You probably saw the video the other day…of Nigerian army personnel in an Armored Personnel Carrier (APC), being pelted with stones, bottles and all other kinds of projectiles by a mob suspected to be members or supporters of the now-maligned Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB. In the video, you could hear what the Nigerian army later described as “warning shots” aimed at repelling the mob. But the mob kept advancing on the APC. You also heard some in the crowd vowing revenge on the army.
A day or so later, another video went viral. In this one, you could see men dressed in the Nigerian army camouflage uniforms forcing some men into the mud by the roadside. Most of the men were already stripped down to their trousers. They were forced to lie with their heads down in the muddy water. Some who took too long to comply were beaten into faster compliance. A man lay to the side by the bushes, an entire leg of his trousers soaked in blood. A voice on the video remarked that he was dead. There were flags and other paraphernalia of the IPOB and Biafra scattered on the ground nearby.
By the evening of the same day, another video had surfaced. This one was of several mobs by the roadside stopping vehicles and demanding in Igbo language if any Hausa person was on board. You could see a lorry on fire and another one appearing to be on its side. The mobs were armed with cutlasses, bottles, sticks and rocks. Some of their members wore the Biafra colors and carried IPOB paraphernalia.
On social media and in private conversations, IPOB supporters, mainly people of Igbo extraction, blame the army for starting this fire by attempting to arrest IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu. Those who support the military action, mostly non-Igbo people, blame Kanu and members of IPOB for testing the patience and will of the Nigerian government. Whichever side of the issue you belong, one thing is certain: the picture right now looks very much like the pre- 1967-1970 civil war pogrom. And that is very disheartening.
How did we get here? I won’t attempt to answer the question in this essay because many others before me have asked and answered it. What concerns me right now is the deployment of military personnel to handle what the DSS and or the police can handle, or should have been equipped and trained to handle. I understand the argument by those who said all the videos mentioned above did not depict the atrocities committed by IPOB members, some of which included physically barricading the path of the army element, ambushing the soldiers, killing four of them and injuring others. I understand that argument quite well. And I know one other thing: the adrenalin running through the body of an armed soldier when faced with imminent death will cause him to do incalculable damage to the enemy first, if he has the opportunity. Which is why you do not send the army to do the job of mob control or arrest that the police and DSS are better suited to do.
If we talk now, dem go brand us “Enemy of the State” and start chasing us upandan with police, DSS, Customs, Immigrations and even vigilantes. But how do you criticize the deployment of soldiers to the private residence of a man without incurring the wrath of the presidency?
I have an idea: blame it on the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen Tukur Buratai; blame it on Chief of Defense Staff, Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin – for those two must be in the know before troops are deployed within and outside Nigeria. We can take the blame for this aberration a little higher. How about laying it at the doorstep of President Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari? Wouldn’t he have been the last person to know before the president himself knew? Buratai would have communicated his plans to Olonisakin, who would, in turn, have asked Abba Kyari for a meeting with the President so he could brief him. Abba Kyari would likely have just given the go-ahead in the name of the president because…emm…Mr. President was indisposed, or just didn’t have the time to see everybody and every file all of the time. Right?
Wrong. In this day and age, nations don’t send soldiers chasing after their own civilian citizens. Responsible nations spend too much money on the training and welfare of their soldiers for them to be deployed on such trite mission as “show of force” on the street of a rabble-rouser. That is so Hitlerian…so tyrannical and so out-of-date. The blame lies squarely at the doorstep of President Buhari. And as the saying goes, the buck stops at his desk.
I understand that section 217(2) of our Constitution authorizes the president to deploy troops to any part of the country in support of the efforts of other law enforcement agencies in order to help suppress “insurrection”. I understand all that. (This is more like what the U.S. National Guard, which is under the command of individual state governors, does in the U.S.) But I also understand that sending soldiers to do law enforcement missions will make them easily susceptible to violating UN’s Articles 1 – 33, which form the UNCAT – United Nations Convention Against Torture.
