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Emmanuel Onwubiko : For army to win hearts and minds

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 Emmanuel Onwubiko For army to win hearts and minds

 

Since the voluntary retirement of the immediate past Service Chiefs and their appointments as Envoys to represent Nigeria in different nations of the Earth, a lot of waters have gone under the bridges in terms of the existing frosty relationship between the Armed forces and the Nigerian Civil Society collectively.

The former Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai during his tenure which lasted about 6 years, did put in place concrete measures in place to try to cement the relationship between the Army and the Civil populace and under his administration, there were series of meetings organised between both organised communities under the canopy of the Civil and Military Relations.

We will extensively return to give citations of the programmatic approaches that the former Army chief of Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai implemented with satisfactory results with the goal of urging the current Army chief of Staff Lieutenant General Faruk Yahaya to blend his administrative style with some of those people-led programmes that promoted greater dialogues and constructive interfaces between the Army and the civil populace to stave off the heightened state of distrust of the military by the people. Other segments of the armed forces such as Naby and Airforce should embrace similar modalities to improve relationships with the people.

This step is being recommended because in all parts of the Country, the Army is involved in internal security operations and there is no way the Army can succeed if this animosity grows as it is doing at the moment. Also the idea of a public relations mechanism whereby the Army only waits for civil rights groups to issue their reports based on empirical findings, before the department of public relations of the Army will sprint onto their feet to try to push back these reports which mostly are fed in to the groups by the masses. The absence of any form of continuous dialogues between these sets of groups namely the Army and the ordinary citizens of Nigeria is tantamount to pouring fuel on the fire of animosity that exists between the duo.

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For example, few weeks ago when the then Prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria Reverend Samuel Kanu-Uche was kidnapped by armed Fulani herdsmen in Lokpanta near Okigwe Imo State on his way back from a Church function as he was headed to Enugu, there were allegations and counter allegations of involvement of the Army in the kidnapping activities of these daredevil criminals.

When the four Reverend Sisters were similarly kidnapped on the same spot, there was information that they were picked up not far from the checkpoint set up by the Army.

The Nigerian Army have come under considerable scrutiny for a lot of incriminating vices and criminality but the spokesman of the Army has often relied on counter press statements to try to difuse this tension which does the exact opposite by stoking up more fires of distrust of the Army by the people.

The Army has just tried to deny the allegations made by InterSociety- a respected body of experts in the South East of a conspiratorial partnership between the Nigeria Army and armed Fulani terrorists who have continued to kidnap citizens in the South East of Nigeria and milking these unsuspecting members of the public of billions of cash.

As I earlier pointed out, the then Methodist Church prelate spent #100 million to buy back his freedom after some days in the Bush with these Fulani armed herdsmen. It is not known what the Army has done to investigate all these allegations but the approach adopted by the Nigeria Army is to constantly deny and then pour out abuses on the groups making the presentations. It was even reported in a section of the media that the Army wanted to interrogate the kidnapped and freed Prelate for making the allegation of involvement of the Army in his abduction. This is definitely not how to win hearts and minds of the people when the institution of the Army is constantly graphically presented as an enemy of the Masses of Nigeria. This antagonistic mechanism of public relations by the Army needs to be changed.

The Nigerian Army has just repeated the often error prone approach to try to win the hearts and minds of the people in its response to the Intersociety’s groundswell of accusations against the Nigerian Army. How the Army thinks it will convince any right thinking person to believe the tale by moonlight that a group such as INTERSOCIETY registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission and that has some of the most organised and respected modus operandi of generating intelligence which is transparent and accountable is now an associate of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra only because it made an allegation against the Army? This line of argument will do more harm than good in the eyes of the people of South East for the Army than the aim that it intended to achieve.

Hear the Army: “The attention of the Nigerian Army (NA) has been drawn to a libelous, spurious and derogatory narrative credited to one so called International Society for Civil Liberty and Rule of Law ( Intersociety), alleging that the Nigerian military, especially the NA is working with armed herdsmen/bandits to terrorize the Eastern part of the country and Benue state.

A cursory look at the content reveals a business-as-usual pattern of propaganda by the well known, paid jobbers and fifth columnists christened INTERSOCIETY, who after several failed attempts, still unrepentantly and shamelessly continues to dissipate its energy in mudslinging, all in a futile effort to drag the image and reputation of the NA in the mud, while promoting irredentists, lawless and outlawed organizations.

Unfortunately for these mischief makers, the highly patriotic and untiring efforts of the Nigerian Army to neutrally defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Nigeria is visible enough and boldly seen by all and have received international accolades.

