Worried by the growing civilian casualties and multiplicity of violent conflict situations in Nigeria, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) organised consultative meeting of government and non- governmental organisations to adopt policy for the protection of civilians in conflict areas.
The meeting, which was held yesterday in Abuja, had in attendance the NHRC executive secretary, Tony Ojukwu and the representatives of the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Justice and the Centre for Civilians in Conflict, an international nongovernmental organisation with primary focus on protection of civilians in conflict situation.
In his welcome address, Ojukwu said the meeting is a consultation on the Draft National Policy on the Protection of Civilians and Civilian Harm Mitigation organised for all relevant stakeholders to set in motion the mechanism to safeguard the security and welfare of Nigerian citizens, especially in areas affected by conflict.
According to Ojukwu when there are conflicts and violence, human rights ordinarily suffer, and that has informed why the commission is working with other agencies of government and stakeholders to protect civilians in conflict areas of the North East and North Central regions of the country.
While listing features of the draft policy to include safety and security of civilians that are directed at minimizing the negative effects of conflict on the civilian population, Ojukwu warned that grievances linked to abuses contribute to the spread of violent extremism in the society.
“The National Security Strategy, which identifies the security and welfare of the Nigerian people as a core national interest, and the Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism Framework, recognises that grievances linked to abuses contribute to the spread of violent extremism’’.
The commission boss who gave details of the current draft policy urged the attorney general of the federation (AGF) Abubakar Malami ,SAN, to submit a council memo to the Federal Executive Council for the adoption of the policy as the official government of Nigeria’s response to protection of civilians, upon the validation of this draft policy document.
‘’With the conflict in both the North East and North Central Nigeria as well as other areas of internal Security operation in Nigeria, the time to adopt this policy for the protection of civilians is now.
‘’It is therefore important that Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) as well as other stakeholders whose mandate have direct bearing on civilian protection appreciate their respective roles in this regard, and together, forge a common front towards achieving the letters and spirit of this policy,’’ he said.
Earlier, Ojukwu held that, “Law enforcement agencies and other security authorities continue to tackle the threat posed by violent conflict and insurgency in parts of the country, operational challenges to counter the menace in these places, particularly in high density populated areas where the operations take place are bound to record displacements, injuries and often times, death, with attendant human rights and humanitarian consequences. Indeed, this reality that confronts us as a country certainly requires concerted effort such as this gathering which, I am confident, will give the necessary impetus to achieving a policy direction on trainings, tactics and humanitarian interventions before, during and after the conflicts or operations in order to prevent excessive harm to civilians and civilian objects.
‘’This draft policy reflects our collective commitment to prioritize civilian protection during internal security operations and thus reduce the impact on civilians. This is as encapsulated in our extant laws as well as regional and international human rights and humanitarian instruments to which Nigeria is a party.’’
Meanwhile, Malami said the Policy on the Protection of Civilians and Civilian Harm Mitigation is a wakeup call to reflect on issues affecting citizens in places affected by insurgency.
‘’Upon successful completion of this consultation, I will be happy to receive the policy document so that I can present same for consideration and adoption by the Federal Executive Council in the shortest possible time,’’ Malami said.
On his part, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha said that effective implementation of this policy shall be a bold step by the federal government to ensure a coordinated approach by its agents.
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