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Days after release of report: Army, Amnesty stick to their guns

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The leadership of the Nigerian military and that of the Amnesty International (AI), Nigeria, are not shifting grounds in their altercation arising from the rights group’s latest report on security situation in Nigeria.

The Nigerian Army has restated its allegation that the Amnesty International was out to sow discord between the military and the Nigerian public, by making Nigerians lose confidence in the military so that terrorists will have the upper hand. But the AI has dismissed the charge, blaming the Nigerian Army of failing to admit shortcomings and make corrections. The group challenged the Army to seek redress in court if it truly feels the report would undermine it.

The latest exchange of words followed the release of a report on Monday by Amnesty, saying at least 3,641 people had died in clashes between farmers and herders in Nigeria between 2016 and 2018.

In the report, titled “Harvest of Death: Three Years of Bloody Clashes between Farmers and Herders,” AI said 2,000 deaths occurred in 2018 alone.

The group said the number would have been significantly reduced had security operatives acted accordingly.

“These attacks were well planned and coordinated, with the use of weapons like machine guns and AK-47 rifles,” said Osai Ojigho, Amnesty’s Nigeria director.

“Little has been done by the authorities in terms of prevention, arrests and prosecutions, even when information about the suspected perpetrators was available. 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,” the group stated.

Since the release, the rights group has come under barrage of criticisms from the military and the Nigerian government, who accused it of plotting to ‘dismember’ the country and derail the ongoing war against terrorism, allegations that Amnesty denied.

Speaking to Daily Trust on Sunday, the Nigerian Army spokesperson, Brig-Gen Sani Usman, said AI’s goal was to cause the erosion of confidence in military commanders for the benefit of ‘terrorists and criminals’.

“Indeed, it is a deliberate attempt to cast aspersions on the leadership and cohesion of the military, thus demoralising them, thus affecting their performance.

“It would make them lose credibility and public support, thus giving terrorists and other criminal elements an upper hand,” he said.

He faulted the organisation that failures by the security forces fuel escalating conflict between farmers and herders.

“It is not true that troops failed to respond to distress call, 16 hours after,” he said.

The Army spokesman condemned AI’s reports as annual ritual aimed at denigrating the security forces without any shred of evidence.

But the rights organisation dismissed the charges, saying it expected the Nigerian authorities to use its report as a basis for further investigation, adding that the nature of their reactions showed that they never bothered to read the report in the first place.

“Sometimes, the way the government dismisses our reports, clearly you will get the idea that they never even bother to read it, which is very unfortunate,” Isa Sanusi, Amnesty’s media and communications manager, told Daily Trust on Sunday.

He said, “What we are actually trying to do is to help the Nigerian government get pieces of information that will help the government to conduct its own research and investigation. Its own investigation can even be better than ours because the government has more money, resources and power to obtain all documents.

“But unfortunately, what we get is criticism, condemnation and allegations that are so unfounded.”

Sanusi also faulted the Federal Government over its allegations that AI’s operation in Nigeria was damaging the morale of the military, saying that instead, the report was to encourage Nigerian authorities to do more to protect human lives.

“If they read the report they would realise that we never blamed the military or demoralised them. The whole report is about failure of authorities to protect the lives of people. We respect the Nigerian military; we believe that they are doing a good job. So if we undermine the Nigerian military, what is the point?” he said.

He urged the military to seek redress in the court of law if it feels undermined by the report.

“If they have any evidence that we are undermining them, why can’t they take us to court? Why can’t they use the judicial processes to deal with us?

“We hope they would have a rethink, sit down and read our reports. If they have found any faults with our report, let them follow the legal processes and deal with us. This is what we want,” he added.

He said Amnesty releases reports on different human rights issues, but no one will react. But the moment it is about the military, the government and everyone becomes interested.

He said the display of professionalism by the Nigerian military during the investigation of the killing of the late General Idris Alkali showed that they have the capacity to protect Nigerians and that this kind of expertise and seriousness should be applied to the protection of lives in Nigeria.

Amnesty’s latest report came at a time Nigeria is preparing for the 2019 general elections, raising concerns among government officials that the organisation may have political motives. But Sanusi denied the allegation.

“Our colleagues in other countries are busy pushing governments to ensure that everyone has adequate housing, education and health care. But in Nigeria, we are still at zero point. We are just talking about a situation where people will have the opportunity to live without being killed.

“During the last administration, the same people in this government, who are now abusing us, always liked what we were doing when they were in opposition. Now that they are in government, they don’t like what we are doing.

“Those who are politicians and who see politics in everything are the ones giving political meaning to our action,” he added.

