioned views of this handsome military General lack empirical proof and are at best jaundiced and unscientific. His assessment of the role of the social media, social and civil rights activists and the mainstream media as excuses for the slow pace of combat by soldiers against terrorists, is laughable and at best sounded like the excuse given by a lazy farmer who blames his cutlass for not being sharp enough for him clear weeds in his farmland.

His assessment of the Nigerian media as hostile is unsubstantiated and untrue. The media in Nigeria is one of the finest in terms of generous coverage of purely propaganda materials for the Nigerian Armed Forces even when they have failed to tackle terrorists swiftly. It’s only a Nigerian General who would blame others for their non-performance.

The Military General, Chris Musa, missed the mark when he blamed social media scrutiny and the role of civil rights activists for slowing down the pace of the counter-terror war.

It is not true because the arrival of social media has added further and better advantages for professional armies to wage a determined war on terror because of the presence of a vast array of information made available on a lot of platforms in social media, some of which have intelligence values of the highest quality. Besides, modern Armies including the Nigerian Armed Forces should be in a position to run their social media handles to counter any perceived misinformation or fake news about the operations of the Nigerian Security forces.

Rather than impede the war on terror, social media has provided better opportunities for the military to spread its message and win the hearts and minds of civil society. The Army for instance has often been reported in the media as claiming that it hosted meetings with social media influencers. And these meetings by the Army must have gulped millions of cash from the budget of the Army. So why complain about social media when your officers are stakeholders in social media?

But the reason for what General Christopher Musa termed as a negative trend of social media comes about because many times, some soldiers violate with reckless abandon, the prescribed rules of engagement that govern Internal Military operations. This is the kernel of why he is shifting blame to the social media and civil rights activists.

For instance, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), a dedicated advocate for human rights and justice, strongly condemns the continued use of excessive force and extrajudicial measures by the Nigerian Army, particularly in the Southern regions of the country.

The National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, in a statement released on Monday, the 9th of October 2023, demanded concrete actions, not mere words, from the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Christopher Musa, to ensure that the armed forces adhere to the principles of professional discipline and respect for human rights.

Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko stated that it is with great concern that we have witnessed a disturbing pattern in the Army’s response to attacks on their personnel in different parts of the country. While the Army has repeatedly engaged in violent reprisals and extrajudicial killings in the Southern regions, such actions are noticeably absent in the North, even when officers have been tragically killed by terrorists. This double standard is equal to apartheid. By the way, reprisals are unconstitutional and antithetical to the application of rules of engagement and are, therefore, unacceptable and must be rectified immediately.

He pointed out that for over two decades, since the inception of democracy in Nigeria, there has been a concerning lack of accountability for large-scale arson attacks on Southern communities, often in retaliation for attacks on soldiers by terrorists and criminal elements. This continued impunity has perpetuated a cycle of violence and suffering among innocent civilians who find themselves caught in the crossfire.

The Civil Rights group firmly believes that the Nigerian Army and all other armed forces must be subjected to the severest legal sanctions when they deviate from the principles of professional conduct and human rights. Retaliation for heinous crimes, such as the killing of soldiers by terrorists and street elements, should never be an excuse for attacking innocent villagers, especially in the South East.

The group, therefore, calls upon Gen. Christopher Musa, the Chief of Defence Staff, to go beyond empty promises and take concrete steps to install professional discipline throughout the armed forces. The time for action is now. The lives and well-being of innocent civilians depend on it.

“Conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into all reported cases of extrajudicial killings and violence by the armed forces in the Southern regions.

“Ensure that those responsible for such violations of human rights face appropriate legal consequences, regardless of their rank or position.

“Implement comprehensive training and awareness programs within the armed forces to reinforce the importance of adhering to rules of engagement and respecting human rights.

“Establish clear mechanisms for civilian oversight and accountability to prevent future abuses.”

HURIWA remains committed to advocating for the protection of human rights and justice for all Nigerians. We stand with the affected communities in the Southern regions and will continue to press for meaningful change until the principles of professional discipline and respect for human rights are upheld by the Nigerian Army and other armed forces.

For the avoidance of doubts, these are the
OBLIGATIONS OF THE MEMBERS OF THE ARMED FORCES TO COMPLY WITH THE EXTANT RULES OF ENGAGEMENT AND THE PROVISIONS OF THE LAW IN INTERNAL MILITARY OPERATIONS AND WHY CASES OF EXTRA JUDICIAL EXECUTION OF CITIZENS BY ARMED ACTORS MUST BE INVESTIGATED AND OFFENDERS IN THE MILITARY IDENTIFIED AND PUNISHED.

