By Jonathan Nda- Isaiah
Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has said the judicial committee set up to review cases of human rights abuse in the military should not be seen as a witch-hunt.
According to him,It is the responsibility of the Armed Forces and the responsibility of all those in government to ensure that they interrogate their own activities and ensure that those activities meet up with human rights norms and basic rules of decency observed across the world.
He made the remarks Friday at the inauguration of the Presidential investigation panel to review compliance of the Armed forces with human rights obligations and rules of engagement at the Presidential Villa,Abuja.
He stated that President Muhammadu Buhari has repeatedly stated the administration’s focus on three broad issues; security, the economy and the fight against corruption.
Pointing out that the first security, is one without which others may prove impossible, Osinbajo added that in any event fundamental to the functions of the state, is the protection of lives and property and livelihood of citizens in peace or in conflict.
For the Federal government, Osinbajo asserted that respect for the lives of Nigerian citizens is not just a constitutional but also a moral duty.
According to him, this is why it is incumbent upon the government even as they maintain security especially in conflict situations to interrogate, as they go along on a regular basis, alleged crimes and human rights abuses by all sides in these conflicts and insurgencies.
Speaking further, he said the inauguration of the panel is in continuation of the efforts of this administration geared towards attaining this goal.
He recalled , that in June 2015, President Buhari had directed the Military to conduct an internal inquiry into allegations of rights abuses by its personnel.
Accordingly, he said a report of the findings of the board of inquiries set up by the Nigerian Army to investigate extra-judicial killings and rights violation by Army personnel was submitted in June 2017. That report will be made available to this panel.
More recently in October 2016, Osinbajo noted that the President ordered the Inspector-General of Police to investigate allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation in IDP camps in the Northeast. The outcome of this investigation is being awaited.
He said “It is also a well-known fact that the conduct of the nation’s defence and security forces during the insurgency in the Northeast and militancy in the Niger Delta has in recent times attracted significant commendation.
“Upon resumption of office, many would recall that seven Local Government Areas were under the control of Boko Haram. Virtually all of the territory has now been recovered by security forces.
“In the recent past, our Armed Forces have also fought against militants in other areas of the country; in some cases to protect critical national infrastructure and our natural resources.
“These brave men and women have fought valiantly to keep this country safe despite all odds and they are heroes and we must indeed celebrate them.
“There is no doubt that the nature of asymmetric or unconventional warfare that they have had to contend with presents unique challenges that most modern armies are ill-equipped to tackle with conventional warfare tactics.
“Indeed conventional human right norms and conventional human rights observers are challenged by some of the various nuances of asymmetric warfare.
“Nonetheless, there have been a series of allegations levied against security forces by some local and international commentators.
“It is our belief, that if left unaddressed, these allegations are capable of undermining the good work of the men and women of the Armed Forces who have largely conducted themselves in a disciplined and professional manner.
“Failure to examine some of these allegations will also leave those who may have been victims of such abuses without any recourse to justice.
“And if history has taught us anything, it is that the failure of our justice system to adequately respond to crisis is usually a recipe for greater conflict.
“I would like to use this opportunity to assure the Armed Forces and all of our uniformed forces, that exercises such as this should be regular and would be regular, and must not be seen as a witch hunt and in any way to denigrate the very great work that the Armed Forces and uniformed forces are doing all over the country”.
“It is the responsibility of the Armed Forces and the responsibility of all of us who are in government to ensure that we interrogate our own activities and ensure that those activities meet up with human rights norms and basic rules of decency observed across the world.
He listed the terms of reference of the panel to include to review extant rules of engagement applicable to the Armed Forces of Nigeria and the extent of compliance thereto
“To investigate alleged acts of violation of international humanitarian and human rights law under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, the Geneva Conventions Act, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, Ratification and Enforcement Act and other relevant laws by the Armed Forces in local conflicts and insurgencies.
” Three, to investigate matters of conducts and discipline in the Armed Forces in local conflicts and insurgencies; to recommend means of preventing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in conflict situations.
” Four,to make further recommendations in line with these terms of reference as may be deemed necessary.
He further noted that the sterling qualifications of members of the Panel under the capable leadership of the Honourable Justice Biobele Georgewill, Justice of the Court of Appeal, is a strong indication of the quality of work that we expect of them.
Members of the panel are; Major-General Patrick Akem; Mr. Wale Fapohunda; Mrs. Hauwa Ibrahim; Mr. Jibrin Ibrahim;Mr. Abba Ambudashi Ibrahim;Mrs. Ifeoma Nwakama; and Dr. Fatima Alkali who is counsel to the Panel.
(The Panel also has a secretary from the Office of the SGF)
Osinbajo expressed confidence that the Panel will also collect information about the conditions of service of the Armed Forces or any other factors that might have hindered the optimal performance of the Armed Forces in the fight against insurgents, militants and other combatants.
He assured the armed forces that the administration stands ready to support them in their endeavors; evidence of which they may have seen with the recent purchases of the five new super Mushak aircrafts which were recently launched by the Honorable Minister of Defence.
“To the Panel, I implore you to carry out your duties diligently, impartially and with all sense of professionalism. The work you are about to embark on is extremely sensitive and may involve some travel to post-conflict zones.
“We appreciate your acceptance of this call to duty and look forward to receiving your well-researched findings and recommendations.
“I hereby officially inaugurate this Presidential Investigation Panel to Review the Compliance of the Armed Forces with Human Rights Obligations and Rules of Engagement,” he
stated. Jonathan Nda- Isaiah
LEADERSHIP Newspapers Group.