Article 1.1 of the said UNCAT defines torture, in part, as: “any act by which SEVERE PAIN or SUFFERING, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the CONSENT or ACQUIESCENCE of a PUBLIC OFFICIAL (emphasis mine)or other person acting in an official capacity…”
Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions prohibits “violence of life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, CRUEL TREATMENT and torture.” It also bans “outrages of life and person, in particular HUMILIATING AND DEGRADING TREATMENT (emphasis mine).
Nigeria is a signatory to both the United Nations and the Geneva Conventions. When you look at one of those videos, it would appear the line was crossed from “show of force” to torture. You can argue that various law enforcement and security agencies in Nigeria violate these Articles every day and it doesn’t make a difference whether it is the police, the Navy or the DSS doing it. It does make a huge difference. You will recall that one of the reasons the government of Goodluck Jonathan resorted to buying arms and ammunition on the black market (South Africa and the ferrying of physical cash on a pastor’s private jet come to mind) was because the United States would not sell ammunition to it and pressured other Western countries to do the same because our military was accused of human rights violations. That ban, according to the Jonathan government, prevented Nigeria from obtaining the weapons she needed at the time she needed them to nip Boko Haram in the bud before it grew into a behemoth. You open the military up to those kinds of violations and sanctions when you set it after civilian targets because they aren’t usually trained to “arrest”. They are trained to “kill” or “capture” the enemy. Soldiers aren’t trained to fire warning shots in battle. They are trained to shoot to kill.
One way the government of Buhari could have shielded our military from torture violations was the proper application of section 217(2) of our Constitution referred to above. He could have declared a state of emergency in the areas where IPOB was planning to foment crises, declare IPOB as an existential threat to Nigeria’s sovereignty and declare Kanu a security threat. He could have deployed all the information dissemination apparatuses at his disposal to the airwaves, speaking to both local and international audiences and sensitizing them to what he may have to do to stop another Boko Haram from happening in the southeast.
The problem with applying section 217(2) is that there had not yet been an ACTIVE “insurrection” in Abia state when the army moved in to intimidate and harass Kanu. One definition of Insurrection is this: “an act or an instance of rising in revolt, rebellion, or resistance against civil or an established government”. Kanu had threatened all of the key elements that define Insurrection; “threatened”… but not yet actualized them. He had promised more than once to turn Nigeria into a huge conflagration. He had promised more than once to prevent elections from taking place in Anambra. He had promised more than once to carve out Biafra from Nigeria. But he had yet to actualize any of those threats…until a couple of days ago when people suspected to be his followers set a lorry on fire.
What he had done until a few days ago was to flagrantly violate some of the conditions for his bail. In April of this year, when virtually all the elders from the east pleaded for his release from detention, ostensibly because his health was failing and he was at the point of death, Justice Binta Nyako offered Kanu 12 conditions for his release, and the continued enjoyment of temporary freedom. Those conditions included but were not limited to the following: he must not be in a crowd of more than 10; he must not hold rallies; and he must not grant interviews. But what did he do as soon as he was released? He not only got in a crowd of more than 10, he held rallies. Apparently, his health got better as soon as he exited the court premises in Abuja. He not only granted interviews; he threatened to burn down Nigeria. For those alone, all that government needed was a court order to re-arrest him. And because of his notoriety – the touts and the hoodlums with whom he had surrounded himself and the nature of his threats against Nigeria, government probably needed a hefty dose of a combined police/DSS operation. No reasonable person would have argued against that because it would have been lawful. That would have been an appropriate “show of force.”