It is on this unmistakable pedigree, that the NA wishes to dismiss these concoctions and evil propaganda peddled and served to unsuspecting members of the public by INTERSOCIETY, covertly sponsored by IPOB/ESN, with the singular purpose of destabilizing our dear nation.

It is on record, that the NA conducted and will still conduct series of Exercises not only in the South Eastern states, but across all the states of the Federation, which has reasonably reduced criminality especially in the South East, where Intersociety’s cohorts like IPOB and ESN could no longer enjoy freedom of action to unleash death and mayhem on Ndigbo and other Nigerians, who do not support their evil bid.

Intersociety’s unprofessional posture is crystal clear and evident in its biased and unbalanced submissions and reportage, as it has never openly condemned the atrocious activities of IPOB/ ESN, for which it is fronting. InterSociety would rather turn a blind eye, when these groups illegally deny law abiding citizens their rights to freedom of movement and association through their illegal sit-at-home order, the attack on military, police, paramilitary personnel and other security agencies, the attack and callous beheading of Nigerians including ndigbo, the destruction of government facilities and infrastructure, amongst myriads of other nefarious activities.

However, the NA through the conduct of Exercises such as PYTHON DANCE, GOLDEN DAWN, ENDURING PEACE AND STILL WATERS have effectively checkmated and drastically reduced their criminal activities and other sundry crimes in South Eastern Nigeria, while alongside the exercises, fostering excellent Civil-Military Relations through series of Civil Military Cooperation (CIMIC) activities heralding the conduct of these exercises. The recently concluded Nigerian Army Day Celebration (NADCEL) 2022 held in Owerri, Imo state saw the Nigerian Army bringing succour to the South Easterners through organized medical outreaches, renovation of schools, sinking of boreholes and road repairs. These are totally in dissonance with the image being concocted of the NA by the glorified Civil Society Organization (Intersociety) and their collaborators.

The Nigerian Army therefore, remains a professional institution that is resolved to protect the territorial integrity of Nigeria and will never be distracted by mischief makers, who find pleasure in blackmailing and defaming the institution to gain cheap publicity and satisfy the interest of fifth columnists, in their unrelenting effort to destabilize the nation.

The Nigerian Army is not by this reaction denying the presence of black sheep in its fold, just like in any other organization or institution. This, the Army is very mindful of and actively monitoring and effectively handling within the provisions of extant laws.

We call on INTERSOCIETY to channel its energy like the Nigerian Army into nation building, rather than tearing our nation apart. Nigeria remains our nation and no other.

The Nigerian Army will continue to count on the support of all Nigerians and the international community, as it selflessly continues to carry out its constitutional mandate to defend Nigeria and restore sanity and peace in all troubled parts of the country. ONYEMA NWACHUKWU, a Brigadier General who is Director of Army Public Relations signed off the statement.

We will very soon see how the then Army chief of Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai handled these kinds challenges that did come up during his stin as the Chief of Army Staff.

Retired Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai walked into the eye of the storm, becoming the nation’s chief of army staff, some years ago. Much was expected of him, not just because he was at the peak of his career, but because he was also from Borno State, the hotbed of Boko Haram insurgency.

He was appointed into the challenge and was expected to leverage on his experiences, a supposed understanding of the cultural underpinnings fueling the insurgents, to galvanize his men, towards routing the nihilists, that have unsettled the nation nearly five years prior. Buratai came, therefore, and performed, but did he conquer?

How do we contextualize his much-touted human rights record, now becoming an issue from where his legacy is being assessed in some circles? It is important to evaluate these issues beyond the hue and cry, dominating conversations, as he settles into retirement, or rather into the diplomatic space.

Boko Haram atrocities have been a witness to wanton killings and maiming. Their modus operandi obviously transcends police machinery, and inviting the military, considering their special, warfare trainings. Military involvements, of course, enjoyed legal backing, if with the Nigeria’s Constitution, and the Armed Forces Act, which empowers the President as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces to appropriately deploy, or to determine its operational use. Specifically, Section 8(1), of the 1999 constitution (as amended) provides that, the President shall determine the operational use of the Armed Forces, but may, under general or special directives, delegate his responsibility for the day-to-day operational use, while Section 8(3) of the same Act stretched that the operational use of the armed forces includes its use to maintain and secure public safety and public order.

