By Ejike Njoku
Initially, I was extremely reluctant to subscribe to the argument that Amnesty International (AI) the global human rights watchdogs might be doing a hatchet job on Nigeria in a disguised fashion. Often, when I read AI’s bickering with the Nigeria Police, Civil Society Organizations (CSO) and lately, the Nigeria Military over reportage of conflicts and crises in the country, I dismissed it as the usual face-off between two antagonistic forces.
From my personal experiences, Nigerian security forces and CSOs have always faulted AI’s reports or public statements bordering on alleged human rights violations, casualty figures, illegal detention of suspects, extra-judicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, and the likes. Quite frequently, one finds every establishment AI has labeled in negation and sometimes, even convicted in public domain of alleged crimes on humanity hotly contesting the factuality of such reports.
But it took a keener interest in the operations of AI when some CSOs and the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) also started questioning AI’s reports or outrightly branded them as fabrications or falsehood. What ignited my interest more in the altercations between AI and its antagonists was the insinuation that the international organization is suspected of being a masked agent secretly working for external forces determined to ensure the break-up of Nigeria by sponsoring violence and killings in the country.
And to my dismay, I discovered that the alarms raised against AI may not be far from the truth. But it needs further interrogation to unearth the unassailable truth. I decided to pay closer attention to its operations. And what repulsively struck my senses is AI’s marketing of itself like a media house or a fresh local tabloid struggling to catch the attention of readers.
Attempt to Google general news on Amnesty International, what assails you immediately is a thousand news bulletins or press statements about the crises or killings in Nigeria and other such allied crimes it reports rendered very sensationally. And at a point, I wondered whether AI has transmuted into a media organization with such rampancy or Nigeria is the only country in Africa or the world under conflict. There are a plenty.
AI’s Nigeria country director, Ms. Ossai Ojigho is very active in engaging the Nigerian public and the international community about casualty figures each time Boko Haram strikes in the Northeast. What has appalled me is that sometimes, AI gets and publishes the death toll figure much faster than the military authorities on the field.
Or the news is released at a time it is not even reasonable to assume the local population would have regained themselves from the attacks to gather the casualty figures bandied by AI in conflicts of that magnitude. And they end up quoting anonymous sources in such reports to back up the clear fictitious claims. It all raises very fundamental suspicions about the real motive of AI in Nigeria.
For instance, AI released a statement on Friday, February 1st, 2019 claiming Boko Haram has killed at least 60 persons (civilians) in Rann, Northeastern Borno state in an attack the preceding Monday, which was January 31, 2019. It beats my imagination or defeats the concept of reasonableness for AI to have gathered a figure of the people killed within three days of the alleged attack on Rann to publish.
And AI’s eagerness to stoke the fire is gleaned from this phrase in the report; “Witnesses told us (AI) that Nigerian soldiers abandoned their posts the day before the attack, demonstrating the authorities’ utter failure to protect civilians.”
Also, AI could not even feign reaching any official source for verification of the “facts” it had, but proceeded to publish the story. Was this action supposed to give the insurgents a feeling of triumph and embolden them into committing more atrocities?
To betray itself as unsure of what it was doing, AI further wrote; “This attack on civilians who have already been displaced by the bloody conflict may amount to possible war crimes, and those responsible must be brought to justice.” I sense this narration in every sense of accuracy and factuality as very poor and something which should not be credited to a supposedly responsible organization such as AI, if it is concerned about its reputation steadily being battered with its own hands.
And I kept encountering the same lapses even in AI’s previous annual reports. The reports pass more as a rehash what it packaged the preceding year. A Presidency amazed at this pattern of reportage reacted at AI’s 2017/2018 annual report on rights violations in Nigeria through its Spokesman on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu who stated; “In some breath, the report seemed like the one in 2015, and the one in 2016, and the one after that year, the same things being recycled again and again. Engagement was claimed to have been made with Nigerian authorities but which authority is it, is not provided with clarity.”
Similarly, the Nigeria Army is also questioning the sanctity of the claims often published by AI and at a point advocated for the closure of Amnesty International’s country office in Nigeria and its operations.
But even when one tries to close his eyes to the defects in AI’s operation, the glaring lapses keep drawing attention. Furthermore, in same year 2018 ending, AI claimed at least 3,641 people have died from clashes between farmers and herders in Nigeria since 2016.
And the human rights organization, like a court of law passed its verdict of judgement on the Nigerian Government; It stated, “The Nigerian government has displayed what can only be described as gross incompetence and has failed in its duty to protect the lives of its population.” It sounded to me like wordings of an opposition political on its campaign flyer.
But I believe AI has full knowledge of the intervention of the military in these crises and the Army’s operations in these conflicts at various times, such as “Operation Harbin Kunama I, II & III,” versions, “Operation Sharan Daji,” “Operation Whirl Stroke”, “Exercise Ayem Akpatema,” and so forth.
And arrests and prosecutions of suspects is ongoing in various courts in the land. So, when AI claims, “Yet, little has been done by the authorities in terms of prevention, arrests and prosecutions….” It sounds hoarse and bespeaks of a concealed and dangerous agenda the organization is promoting against the peace and security of Nigeria.
If AI honestly admits that the efforts of security agents have not ended the farmers/herders’ crises, which is not even true as admitted by Governors of Taraba and Benue states recently, it will appeal more sensibly than propagating this gibberish.
Therefore, I am forced to suspect like others that AI’s agenda in Nigeria is to disguise under the veil of an international human rights watch body, while its actions suggest backing foreign interests bent on the violent dismemberment of Nigeria. I understand that when AI harps on rampant rights violations in Nigeria, it is a ploy to prevent America and other countries to consent to selling weapons to Nigeria in order to battle Boko Haram terrorism.
And it is pursuing this agenda very ferociously and without recourse to decency. I want to believe the scheming of AI is also to get some Nigerian military officers who have stood firmly against Boko Haram insurgency charged for war crimes to weaken counter-insurgency operations so that the sect could triumph over the Nigerian state.
Yes, agreed, AI is an international organization and perhaps, initially came with every good intention for the country. But as things appear now, it seems they have betrayed this trust and Nigerians no longer trust their mission and operations in the country. Our citizens are still scared by AI’s record in other countries which have fueled conflicts and we see a conscious replication of same agenda in Nigeria.
Even for the media, ethical creed demand that you do not report violence crisis in a manner that can cause reprisals and escalation of the conflict. Such indulgence by AI is reprehensible.
Nigerians fear AI is being used to plunge us into war. The fit and most ethical thing to do for an organization which has squandered it’s goodwill like AI is to quit our country. Please, AI, it must not be Nigeria. Look elsewhere and spare our citizens further agonies. I like the wisdom of our people who say, marriage is not by force. AI cannot teach us how to better protect our citizens.
Njoku a legal practitioner wrote from Festa town, Lagos.