The above subject matter could not have been more timely in our country Nigeria today, particularly in view of the pervasive and recurring incidents of extra-judicial killings by members of Nigeria’s armed forces all over the country, under the guise of quelling insurgencies, insurrections, banditry, terrorism, kidnappings and various other sundry breaches of the peace, literally springing up in the length and breath of this vast territory called Nigeria, per second per second. There is no doubt that the daunting security challenges cropping up all over the country are very worrisome and therefore require extraordinary measures by the country’s civil and military leadership, to try and stem them, we in the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) believe that care must be taken to ensure that members of the armed forces in carrying out this rather arduous task, do not cross the bounds of the absolute necessity to uphold the extant Rules of Military Engagement ROE and the provisions of the Law. Unfortunately, it has been stated in public and private circles in this country that Nigeria, which is arguably the giant of Africa, is known for its human rights violations, particularly and disappointingly, by the military forces and other armed services! Efforts must therefore be put in place to ensure that the sanctity of the Law and the abiding supremacy of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are zealously guarded. Extra-judicial executions and killings, as well as inhuman treatment of citizens, are absolutely forbidden, both under the Constitution, the various Laws and even rules of morality. They are therefore totally condemnable and perpetrators within and outside the armed forces, including the police, must be fished out and punished in accordance with our laws.

HURIWA will at this stage, explore some of the functions and duties of the Nigerian Army, as provided under the law, including the Constitution. They include the following;

1. It is the foremost duty and function of the Nigerian Army to uphold the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This is expected as the Nigerian Armed Forces was itself established and its composition and duties spelt out, under chapter 6, part 3, section 217 of the said Constitution.

2. Following from number one above, It is the primary duty of the Nigerian Army and the armed forces generally, to maintain the territorial integrity of Nigeria.

3. They are expected to defend Nigeria from external aggression.

4. They are to protect the country’s borders.

5. The Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are to perform any other duties stipulated by the National Assembly in their various enabling Acts, or as directed by the president, from time to time.

It may be pertinent at this stage to examine what are the most commonly known “Rules of Engagement” in military operations not just in Nigeria, but elsewhere in the civilised world. Wikipedia defines Rules of Military Engagement in the following words, “directives issued by competent military authorities that delineate circumstances and limitations under which a nation’s (such as Nigeria – paraphrase mine) military forces will initiate and/or continue combat engagement with other forces encountered”. This is the most appropriate definition, which if faithfully implemented in practice, would eliminate the aforementioned obnoxious cases of human rights abuses such as torture both physical and psychological including extrajudicial killings!

In practical terms, however, a typical grounds forces Rules of engagement, include but are not limited to the following;

1. The Armed Forces have the right to use force for the purpose of defending themselves.

2. They also have the right to promptly and effectively repel hostile fire from anywhere.

3. When attacked by unarmed hostile elements such as mobs, protesters or rioters, Minimum Force necessary under the circumstances and proportional to the threat posed by such hostile elements is to be used. (Emphasis supplied by me).

4. Members of the armed forces must not cease the property of others in order to accomplish their mission.

5. Detention of unarmed civilians may be carried out if considered necessary for security reasons.

The foregoing are generalised rules of engagement applicable to armed forces all over the civilised world. Let us however look at some of the rules of engagement issued to the military forces of Nigeria during the infamous Nigeria Civil War by the then Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Major General Yakubu Gowon (as he then was). This is with a view to seeing how relevant or applicable those rules could be considered to be, even in Nigeria today, clearly more than half a century later. They include the following;

1. Under no circumstances should pregnant women be ill-treated or killed.

2. Children must not be molested or killed under any circumstances whatsoever.

3. Youths and school children must not be attacked unless they are engaged in open hostilities against the armed forces

4. Hospitals, hospital staff and patients should not be tampered with or molested.

5. No property or buildings should be maliciously destroyed except when being used for rebellion purposes.

6. Churches and mosques must under no circumstances be desecrated

7. The military and its members must not engage in looting of any kind.

8. Male civilians who are hostile to the federal forces are to be dealt with firmly but fairly.

9. All military and civilians wounded must be given medical attention and care. They must be respected and protected in all circumstances.

10. Foreign nationals on legitimate business will not be molested. However, foreign mercenaries will not be spared as they are our worst enemies.

It should be noted that the above rules of engagement given to the Nigerian military during the civil war abhorred in its totality, extra-judicial killings and executions, even in a war situation. (Emphasis supplied by the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA).

For instance, no officer or soldier must be found aiding or abetting any act of arson, vandalism or unprofessional conduct; and troops are duty-bound to intervene in any situation to avoid a breakdown in peace, stability or law and order in an area where they are deployed.

Section 217 (2) (c) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides that Nigeria’s armed forces shall suppress insurrection and act in aid of civil authority to restore order when called upon to do so by the President, Commander-in-Chief reinforced by Sect (8) (1) and (3) of the Armed Forces Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, (LFN) 2004, it stressed that this presupposes that troops have to use necessary force to quell crisis resulting in deaths, injury and damages to properties.