While we have not been under external aggression, for which the military are partly primed for, internal insurrection has turned a bane, and needing their natural intervention. The intervention became compulsory faced with the weaknesses of other internally focused security agencies, including the police, the civil defence, customs and excise, and the immigration service amongst others. In the military performance of this interventionist or natural role of defending the territory integrity of the country, and specifically in taming internal insurrection, as exemplified by Boko Haram fighters, it soon encountered issues around Human Rights abuses, leading to right or wrong outcries, that have become threats to the legacies of service personalities, especially Lt. Gen. Buratai.

Local and international human rights campaigners–Civil Society Groups and Non-Governmental Organizations, like the Amnesty International, Transparency International and Human Rights Watch, have, among others, understandably been at the forefront of these outcries. One organisation that constantly kept the Nigerian Army on its toes was the Amnesty International; an international rights watchdog which constantly released negative reports on the Army’s handling of human rights issues. Their allegations border mainly on extra-judicial killings, torture, extortion, arbitrary arrests, and detention and sexual philandering or exploitation. Others are poor detention facility and pitiable medical access and supplies to suspects in military detention centers.

These claims reportedly portrayed the Nigerian Army in a bad light, created rancor and distrust between the army and the civil populace, dampened the morale of troops in the operational arenas, and almost distracted the military leadership, aside from maligning the image and reputation of the Nigerian Army. In what appeared to be a response, Buratai started and institutionalized measures intended to eliminate rights abuses by the personnel of the Nigerian Army.

The first was an understanding of Civil-Military Relations/Cooperation, particularly in a period of multiple and dynamic security challenges such as terrorism, farmers–herdsmen clashes and violent secessionist agitation among others. He empowered the Department of Civil–Military Affairs (DCMA) to function effectively, especially in the campaign for the protection and respect for human rights. He strengthened the DCMA, and organised sensitization workshops, and campaigns on protection of human rights for members of the NA. The human rights sensitization workshops harped on operational civil–military interactions, humanitarian principles, perception, actions, guidelines, security and coordination and humanitarian access.

Aside from this, corporate social responsibility projects like construction of boreholes, feeder roads, renovation of medical centres and schools among others across selected communities in Nigeria where done, particularly during operations and exercises. This endeared the troops to the locals and ushered togetherness and mutual respect. The Army also partnered with some human rights organizations such as the United Nations (UN) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to develop capacity to enhance professionalism and responsiveness, in promoting humanitarian principles and in conducts during operations.

We will recall it that while declaring human rights workshop open in 8 Task Force Division, he said “the Nigerian Army has embarked on the sensitization workshop so that our troops can become knowledgeable in the Laws of Armed Conflicts and therefore avoid those unprofessional conducts that could destroy their career and tarnish the good image of the Nigerian Army”

Equally 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. The desk additionally updated existing training manuals, liaising and facilitating interaction with human rights organizations, strategize and strengthen capacity of the Nigerian Army in promoting human rights.

Beyond this, upon assumption of office, Buratai and his Principal Officers monitored issues on allegation of human rights abuses against troops deployed for operations across the country in line with the President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces’ mandate in the fight against terrorism. Again, through the establishment of Human Rights Desk Offices in the Army headquarters and across the Nigerian army divisions, the Army could address petitions and other different claims against it. This move, borne out of the increasing interest of the local and international human rights bodies on what Nigerian Army is doing in the North-East and other parts of the country, to many human right analysts, marked a departure from the old order when the Military was on the defensive whenever allegations of human rights violations were leveled against it.

Incidentally, while commissioning the human rights office at the Headquarters of 7 Division Nigerian Army in Maiduguri, Buratai noted 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. His words: “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. What we are witnessing today has been facilitated by the Nigerian Bar Association and National Human Rights Commission”, he added.

The Military–Media–Public Awareness Programme noted at an event, with CLEEN foundation at Jabi Motor Park, Abuja, 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 in to the office and lodge their complaints. So, the Army is doing its best to ensure that they respect the rights of the civilians. We assure them that once they come to us they protected their rights and we do our best to serve them better”.

There were many more efforts under Buratai to protect human rights, especially on the abuse of detainees because of the poor state of the detention facility in Giwa Barracks Maiduguri, in the areas of poor sanitary condition/ventilation, overcrowding and irregular water supply. He remarkably commissioned 400 capacity Joint Investigation Centre and Detention Cells for Boko Haram suspects in Maiduguri, in 2018, and the facilities were built with heat and odor extractor, coupled with constructed borehole to enable detainee’s access to water. He had then argued that “this modern facility will go a long way in changing the narrative in the criticism of the Nigerian military. It is a clear sign we welcome positive criticisms to see where we can improve on it, and this is what we have showed here.

