By Musa Sunusi Ahmad

A cross  section of Nigerians drawn from higher Institutions of the South East of Nigeria, civil society stakeholders and media scholars have tasked the hierarchy of the Nigeria Army to take immediate but transparent steps to mainstream the absolute respect of human rights of citizens by soldiers in all internal security operations. 

These impressions and massages emerged at the one day town hall meeting organized  by the prominent Civil Rights Advocacy body:- HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) which held in Enugu at the weekend just as the civil populace have been urged to partner actively with the Nigerian Army to ensure the attainment of the highest standard of professionalism in Nigeria in no distant time.

Speaking on the theme of “Engaging the media for responsible, accountable and professional Nigerian Army,” a lecturer at the Enugu State’s University  of Technology (ESUT) Dr. Chidiebere Ezinwa, who is also a constitutional lawyer, cautioned that should the pervasive cases of human rights breaches by soldiers against citizens be allowed to fester,  then the prestige and respectability of the armed forces will decline.

“The role of the military is clearly spelt out in Section 271 and 218 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.  Section 217 deals with establishment and composition of the armed forces of the Federation, while section 218 deals with command and operational use of the armed forces of Nigeria. Section 217 sub section (1) specifically states that, there shall be an armed forces for the Federation which shall consist of an Army, a Navy, and Air Force and such other branches of the armed forces of the Federation as may be established by an Act of the National Assembly.”

“The above provision shows that the Nigerian Armed Forces is made up of the Army, Navy and Air Force. The Army is responsible for protecting the lives and property and territorial integrity of the nation mostly on land by fighting external aggressors and quelling internal insurrection. The Navy protects the country’s maritime environments and safeguard the seas and coastline. The Air Force was established in 1964 and forms the air power of the country.”

“Sub section (2) states, the Federation shall, subject to an Act of the National Assembly made in that behalf equip and maintain the armed forces, as may be considered adequate and effective for the purpose of:

a. Defending Nigeria from external aggression.

b. Maintaining its territorial integrity and securing its borders from violation on land, sea or air.

c. suppressing insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so by the President, but subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by an act of the National Assembly and

d. Performing such other function as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.

 Section 217 sub section (2) (c) deals with acting in aid of civil authority to restore order when called upon to do so by the President but subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.”

The University Don argued that there are two components of aids to civil authorities which are -the support to civil police in an event that they are unable to cope with civil disturbances or any of such unrest, and when the military is called upon to do so and in times of national emergencies like disasters and the like. Surprisingly, the military is involved in virtually every crisis point in the country. Why is this so? What has happened to the Nigerian Police? Will the Army not suffer the same fate with their continued involvement of in almost every civil strife?

He submitted further: “The role of the military is clearly spelt out in Section 271 and 218 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.  Section 217 deals with establishment and composition of the armed forces of the Federation, while section 218 deals with command and operational use of the armed forces of Nigeria. Section 217 sub section (1) specifically states that, there shall be an armed forces for the Federation which shall consist of an Army, a Navy, and Air Force and such other branches of the armed forces of the Federation as may be established by an Act of the National Assembly.”

“The above provision shows that the Nigerian Armed Forces is made up of the Army, Navy and Air Force. The Army is responsible for protecting the lives and property and territorial integrity of the nation mostly on land by fighting external aggressors and quelling internal insurrection. The Navy protects the country’s maritime environments and safeguard the seas and coastline. The Air Force was established in 1964 and forms the air power of the country.”

“Sub section (2) states, the Federation shall, subject to an Act of the National Assembly made in that behalf equip and maintain the armed forces, as may be considered adequate and effective for the purpose of:

a. Defending Nigeria from external aggression.

b. Maintaining its territorial integrity and securing its borders from violation on land, sea or air.

c. suppressing insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so by the President, but subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by an act of the National Assembly and

d. Performing such other function as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.

