Following the nomination of immediate past service chiefs as non-career Ambassadors, Nigerians are divided over the propriety or otherwise of the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to nominate them for the ambassadorial job.
The nominees are: General Abayomi G. Olonisakin (Rtd), Lt Gen Tukur Y. Buratai (Rtd), Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas (Rtd), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar (Rtd), and Air Vice Marshal Mohammed S. Usman (Rtd).
Expectedly, the leading the antagonists of the presidential nomination is the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. The party alleged in their reaction that the nomination is to shield the former service chiefs from probe and trial by the International Criminal Court over alleged human rights abuses while they were in office.
According to the PDP, “it is sacrilegious and a horrible assault on the sensibility of Nigerians that the APC government is seeking to use ambassadorial appointments as desperate measure to secure diplomatic immunity for the former commanders and protect them from investigation, arrest and possible prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the atrocities committed against innocent Nigerians under their command.”
Leading the other side of the divide is the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, who maintained that there was nothing wrong with President Buhari nominating any citizen, including the immediate past service chiefs, for the position of an ambassador so long as such a person remained acceptable and worthy of the office.
NEF’s Director of Publicity and Advocacy, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, stated “It is the constitutional responsibility of the president to nominate people who he believes deserve to represent the country, and that of the National Assembly to scrutinize the nominations and decide on them. What is important is to ensure that people who will be our representatives in other countries are persons with the highest personal and professional credentials and character.”
On the speculation that the nomination of the ex-service chiefs was to provide them with diplomatic immunity, Baba-Ahmed said: “We would not put much value on speculations that the appointments are to shield them from international laws. These laws apply to people in or out of office.”
The Presidency also came out to lampoon the PDP over its criticism of the nomination of the ex-service chiefs and challenged the opposition party to make public its existence of human rights abuses by the former service chiefs.
In a statement signed by Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, dismissed the attacks and speculations. The statement blamed the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the attacks on what it described as a “widely praised nomination of the former heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force and the Military Intelligence to the Senate for confirmation as non-career ambassadors. This transition is normal in decent democratic societies,” Shehu added.
“But the newspapers and online media are full of pages of laughable criticisms of the President and former Service Chiefs by the party, the latest of which was the false claim that they were nominated as ambassadors to shield them from trial by the International Criminal Court, ICC. How on earth can decent people run down hardworking professionals who have put in their best to defend their country? How can you run down your country and equate that with normal political dialogue and opposition?
“What is baffling about this false and baseless assertion is that this is coming, not from Boko Haram terrorists who the military kept largely in check and confined to a known section of the country, Sambisa, but from a so-called leading opposition party that fraudulently kept power for 16 years and is nursing the hope of one day returning to office as an elected government.
“What is more, under these corrupt politicians the insurgency conquered large swathes of territory-18 Local Government Areas. Pray, if a political party, in a blind search for power can spurn the interest of the nation, embrace the language of hate campaign against the country’s military as enunciated by the terrorists, as the PDP does, what will be left for the Boko Haram to do? PDP is doing Boko Haram’s work!
“We live in an evidence-based era for arguments. If the PDP has evidence of rights abuse against the military in the war against terrorists, wouldn’t it be beneficial to the nation that they publish such evidence instead of levying grave accusations without proof? And to ask, in whose interest are they making these accusations that lack any depth?
“To add, we don’t think the ICC, which these childish calls are being made, needs to be lectured on democratic values and human rights by the PDP. Who are they, and what is their record in office to lecture anyone? Zaki Biam and Odi where thousands of citizens were on record, the genocide operation comes to mind. Did they report themselves to the ICC?
Some human rights groups like the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, have also come out to puncture the position of the PDP that the former service chiefs never gave a damn about the protection of human rights when they were in office.
For instance, HURIWA National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko gave in-depth picture of measures taken by the immediate past Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen TY Buratai, to deepen and entrench enforcement of the rights of Nigerians by soldiers in the course of their duties.
According to the activist, on the assumption of duty in July 2015, Lt Gen TY Buratai instantly reorganized and empowered the Department of Civil-Military Affairs (DCMA) to function effectively, especially in the campaign for the protection and respect for human rights by the Nigerian Army.
