The Amnesty International Report, Nigera’s war On Terror And The Avalanche Of Pseudo-patriotic Criticism By Jaye Gaskia
Amnesty International’s most recent report on Nigeria’s version of the ‘War On Terror’- The War Against Boko Haram’s extremist violent insurgency has been generating quite a lot of heat, just as it has been swarmed by quite a lot of flak threatening to drown the very import and essence of the report in a cesspool of aggressive self-denial.
If the Amnesty report is guilty of one thing, it is its apparent one-sidedness and its failure to take into account the sensitivities around such an issue in such a divisive context such as ours. Nevertheless, this said it was spot on with respect to the issues of Human Rights Violations it has raised.
Let me explain; whereas the Amnesty report focused only on the conduct of the Nigeria Security and Armed Forces, the report failed to scrutinize, itemize, and document the atrocities of the insurgents.
It is important for us to know that about 7,000 citizens lost their lives at the hands of our Armed forces and security agencies, in non-combat situations; many of them in detention, through hunger, negligence and sometimes summary executions.
It is important for us and important for the overall success of the war on the insurgents for the nation to understand how this could have happened, and how it could be prevented from ever happening again.
Anyone who has interacted and or worked with at risk and or impacted communities in any war situation should readily be able to understand why it is important to ensure that a war to contain violent extremists should not become a war on communities impacted by the atrocities of the insurgents, otherwise what this does is to alienate even the would be ‘liberation forces’ from the communities, and make it easier to aggrieved community members, in particular to either join the insurgents or decide to wage war against both the insurgents and the National armed forces simultaneously.
To allow the seemingly rampart violation of rights of citizens simply because Boko Haram operated in their communities is to throw such communities and citizens into a context of double jeopardy. It does not help the war and counter terrorism effort, nor does it help the bridge the trust and confidence gap between citizens and the state. It is in essence counterproductive.
Nevertheless, it is also important for us to know how many of our citizens have been impacted by the activities of the insurgents; how many have been killed by the insurgents, how many were disposed, how many of our women and children have been abducted and or brutalized and gang-raped? How many children have been forcefully pressed into armed service by Boko Haram as foot soldiers or as suicide bombers?
And just as it was possible to identify the chain of command and responsibility for the human rights violations and war crimes committed by the National Armed and security forces, it ought to have been equally possible to also identify and name names of suspected Boko Haram commanders and sponsors.
The same methodology which included key informant interviews, focus group discussions, meetings with victims and community leaders, as well as review of existing reports and secondary data used in collating the information on rights violations by our armed forces could just as easily have been used to collate information about the atrocities of Boko Haram extremist insurgents.
The failure to take a look at Boko Haram, catalogue and document its atrocities, and identify suspects for further investigation and prosecution is threatening to turn an otherwise well researched and articulated report into a one-sided exposition, whose conclusions, correct as they seem, now appear to be half-truths and thus makes it easier for the retinue of rented crowds, hangers on, emergency civil society activists, and mercenary civil society coalitions to come out in a gale of pseudo-patriotic nationalism to dismiss and trivialise very serious issues.
Some of the more nauseating of this rent-a-crowd and out-sourced outcry against, and rejection of the content and form of the report have even taken on apparent ethnic connotations; hence some ethnic associations have come out to threaten hail and brimstone against any attempt to investigate and or bring to trial their kinsman named in the report. So according to the jaundiced views of this and other associations, the report is accurate, and the allegations correct only to the extent that their own kinsman is absolved and not included in the indictment.
And to the rented crowds now pervading the airwaves and our public spaces; are we denying there have been no summary executions? Are we insisting detainees have not died in detention due to negligence, disease and hunger? Are we seriously saying that there haven’t been reprisal attacks against communities, that whole communities have not been punished for the infractions of insurgents who happened to have come from or passed through their communities?
Would any of these pseudo-patriots have accepted say the mass arrests of youths and summary execution of some of them from our communities or neighbourhoods simply because the targeted areas is thought to be the stronghold of say MASSOB, OPC, or some Niger Delta Militants?; Or even because the neighbourhood is a suspected hideout of hoodlums terrorizing the community?
We need to be able to fight and win this war against Boko Haram without alienating impacted communities, without creating new grievances that can be mobilized later into new security threats. In order to be able to wage this war in a manner that rebuilds trust and restores confidence, it is important that we understand our these violations of human rights of innocent citizens came to be, and what we can do to prevent future occurrences. Part of this effort will include training and retraining our armed forces to respect the rights of citizens, putting in place structures and processes to strengthen civil-military relations, and just as imported, punishing infractions and prosecuting offenders.
It is just as important to ensure this happens with respect to alleged violations of rights of citizens, as it is with respect to indiscipline, insubordination, and other offences within the armed and security forces that undermine the capacity and integrity of the war effort.
JAYE GASKIA IS NATIONAL COORDINATOR OF PROTEST TO POWER MOVEMENT [P2PM].