Published On: Wed, Mar 22nd, 2017

Controversy trails Army panel on rights violations

By OBINNA EZUGWU

 

Controversy has continued to trail a panel set up by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai to investigate allegations of human rights abuses against the country’s military as many have continued to insist that it was a move in the wrong direction. While some say the panel lacked balance as it is made up, almost exclusively, of people from the northern part of the country, others contend that the Army cannot be a judge over its own case.

A number of individuals and organisations, especially in the South East where members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) were allegedly killed, have questioned the rationale behind setting up such panel and called for its overhaul or outright disbanding. Amnesty International had last month released a report alleging the extra judicial killings of IPOB and MASSOB members, which the rmy dismissed as mischievous and false.

In a chat with Business Hallmark, Chief Anslem Njoku, the Chairman, Ndigbo United Association, an apex political pressure group of Ndigbo in Lagos while labelling the composition of the panel as an insult to the Igbo, asked President Muhammadu Buhari to dismiss Buratai.

“Frankly, the President was away when that panel was set up, he was not back from his medical leave. Now that he is back and would have been intimidated, if I were him, I will sack the Chief of Army Staff or whoever is responsible for setting up that panel. Njoku wondered how a panel of such nature would be set up without anyone from either the South East or South South being part of it.

“How can he completely wipe out the whole of the South, you have only one southerner in a country that belongs to everybody.

These are some of the things we are talking about,” he said. “If the President takes the initiative now and dismiss the Chief of Army Staff for wiping off completely one half of this country from his panel, others will learn their lesson. The change will begin from there. The panel should be dissolved and another one set up.”

In a similar reaction, Mr. Vince Onyekwelu, a former British police officer said although setting up a panel to investigate the said allegation was a right step, the composition left much to be desired.

“You have a panel that is made up of almost 100 percent retired or serving military officers, that immediately begs the question whether they are planning to do a proper investigation,” he said in an interview with Channels.

“They are supposed to be looking at the issues against the Shites in Zaria, they are supposed to be looking at the issues against the IPOB members in the South East.  When you look at the constitution of the panel, you ask yourself, how many of them are from certain ethnicity of Nigeria? What is their religious background?

“We have to face these questions because we are talking about issues of national peace. This is supposed to bring national peace and be a kind of compensation to the people that felt that their loved ones have been murdered in very unceremonious ways.

“Now, you ask yourself, is any of them from the Southern part of Nigeria? Yes, one of them is from the South West, but is any of them from the South East where those IPOB and MASSOB members were massacred? There is a lot of imbalance right now, we still lack information about the background of these army officers,” he noted.

Also reacting in a statement, the apex socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo re­jected the panel, maintaining that the Army could not be a judge in its own case.

In the statement titled: “Buratai, with Due Respect, You Cannot be a Judge in your Own Court” and signed by its President-General, Chief Nnia Nwodo, the group said the findings of such panel cannot be objective and pointed out several cases of Army brutality against the Igbo.

“In Ezu River in Anambra State, 21 bodies float­ed for two months without any­one identifying them till today. Claims that they were MASSOB members hacked down by combined Police and Army person­nel remain uninvestigated,” the statement read.

“In Aba, IPOB members were gunned down by soldiers for just gathering to hold a meeting. No investigation was done. In Port Harcourt, IPOB claims 11 of their members were gunned down by soldiers. I called for an inquiry, nothing happened. In­stead further killings were done in Asaba.”

The group said although it was not opposed to the idea of investigation, the findings of such cannot be acceptable to it.

“The findings of such an investigation will neither be acceptable to Ohanaeze nor stand the test of objectivity until it is subjected to an impartial body,” it concluded.

Toeing the same line, Human Rights Writers Association Of Nigeria (HURIWA), said the decision by the Army to conduct the investigation after delaying for so long was an afterthought which lacked credibility.

However, the Director, Army Public Relations (DAPR), Brig-Gen. Sani Usman insisted that the panel was set up with due diligence and is aimed at unraveling the true position of the said allegations.

It would be recalled that the Nigerian Army had on Wednesday fortnight ago, set up a seven-member “Special Board of Inquiry” to probe alleged cases of human rights abuses leveled against its personnel with regard to their handling of pro Biafra agitators in the South East and the ongoing counter-insurgency operations in the country’s North East.

The board which was inaugurated by Buratai is to be headed by Ahmed Jibrin, a retired major general and has  Dadan Garba and Abdulqadir Gumi, both retired brigadiers general; O.L. Olayinka, a brigadier general; L.B. Mohammed and U.M. Wambai, both colonels and C.M. Akaliro, a lieutenant colonel as members.

Mr. Buratai had explained that the decision to set up the panel was informed on the need to ascertain the true state of things with regard to the alleged cases of misconduct and human rights abuses by personnel of the Army, especially in the early days of the counter terrorism and counter insurgency operations in the North East as well as the Amnesty International’s allegation of killing of members of Indigenous People of Biafra and other groups.

He noted that based on the allegations, some officers were already suffering discrimination in some quarters, insisting that the allegations were not good for civil-military relations and were capable of demoralising Nigerian army personnel in the performance of their constitutional roles.”

Thus, according to him, it had become expedient to thoroughly and impartially investigate the allegations in order to find out the facts of the matter to enable relevant authorities to take appropriate actions.The board which he said 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, is to investigate the matter and establish the true situation of the whole allegations.

He had urged members of the board to justify the confidence reposed in them as they were selected based on competence and merit.

 

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