Other highlights of the ROE include:

The principle of minimum force and proportionality must be applied at all times; whenever operational situation permits, every reasonable effort shall be made to control the situation through measures short of using force, including personal contact and negotiations; the use of lethal force shall only be resorted to if all other means to control the situation have failed or in the case of unexpected attack or suspected Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attack during which a delay could lead to loss of life or serious injury to personnel; and that any force applied must be limited in its intensity and duration; it must also be commensurate with the level of threat posed.

Force shall be used only when absolutely necessary to achieve an immediate aim; the decision to open fire shall be made only on orders and under the control of the on-scene commander unless there is insufficient time to obtain such order. Fire can however be opened if the life of a soldier, any law-abiding member of the public and/or property of which it is our duty to protect is in grave danger; fire must be aimed and controlled. Indiscriminate firing is not permitted.

Fire may be opened to forcefully stop any vehicle that fails to stop at a checkpoint or road-block when ordered to stop for search; an automatic fire will only be opened as a last resort; to avoid collateral damage; after fire has ceased, render medical assistance and record details of incident both in writing and using audio/visual equipment whether or not casualty has been recorded; and whenever in doubt, seek clarification from higher headquarters.

The Army, however, has continuously violated their own rules of engagement and the culprits are not punished meaning that it is official that the hierarchy of the armed forces tolerate gross violation of rules of engagement. I will give a very unambiguous instance.

The Civil Rights Advocacy Group:- HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) had described as horrendous and unpardonable, crimes against humanity, the burning of the Eke Ututu market and the bombing of Orsuihiteukwa Community in Orsu local government area of Imo State by the Nigerian Army few months back.

Besides, HURIWA said it is a travesty of international justice and a mockery of the United Nations system that at a time when massive human rights violations and the use of extrajudicial killings are occurring in Orlu Imo state, President Muhammadu Buhari is sharing a podium with the rest of humanity at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

In a media statement, HURIWA stated that invading a community market and setting the entire place ablaze as recently done by operatives of the Nigerian Security forces in Orsuihiteukwa Community and the mass execution of some citizens is nothing short of a full-blown genocide.

“It is a shame of unfathomable dimension on the United Nations that citizens in a part of Nigeria are being executed through extra-legal methodology by the armed forces and the same United Nations that introduced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 has offered a global speaking opportunity to the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces are committing despicable crimes against humanity.”

“We call on the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Antonio Guiterres, to prevail on the President to immediately stop the armed security agents in Orlu, Imo State from unleashing venomous crimes against humanity such as the burning down of houses of villagers and their markets and firing live ammunition on civilian residents thereby killing innocent citizens.”

HURIWA stated that such a crude mechanism of setting fire to markets as was done in a part of the Orlu senatorial zone of Imo State is absolutely offensive to the rules of engagement of the armed security forces and amounts to a violation of the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental human rights enshrined in chapter two of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria.

As aforementioned, Section 217 (2) (c) of the 1999 Constitution and Section (8) (1) and (3) of the Armed Forces Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, (LFN) 2004 provide a code of conduct and rules of engagement for the armed forces in internal security.

For instance, no officer or soldier must be found aiding or abetting any act of arson, vandalism or unprofessional conduct; and troops are duty-bound to intervene in any situation to avoid a breakdown in peace, stability or law and order in an area where they are deployed.

Section 217 (2) (c) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides that Nigeria’s armed forces shall suppress insurrection and act in aid of civil authority to restore order when called upon to do so by the President, Commander-in-Chief reinforced by Sect (8) (1) and (3) of the Armed Forces Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, (LFN) 2004, it stressed that this presupposes that troops have to use necessary force to quell crisis resulting in deaths, injury and damages to properties.

The principle of minimum force and proportionality must be applied at all times; whenever the operational situation permits, every reasonable effort shall be made to control the situation through measures short of using force, including personal contact and negotiations; the use of lethal force shall only be resorted to if all other means to control the situation have failed or in case of unexpected attack or suspected Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attack during which a delay could lead to loss of life or serious injury to personnel; and that any force applied must be limited in its intensity and duration; it must also be commensurate with the level of threat posed.

Force shall be used only when absolutely necessary to achieve an immediate aim; the decision to open fire shall be made only on orders and under the control of the on-scene commander unless there is insufficient time to obtain such order. Fire can however be opened if the life of a soldier, any law-abiding member of the public and/or property of which it is our duty to protect is in grave danger; fire must be aimed and controlled. Indiscriminate firing is not permitted.

Fire may be opened to forcefully stop any vehicle that fails to stop at a checkpoint or road-block when ordered to stop for search; automatic fire will only be opened as a last resort; to avoid collateral damage; after fire has ceased, render medical assistance and record details of incident both in writing and using audio/visual equipment whether or not casualty has been recorded; and whenever in doubt, seek clarification from higher headquarters.

Let General Christopher Musa carry out home cleaning and fish out soldiers who have killed civilians illegally and get them to face the full weight of the law because he can exercise the high moral ground to argue that the Nigerian military is professional.

By Emmanuel Onwubiko

 

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