“The first step taken to checkmate human rights abuses was to rejig and strengthen the DCMA. Consequently, sensitization workshops and campaigns on the protection of human rights where dynamically conducted for members of the NA.
“Similarly, corporate social responsibility projects like construction of boreholes, feeder roads, renovation of medical centres and schools among others across selected communities in Nigeria were conducted particularly during operations and exercises. This endeared the troops to the locals and ushered in a sense of togetherness and mutual respect.
“Likewise, the Nigerian Army through the department, partnered with some human rights organizations such as the United Nations (UN) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to develop the capacity that will enhance professionalism and responsiveness in promoting humanitarian principles and conduct during operations.
“Such human rights sensitization workshops harped on operational civil-military interactions, humanitarian principles, perception, actions, guidelines, security and coordination as well as humanitarian access.
“Another laudable initiative by the Buratai’s leadership in its consistent efforts to checkmate right abuses was the establishment of Human Rights Desk at the Army Headquarters and in all the formation headquarters across the nation.
“The functions of the human rights desk, which include receiving documents, investigating complaints from individuals, organizations and institutions on rights violations involving Nigerian Army personnel, made findings to the COAS on human rights complaints in the country while producing annual reports and reviews.
“Others are to update existing training manuals, liaising and facilitating interaction with human rights organizations, strategize and strengthen the capacity of the Nigerian Army in promoting human rights.
Incidentally, while commissioning the human rights office at the Headquarters of 7 Division Nigerian Army in Maiduguri, TY Buratai, who was represented by the Chief of Civil-Military Affairs, expressed that the establishment of the desk office was borne out of the increasing interest of local and international rights bodies on what the army is doing in the North East and other parts of Nigeria.
“The Nigerian Army is trying to open up the system and close the gap with the civil populace, human rights bodies and Civil Society Organizations; the nature of inquiries, commentaries and claims from these institutions requires a professional and specialized response by the Nigerian Army.”
On 19 June 2018, at a Military – Media – Public Awareness Programme at Jabi Motor Park in Abuja organized by CLEEN Foundation, the COAS through the Army Human Rights Desk Officer, Major Naazem Langpoe (as he then was) stated that; “the army is passionate about the rights of civilians, and had measures in place to ensure that rights of civilians are protected”.
These measures included the opening of Free Toll Line 193, designated Toll-Free Call Centre and Public Complaints Rapid Response Unit”. The offices and the toll line 193 are opened to members of the public whose rights have been infringed upon; they can always walk into the office and lodge their complaints.
Another commendable effort in response to probing and checkmating human rights abuses by the Nigerian Army was the establishment of Special Board of Inquiry by the COAS in March 2017, to probe alleged cases of human rights violations levelled against the Nigerian Army personnel, especially in the ongoing counter-terrorism.
Comrade Onwubiko stressed that there is no gainsaying the fact that the transformation of the Nigerian Army rapidly manifested under the leadership of the Chief of Army Staff; Lt. Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai (rtd) who was proactive in the war against terrorism despite efforts by moles and saboteurs embedded within the Army who were derailing the objectives of the counter Terror War and the efforts for the respect for fundamental human rights.
“Perhaps, those still unconvinced by the impactful exceptional transformational measures contrived in repositioning the Nigerian Army for effective counter-insurgency combats and maintaining military – Civil relationship practices are certainly poor adherents of history or have a faulty retentive memory.
“Again, through the establishment of Human Rights Desk Offices in the Army headquarters and across the Nigerian army divisions, the Army was able to address petitions and other different kinds of claims against it.”
While Nigerians are waiting for the clearance or rejection of the nomination of the Ambassadorial nominees by the Senate, the Peoples Democratic Party can make public any evidence of human abuses by the retired military officers either directly or through their members in the upper chamber of the National Assembly. The only snag here is that it may end up like accusations levelled against late Major General Victor Malu after the invasion of Odi and Zaki Biam during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo who was elected twice on the platform of the PDP.
If the PDP has evidence of rights abuse against the military in the war against terrorists, wouldn’t it be beneficial to the nation that they publish such evidence instead of levying grave accusations without proof?
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