 Section 217 sub section (2) (c) deals with acting in aid of civil authority to restore order when called upon to do so by the President but subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.

The University teacher expressed dismay that the policing duties are been taken over by the Arny due to institutional collapse of the Nigeria Police Force  just as he stated: “What has happened to the Nigerian Police? Will the Army not suffer the same fate with their continued involvement of in almost every civil strife?”

It is against the backdrop of Section 217(2) (c) thatthe armed forces in Nigeria face a number of challenges especially in view of the numerousinternal security threats that brought the army face to face with the civil society almost on a regular basis.Although, this situation pre-dated the 1999 Constitution, the reasons for armed forces intervention in crises period remain the same.”

“The interaction of the army with the civil society in the course of performing its constitutional function of quelling internal crisis when called upon has a number of negative consequences, which has notonly dragged the image of the army in the mud due to some unprofessional conduct; but also has eroded public confidence and trust in the army. 

He said that the military participation in quelling internal public disorder has been described as a necessary evil given a number of allegations against the army. Soldiers have been accused of a number of unprofessional conduct ranging from intimidating and coercing civilians, corruption and extortion at checkpoints, psychological and emotional abuse, blatant and flagrant acts of sexual and gender based violence. For instance, the UN. High commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet, strongly condemned what she described as excessive and disproportionate use of force by Nigerian armed forces against peaceful protesters in the capital Lagos.  

Perpetrators of these crimes are not usually brought to book, which is also a major source of concern to the citizens and International human rights agencies. What takes place is the usual run of the mill investigation which leads to no arrests or any form of accountability. Bachelet observed that Nigerian security forces suspected of serious crimes and gross violations of human rights have gone unpunished over the years. It is expected that the questions about who ordered, who arranged, who knew about the killing of unarmed protesters in October,2020 in different parts of the country especially in Lekki in Lagos  would be answered with appropriate punishment given to culprits.” The university administrator said too:

 

“The army have also been accused of raiding media houses, arresting, detaining their staff and confiscating their computers, laptops and accessing their smartphones without warrant in contravention of Cybercrime law 2015. The premise of Daily Trust Newspaper have been raided on different occasions by soldiers in the company of other security agencies to answer questions about some of their publications such as an article that allegedly divulged classified military information related to planned attacks against Boko Haram.”

The above he said, apparently negates the doctrine of military subordination to civil authority which Former president Obasanjo strongly advocated as one of the ways of facing 21st century challenges by the military. He enjoined them to embrace in its totality, the fundamental doctrine of military subordination to civil authority. The doctrine entails the following: 

(i) Acceptance of the constitution as the sole and supreme doctrine defining the role of the armed forces.

(ii) Acceptance of the elected civilian Chief Executive as Commander-In-Chief of the armed forces, and the supremacy of elected officials of state over appointed officers at all levels.

(iii) Acceptance of civilian headship of the ministry of Defence and other strategic establishments.

(iv) Acceptance of civilian or legislative deliberation and decision-making over the military budget.

(v) Acceptance that the decisions regarding the goals and conduct of military operations must serve the political and strategic goals established by the civil authority.

(vi) Acceptance of civil (Supreme Court) authority to review any action or decision taken by military judicial system or court martial.”

 

Also speaking at the event attended by young people numbering over one hundred in Enugu State Capital and members of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA), a lecturer at the Mass Communications Department of the prestigious institute of management and technology (IMT) Enugu, Dr. Nwanze Emeka, the media was called upon to assist the Army to report cases of Human Rights violations committees by the operatives against civilians to enable the Army’s hierarchy tackle such.

His words: “The Nigerian army’s essential functions are primarily to secure the regional parameters of Nigeria and help the common position when called upon to do so. Consequently, in carrying out these professional obligations, there has been charges of fundamental human right infringement against the Nigerian army by Local and International human rights campaigners, Civil Society Groups, and Non-Governmental Organizations like Amnesty International, Transparency International, and Human Rights Watch, among others. These charges are centered on the reported extrajudicial killings, illegal detentions, sexual abuses, and other unprofessional activities. The observed unprofessionalism within the Nigerian military has created a vacuum in the relationship between civilians and the military.”

