By Karen Goulding
The Nigerian military has been engaged in the war against Boko Haram terrorists in Northeast Nigeria since 2009. These periods have witnessed loss of lives, destruction of properties, displacement of individuals and in some cases human rights abuses.
Over the last three years, Amnesty International (AI) in its annual reports has continuously accused the Nigerian military of gross human rights violations and not sticking to the rules of engagement on the battlefront. However, this position has been questioned by an international human rights organization, Global Amnesty Watch (GAW) and other meaningful civil society organizations in Nigeria and abroad.
At the recently concluded 2nd International Human Rights Conference on Local Armed Conflicts in Nigeria, a new chapter was opened into the human rights record of the Nigerian Army in the fight against Boko Haram terrorist. To put it modestly, all the resources persons agreed with one fact, which is that the rating of the Human rights records of the Nigerian Army. While this might appear an appreciation of the sacrifices of our officers and soldiers, who have strived to play by the rules despite fighting an unconventional war, it is notwithstanding a soft icing on the cake and a reward for hard work.
At the event, the Country Director, Global Amnesty Watch in Nigeria, Prof. Shuaibu Ahmed Danfulani stated that Boko Haram terrorist group and other outlawed or proscribed groups in the country have in the last three years of the war against terror, learned that Nigeria is not a country without a capable army. Capable in his explanation is a combination of professionalism, commitment, respect for international humanitarian law, respect for victims of war, respect for communities affected by the conflict and adherence to best practices as at when necessary.
“It is now a given that some things around how Nigeria responded to Boko Haram and other proscribed or outlawed groups changed about three years ago, which I believe is the basis for which this conference is concerning itself with assessing only those three years that terrorists were made to realize that Nigeria is a country, and one with a standing and capable Army.” He stated.
The implication of the above stated cannot be overemphasized given the Amnesty International narrative on the activities of the Nigerian Army in the fight against Boko Haram Terrorists. This much has also been corroborated by other concerned groups and individuals who have in many forums stated that the sacrifices of the Nigerian Army in the battle for the soul of Nigeria in the northeast should be commended in all ramifications.
Two things stand out in the last three years (2015—2018) of the Nigerian Army. One is sound leadership and the second is adhering to the rules of engagement in warfare. While one might want to ask in what ways leadership has affected the fortunes of the Nigerian Army, it would be succinct to take us back the pre 2015 era where Nigeria lost some local government areas to Boko Haram Terrorists, where monies meant for arms procurement ended up in private pockets, and where the welfare of officers and men in the northeast were not given priority.
All of that has changed since the coming of the current administration, where transparency is the new order. And on adhering to the rules of engagement, the chief of Army staff at a forum to launch the document that guides troop engagement in warfare stated thus “our responsibilities as you all know are both subject to civil and military laws and these civil laws including international humanitarian laws on armed conflict. These laws do not preclude you from being decisive in the course of your operation from saving lives and property.”
To corroborate this position, a guest speaker at the conference, Prof. Pita Ogaba Agbese, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Northern Iowa, United States of America did praise the commitment of the Nigerian Army in the last three years.
“The Nigerian army has paid a high price in the fight against Boko Haram; the world appreciates the Nigerian Army and other branches of the Nigerian Armed Forces for prosecuting the war within the rules of engagement in conformity with the best international standard.” He stated. He further added that “The Nigerian army has demonstrated a high level of professionalism in addressing some of the humanitarian crises arising from the war against the insurgency.”
The high point of the event was that all the speakers were unanimous in their praises for the Nigerian Army in the fight against terrorism in Nigeria. Prof. Shaibu Danfulani said the euphoria of the successes recorded in the war against terrorism is notwithstanding, and without prejudice to the costly sacrifices being made by members of the Armed Forces.
While it remains the fact that the coming of the present administration in 2015 did open a new vista in the operations of the Nigerian Army, it must also be stated that success comes with a price. As in this case, the Nigerian Army has lost brilliant and dedicated officers and men. Officers and men at the battlefield have undergone sleepless nights and rigorous days so that Nigeria and Nigerians might be safe and secured.
Nothing sums the sacrifices of the Nigerian Army than the words of General George S. Patton, one of the most famous military generals in history, who spoke of giving thanks and celebrating their lives rather than just mourning the soldiers lost. He said “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God such men lived”. And that has been the mood in the Nigerian Army.
The highpoint of the conference was the unanimous decision by the participants for Nigeria to quit the International Criminal Court (ICC) to ensure that the military can fight terrorism without the “cloak of blackmail constantly hanging over them.” Some other participants were of the opinion that it’s high time the ICC began to take a different approach to sanction criminal elements who take humanity for granted.
Goulding, a security consultant sent in this piece from the United Kingdom.