In a reaction earlier in the week, the Nigerian Army said Amnesty was plotting to destabilise the country with “fictitious allegations” and threatened to demand its closure in Nigeria.

“There is credible information that the Nigerian branch of the International Non-governmental Organisation is determined to destabilise the country.

“This is noted through fabrication of fictitious allegations of alleged human rights abuses against the Nigerian security forces and clandestine sponsorship of dissident groups to protest, as well as unfounded allegations against the leadership of the Nigerian military,” Brig-Gen Usman said.

Hours after Army’s response, the Presidency issued its own reaction, saying it was increasingly concerned about the role the AI was playing in the war against terror in Nigeria.

Presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, in a statement, said Amnesty’s operations “seem geared towards damaging the morale of the Nigerian military.”

“It often appears as if the Nigerian government is fighting two wars on terror: against Boko Haram and against Amnesty International. The obvious bias and inaccuracies in Amnesty International’s recent country reports on Nigeria risk Amnesty’s reputation as an impartial international organisation,” he stated.

Similarly, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, described Amnesty’s report as “largely outdated.’’

Mohammed, who addressed journalists on Thursday, said AI was wrong to have accused government of ineptitude after 947 suspected terrorists were arrested, 841 being prosecuted and 68 convicted.

He gave a breakdown of government’s achievements in tackling insecurity across the country, saying that in Taraba State, 49 were arrested and 42 being prosecuted; while in Plateau State, 43 were arrested and 31 were prosecuted.

He said that in Benue State, 120 were arrested, 81 prosecuted and 68 convicted, while in Niger State, 47 were arrested and 40 are being prosecuted.

In Zamfara State, the minister revealed that 172 were arrested and 162 are being prosecuted, while in Nasarawa State, 43 were arrested and 40 are being prosecuted

He said 38 suspected terrorists were arrested in Adamawa State and 34 are being prosecuted, while in Yobe State, 42 were arrested and 38 are being prosecuted.

Mohammed said that in Borno State, 40 were arrested and 36 are being prosecuted, while in Katsina State, 49 were arrested and 46 are being prosecuted

In Kogi State, the minister said that 23 were arrested and 20 are being prosecuted, while the Operation Absolute Sanity in North-East and North-Central arrested

158 suspected terrorists and 150 are being prosecuted.

He also disclosed that the Inspector-General of Police’s Intelligence Response Team had arrested 123 and is prosecuting 121 suspected terrorists.

“You can now see that the alleged government inaction is not true. I think Amnesty International should update its report to reflect the present reality, which is that the killings from the herders-farmers clashes have reduced. This is because of the concerted efforts by the Federal Government and the fact that perpetrators of the killings are being brought to justice,’’ he stated.

He said the achievements did not happen by accident, but by concerted and determined efforts by the Buhari Administration.

You got your facts wrong – Presidency

The latest report, according to AI, was based on 262 interviews with victims, eyewitnesses, community leaders, medical practitioners, religious leaders and government officials, including members of the security forces.

Researchers also analysed 230 documents, including medical records and reports by the security forces.

But the presidency, in its second response in a week, faulted the report, saying AI got some of its facts wrong.

“The report has raised our concerns about the validity of their evidence gathering. It is like knowing the facts but drawing the wrong conclusions.” “It is not correct to state in any way that the problem between farmers and herders is a new thing over the last three years. It has been happening for over 100 years. Colonial powers, Britain and France, had regularly recorded these conflicts, which are available in archives.

“It is equally untrue that government has done nothing. Alleged human rights abuses have been investigated. Clashes have been reduced through government’s actions,’’Shehu said in the statement on Thursday

He said the progress recorded was due to the strong determination of the administration to punish rights violators, no matter who they are, including the military, through orderly room trial, court martial and the regular courts.

Endless altercations

This is not the first time the Nigerian military and the human rights organisation have been exchanging altercations. In October 2018, Amnesty International accused the security forces of using excessive force on the Shii’te group during their procession in Abuja. At least 45 members were killed and many injured during two days of violent crackdowns on protesters who were demanding the release of their leader, Ibrahim Zakzaky, jailed since 2015.

The director of AI Nigeria, Ojigho, said in a statement that the organisation had evidence that the military used live firearms during the protests.

But the Nigerian Army denied the reports, saying personnel responded with “proportionate force.”

John Agim, a spokesperson for the Defence Headquarters, said Amnesty’s account of the incident was worrisome and could have adverse consequences on national security and cohesion of Nigeria.

Also, on May 24, 2018, Amnesty International accused Nigerian security forces of raping thousands of women and girls who fled Boko Haram.

In a report titled, They Betrayed Us, the global human rights group reported that troops separated women from their husbands and raped them, sometimes in exchange for food, in refugee camps.