“The recent call for the re-evaluation of the military operations related to human rights violations was awakened following the Lekki shooting occasioned by the recent call for the end of the radicalized Police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in which the Nigerian military was implicated in the death of some protesters. This particular event is just one among the numerous human rights abuses perpetrated by the operatives of the Nigerian army.”

“For instance, recently, in my community, a certain gentleman man invited some officers of the Nigeria Army to a land dispute resulting in assault occasioning harm. Recall that such a matter is a civil matter that should be treated in a court and not use the military officers to intimidate his rival.”

“The military has in the recent past been used to recover a debt. It is wrong to use the office of the Nigeria Army for selfish purposes. In my street at Uwani Enugu, a military operative was involved in debt recovery, which aggravated torture and property damage. Such a despicable act is condemnable, and such be readdressed. In this regard, the Nigerian media is called upon to use its professionalism, strengthening military professionalism.”

“There are obvious reasons why the Nigerian media is always short of expressions to drive home serious points when it concerns military operations and how it affects human rights. An observation of the military response to media reports will suggest that the Nigerian military does not usually tolerate criticism from media establishments. The army is always quick to tag information against them as “fake and an attempt to tarnish the military image.” Most times, journalists are harassed, and their devices are seized or damaged. The point is that the media has failed in its professional obligation of bringing to society well-researched and verifiable information. Hence, giving the military the opportunity of countering media reports. So many times, the military rebuff of media reports favors the army and, as such, creates doubts in the minds of the civilians. Presently, Nigerians rely more on foreign media reports about the Nigerian army than the Nigerian media reports.”

“The probable explanation for the observed bias and sometimes incorrect reports against the military operation could be attributed to the surge in electronic journalism. This trend accounts for the gap in empirical reporting and the decline in public trust. Similarly, Lazarsfield and Katz (2010) argued that for journalism to achieve its set objectives in the area of opinion leadership, agenda-setting, information dissemination persuasiveness, watchdog, nation-building, and the fourth estate of the realm, it must be displayed with every sense of professionalism. The information coming from journalism must be positive correct, and reliable information.”

Accordingly, Place of the Nigerian Media in Enhancing Military Operations

In view of the above-stated gaps in the Nigerian media-military operational reports. The following recommendations are made:

1. For the media to achieve a robust exposure of the military operations in Nigeria, especially regarding professional fallouts, the Nigerian media is expected first to address the issue of bias reports. In this way, the Nigerian military will have no basis for the denial and counter reporting.

2. The journalist/media reporters should increase their correlation with the Nigerian Army, studying them and giving them information that will enable them to perform their duty with every sense of professionalism.

3. The media should be involved in periodic sensitization of the Nigeria Army because they are the image-maker of any organization.

4. The Nigerian media should be reporting the Nigeria’ army success fairly and objectively, instead of highlighting only the setbacks in the course of operation.”

The IMT Teacher and Mass Communications expert then said: “In summary, the above discussion clarifies that professionalism is essential in the military and media relationship. A sanitized Nigerian media will provide the civilians with an unbiased report relating to the military operations. An established unbiased report will enable the military to accept its position in a particular unprofessional act and resort to ethical standard when a similar situation is presented. Adherence to professionalism creates a favorable opportunity for a professional relationship. Therefore, professionalized media reporting will create a professionalized military operation.”

National Coordinator Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko said the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) will strive  to always speak on behalf of the common people of Nigeria just as he charged the media to work for the people and resists from working as appendages of holders of public offices such as governors and legislators because according to him, there is a gross lack of accountability and transparency in the governance of Nigeria and the media mostly maintains undignified silence when such violations of the Constitution by political office holders take place due to personal and financial aggrandizement.  

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