So, why send a platoon, company or battalion of soldiers to intimidate him? The answer is simple. The Buhari government, like all the ones before it, and like most African governments, is afraid of empowering the police as it is done in western countries. The ideal thing would have been to allow the states to have their own police. Those who argue against that cite the potential for abuse by some of our vindictive and petulant governors, and the general “immaturity of our democracy”. If we are leaving the police as it is, under the federal government, we need to strengthen it numerically so that it can adequately cover the whole country (stop assigning police officers to all manners of political office holders); improve their general welfare – salary, training, weapons – and truly empower them to carry out law enforcement duties across the whole country.
It is an onerous, almost revolutionary task that requires laser-focus attention from the president. But it is wishful thinking on my behalf. Knowing the bushman, brute force mentality of our military, I can’t imagine a police officer enforcing the law on a military officer. A good example of the subordination of the military to civil rule is the U.S. military which boasts of some of the most lethal men and women in its forces. Yet, those highly trained members of the military are some of the most humble, most deferential and most respectful individuals when you see them about town. Other than members of the National Guard whom you’d see in town with arms during natural disasters, I have never, in 30 years, seen ARMED American regular soldiers in town. Even when going from their bases to training grounds, they move about in such a way as to not draw attention to themselves…using civilian license plates on their plain-colored vehicles. Even just wearing the camouflage uniform in town is often discouraged. The idea is to protect the crown jewel of the American power – The Soldier. Would you be surprised to see an American police officer arrest an American soldier? It happens all the time. Such a thing can happen in a society where the military is completely subordinated to the civilian leadership. Can that happen in Nigeria? Nah. Some in our military are still tethered to its inglorious past of dehumanizing jungle-justice treatment of the so-called bloody civilians.
In its characteristic lethargic attitude to important matters, this government dilly-dallied on this Kanu matter until the fellow became a martyr and his father’s home became a rallying point for the Biafra cause. Kanu was charged to court for some of the most egregious offenses you could commit against your country; one of which was treason. The man was allegedly seen and heard all over the world on video and radio openly soliciting financial contributions for the acquisition of arms to wage war against Nigeria. With two passports at his disposal – Nigerian and British – the man allegedly entered Nigeria illegally…without a British visa on his British passport and without an entry stamp on his Nigerian passport. Now, why did someone like that get put in detention for over a year without his trial moving an inch? Where is Attorney General Abubakar Malami on this issue? Isn’t the APC government the government of #Change…the one that promised an overhaul of the judiciary? Had Kanu been tried with dispatch and sentenced to an appropriate jail sentence, would we have been at this juncture…this junction of deciding whether we are going to start another civil war?
So, again, why send the army to harass Kanu? Could it be that our soldiers don’t have much to do anymore? Is Boko Haram now completely crushed? Have we traversed the entire Sambissa forest and mapped out every inch of it? If not, shouldn’t those soldiers riding around in Umuahia be deployed to Maiduguri?
Who does not know that the Nigerian army is by far the superior bet in a showdown with IPOB and Biafra? It has to be only the suicidal goons following kanu around. And I think there is something in the water or food they are consuming over there that makes them think they can stand toe-to-toe against the Nigerian army. Those of them on those videos armed with cutlasses, machetes and bottles, throwing stones at the military convoy and moving in the direction of the soldiers even as they saw and heard the soldiers firing warning shots had to have been on drugs, or they relied on some charms, or they were just plain stupid. If you look in the dictionary for the definition of stupidity, it would be illustrated with the picture of Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky of Zaria and his mob armed with sticks, cutlasses and bottles attacking a military element that was wearing protective body armor and armed with semi-automatic weapons, fully-automatic weapons and grenade launchers. We know how that confrontation ended. Don’t come crying to me when you are blown to smithereens.
I have never been a fan of armed soldiers dressed in combat uniforms dealing with civilians in town. I have so much respect for the military that any misuse of them, any scorn, any derision thrown their way makes my blood boil. Even the “Ineffectual Buffoon” and “bloody Civilian” had enough sense to declare a state of emergency in the northeast before sending soldiers there. I expect our sage and former general to know better…unless his sentiency is in question.