Nigeria’s military dismissed the allegations as malicious and false. “These false reports, which are capable of derailing the good work being done by our patriotic and selfless soldiers, must stop,” the military said in a statement.

The Amnesty International stated in its 2017/2018 human rights report that the Nigerian Army carried out “extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and torture and other ill-treatment, which, in some cases, led to deaths in custody.”

In February 2017, the Nigerian military accused Amnesty International of fabricating its report about extrajudicial killings and torture of 240 people in the North-East and 177 pro-Biafran agitators.

The organisation’s reports stated that 240 people, including infants, died in a dreaded military detention centre in Borno in 2016, while 177 pro-Biafran agitators were extra-judicially killed in the same year.

The then acting Director of Defence Information, Brig-Gen Rabe Abubakar, in a statement, described the report as a continuation of Amnesty’s “series of spurious fabrications aimed at tarnishing the good image of the Nigerian military.”

Army, Amnesty clash will worsen security challenges – Experts

Security experts have waded into the verbal war by Nigeria authorities, including political leaders and the military in the aftermath of the recent report by the AI.

A retired military officer, Salihu Bakari, said Nigerian authorities were in a tight corner, and advised that instead of engaging the AI in needless debate, those concerned should address genuine observations and act accordingly.

He said the AI shared its report with the international community on different countries facing different challenges, and that fighting the group would only worsen the plight of any country that was accused of violations.

“Silence by Nigeria is acceptance of guilt; acknowledging the report is also acceptance of guilt.

“All the contents of the reports are facts which seriously indict the military and political leadership of the country. These have serious consequences to the country, military and political leaders. This could affect Nigeria’s successes in fight against crimes,” Bakari said.

“The International Criminal Court (ICC) could pick up and initiate further investigation with a view to indicting individuals and charging them to court. The international community (USA) could sanction individuals.

“Embargo could be placed on arms sales to the country and other privileges denied. The arms sales embargo on Nigeria by the USA was a result of human rights abuses allegations against the Nigerian military in Odi and Benue,” he said.

He said in military parlance, the response by the military was the right thing to do.

“It’s the best option at the moment because the report is already out. They just have to challenge the report. Silence or acceptance is inimical to them.

“Past allegations and embargos have not been cleared, and now, new ones. The little support we got from the USA was as a result of international cry for the crises in the North-East, especially the Chibok and Dapchi girls,” he said.

On allegations that the AI was simply blackmailing Nigeria, he said, “It is not blackmail; they are saying it as it is. They have no reason to blackmail. They are doing what they were established to do – exposing human rights abuses and identifying the perpetrators in such acts for actions to be taken(either locally, internationally or both).

“Most of the local AI members are Nigerians. They have no reason to be against the government or individuals. They have facts, figures, documents and dates of everything,” he said.

Another officer, who left the military service some years ago but does not want his name mentioned, said, “During our time, we related intimately with the AI. We got their reports before time and acted promptly. Their target is for actions and remedy. But now, the military, especially the Army, think they can do and undo.’’

Advising on the way forward, he said, “The military should have direct liaison with AI and others. It should treat all correspondences from AI and others with military urgency.

“The military should be taking actions on allegations of abuses and publicising same. Imagine how the military set up panel to investigate issues of rights abuses against it, now almost a year of submitting the report, nothing public is out,” he said.

On his part, Dr. Amaechi Nwokolo, an international terrorism and development consultant, described as absurd, the altercation between the Nigerian authorities and AI.

In an interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, Dr Nwokolo, however, urged the AI to exercise caution in dealing with the Nigerian government.

He said, “It sounds very absurd that our military will be exchanging or joining issues with AI. What I expect from the military is pure professionalism and to continue to focus on what they are doing.

“Again, AI must also be very careful. They are dealing with government, whereas the international community is asking our government to use the military to quell terrorism.

“There is no way we will not have these mistakes and incidences, but our military should tread with caution. The more they are joining issues with AI, the more they paint the Nigerian security forces and the country in a bad light in the international community.”

He, therefore, urged the military to be in constant communication with the Nigerian public.

“I don’t think Amnesty should be the one telling us what has happened and what did not happen. It behoves on the Nigerian authorities to tell the people what is going on and not waiting for reports from international organisations and start dismissing them. They have to be proactive at all times,” he said.

Cautioning the government against banning Amnesty, he said, “We are in a democratic dispensation. Over 90 per cent of countries around the world are practising democracy. If we dare carry out such an act, the world will come after us.”

A lawyer with interest in human rights violations, Musa Ali, said Amnesty report was far off the mark.