Buratai’s leadership approved the commencement of the construction of additional holding facility to improve the management of detainees during investigations. At the foundation laying ceremony, he stated that the ongoing counterterrorism and counter-insurgency operations in the North East, has made it mandatory for arrest and detention of suspected insurgents who must be properly taken care of under international best practices while in custody. He stressed “the quest for a functional transit safe holding and detention facility, with adequate sanitary conditions for the effective management of suspected Boko Haram Terrorists for further investigation activities, is the driving force behind the execution of this project by the COAS” The soldier then added: “It shows the compliance of the NA with global best practices. This will further strengthen the cooperation between the army and stakeholders, especially in the management of suspects undergoing investigation”.

There was also the establishment of a Special Board of Inquiry by the COAS to probe alleged cases of human rights violations leveled against the Nigerian Army personnel, especially in the ongoing counter terrorism. According to him, despite the success recorded by troops in the ongoing counter-terrorism operations in the North East, some individuals and organisations had expressed concerns, alleging misconduct and human rights abuses by personnel of the army, “especially in the early days of the counterterrorism and counter-insurgency operations. The board was, therefore, set up to investigate the matter and establish the true situation of the allegations.

The then Chief of Army Staff said that the board was set up in line with the provision of Section 172(1) of the Armed Forces Act CAP A20 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004. Buratai, however, called on the board not to probe or revisit cases of abuse that had been investigated by state governments or the National Human Rights Commission. He also urged members of the board to justify the confidence reposed in them as they were selected based on competence and merit to serve. He added: “I implore you to leave no stone unturned to come up with a report that will explain the facts to all and assist the Nigerian army in taking appropriate actions”

In addition, there were regular, timely and effective enforcement of extant rules/application of sanctions to human rights violators as a way of the Nigerian Army in curtailing human rights abuses by its personnel. Under Buratai, any confirmed case of rights infraction was met with maximum punishment. This way, human rights abuses were also drastically curtailed in the Nigerian Army. All these where deliberate efforts by the Nigerian Army under the leadership of Buratai to eliminate rights abuses by its personnel.

More so, while Buratai held sway, the Nigerian Army ensured that they assigned all cases pending in civil court against it to competent registered Nigerian Army external advocates or military lawyers in the Directorate of Legal services. Court-Martial cases or trials in the field where also given professional attention by deploying legal officers, who are not only trained military personnel, but legal practitioners. This is in furtherance of the fact that the Nigerian Army as an institution is guided by legal advice in sustaining its flexibility in the conduct of its operations, which was being adequately acknowledged within the nation and the comity of other nations. Adherence to the rule of law was consistent with Buratai’s vision to have a professionally responsive Nigerian Army in the discharge of constitutional roles. For all these, therefore, 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. These moles were derailing the objectives of the counter Terror War and alleging lack of respect for fundamental human rights.

Perhaps, those still unconvinced of the exceptional transformational measures contrived in repositioning to the Nigerian Army for effective counter-insurgency, and the productivity of maintaining military–Civil relationship practices may be poor adherents of history or have a faulty retentive memory. Not too long ago, as part of the activities marking the 2020 Nigerian Army Day Celebration together with its Cooperate Social Responsibility, Troops of the 7 Division Maiduguri conducted sanitation exercise along Baga road market, Maiduguri town in Borno State, while the newly built Camp Delta Force Quick Reaction Base was commissioned to enhance quick response of troops to terror activities in the communities.

Unequivocally, the allegations of human rights abuses against the Nigerian Army, particularly in the conduct of counterinsurgency operation where issues of great concern to TY Buratai, who ensured that they took various actions to guarantee that rights violations by Nigerian Army personnel are fully curtailed. Instructively, the three key concepts prevalent in the ex-COAS; Lt Gen TY Buratai’s vision for the Nigerian Army where Professionalism, Responsiveness and Working within the ambit of the Constitution of Nigeria, signifying an excellent Civil–Military Relations anchored on adherence to the Rule of Law and Respect for Human Rights are necessary to the attainment of the vision. Remarkably, before he left office early this month, there was a serious reduction in the reported cases or accusations of human rights violations against the Nigerian Army. No wonder he was recently appointed Ambassador-Designate by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Therefore, it is important that some of these significant approaches introduced as aforementioned towards improving the consistent dialogues between the Army and the civil society ny the then Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai are adopted by the current hierarchies of the armed forces of Nigeria if the military ever hope to win the hearts and minds of the people of Nigeria.

*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA); erstwhile National Commissioner of the NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA and [email protected] theingerianinsidernews.com, www.huriwanigeria.com.

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