“Nigeria as a country is very poor in record keeping, and this is why no one can tell you the casualty figure through suicide bombers, Boko Haram terrorists, own troops killed, missing in action and wounded in action,” he said.

CSOs back AI over faceoff with military

The chairman, Board of AI Nigeria, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani said, “The military threat to shut down AI Nigeria or any human right organisation operating in Nigeria is not the solution to the negligence or failure on the untimely response to the issue of human rights and providing security for Nigeria.

“Amnesty is not engaging in sabotage, but to help in ending the violence in the country. We would advise the military to look at the recommendations we have made to the government and address them.”

The Amnesty International Nigeria has said that its recent report on human rights violations in Nigeria was based on facts that every Nigerian was already aware of, noting that it stands by the report.

Amnesty said that even the Nigerian government itself had admitted that there were serious human rights violations in the country and constituted a committee to look at that, but that it failed to take action on the panel’s report, which it received since February.

Rafsanjani told Daily Trust on Sunday in a telephone interview that it appeared some people in government were benefiting financially from the insecurity in the country; hence they would not want it to stop.

The executive director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)

further said the Nigerian government had not been sincere on how its citizens are killed on a daily basis.

“It is unfortunate that some people in government are calling this obvious insecurity and violence as a false alarm. Amnesty International (Nigeria) and other non-governmental organisations are monitoring and documenting these human rights abuses. Every Nigerian knows that things are not okay. There’s a lot of ethic, communal and political violence going on in Nigeria.

“For any person to come and say that it’s a false alarm, I think he is an enemy of Nigeria. He doesn’t want Nigerians to have peaceful atmosphere. It is because their family members are not victims of this violence, that’s why they can dismiss that there are no violence and human rights abuses in Nigeria.

“If their family members were involved, they won’t be making this kind of careless talk. We want to call the attention of the people in authority to remember that this human right is for everybody. Look at the case of former Chief of Defence Staff.

“When he was in the position, they were also having the same kind of response, dismissing human rights organisations. But look at the way he ended up being killed. So, it’s important when you are in government to make sure that you do everything possible to ensure that Nigerians are protected.

“If you look at the kind of funds going into the issue of security in government at all levels, you begin to wonder why we still have insecurity? So, we have noted that it is like some people don’t want peace in Nigeria because once there’s no violence, there won’t be justification for siphoning public funds in the name of security votes. So, some people deliberately want this violence to continue, that’s why they are not doing anything to stop it,’’ Rafsanjani said.

Rafsanjani noted that they were vindicated by the killings that took place about 48 hours after the release of the report, saying 25 people were reportedly killed in Zamfara State and a former Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Air Chief Marshall Alex Badeh, was also killed thereafter.

“What Amnesty International, Nigeria has always been saying is that government must take its responsibilities and obligations seriously in terms of protecting the lives and property of Nigerians as enshrined in the constitution.

“We have been trying to draw the attention of the authorities to the continuous gross violations of the fundamental human rights in Nigeria.

“Even government itself has acknowledged the problem of violent violations of human rights, but what is weighing us down is that every time you try to bring this issue to the attention of government, because of the fact that those people who, in the corridors of power, are not victims of this violence, are quick to dismiss these problems that Nigerians are facing on a regular basis.

“Anybody who lives in Nigeria knows that the level of violence and insecurity in different parts of the country is something that any serious government must rise up to ensure that it prevents.

“Each time Amnesty International or any other organisation asks government to take proactive measures, instead of them to look at it, the people in government and the security agencies look the other way.

“One of the issues we want the government to address is that the National Human Rights Commission as a government agency has no board, up till date. It has no political leadership that will deal with the issue of human rights abuses in Nigeria. We want them to address that.”

Thirty-five Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in NIgeria urged the Federal Government to stop the incessant attacks on human rights and humanitarian organisations in the country.

“We as stakeholders in the human rights community in Nigeria are concerned about the incessant attacks and criticisms of human rights and humanitarian organisations by the Nigerian Government and its security agencies, in particular, the Nigerian military and security services.

“The latest of such attacks has been the announcement of the ban of UNICEF, later rescinded, and the call to close the Nigerian office of AI, which has become a regular object of attack by the Nigerian military and security services for doing its work of exposing human rights violations.

“We totally condemn threats and intimidation of UNICEF and AI Nigeria by the Nigerian military and security services, especially as the Presidency has joined in the fray. That these threats are always issued against AI Nigeria whenever it issues a report detailing credible allegations of human rights violations in Nigeria shows that the attacks are aimed at gagging the organisation, undermining credible human rights reporting and covering up systemic violations of human rights,” the jointly signed statement read.

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