•Judiciary open to assist towards efficient military justice system–CJN Onnoghen
The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai, has said that despite the setbacks being encountered by the Nigerian Armed Forces in the ongoing counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations, its commitment to defend the ‘fundamental human right to life’ for Nigerians will triumph over a determined Boko Haram terrorists.
Buratai gave this assurance in Abuja at the Nigerian Army Law Seminar with the theme: “The Place of Law in Counter Terrorism and Counter Insurgency Operations in Nigeria”, organised to mark the anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
A document, he noted, enshrines the fundamental freedoms of religion, expression, peaceful assembly and association for all individuals, everywhere.
To this end, the COAS restated the commitment of the Nigerian Army to the promotion and protection of Human Rights.
For emphasis, he said, the Nigerian Army firmly believes that the promotion and protection of human rights are an essential component of our military operations.
Speaking further, Buratai stressed that the Army firmly embrace the idea and the message behind the International Human Rights Day and we are committed to doing our part to spread awareness and support for human rights every day.
He also used the opportunity to honour the officers and personnel who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of human dignity and rights to life for Nigerians in the North East part of the country.
He said: “On this day, I recommit the Nigerian Army to supporting the brave officers, men and women who are working daily to defend human dignity and advance the cause of freedom of Nigerians across the 36 states of Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory. I note with regret the situation in some areas in the North Eastern States of Nigeria where heinous acts of terrorism continue to be perpetuated by Boko Haram terrorists. I specifically pay tribute to the officers, men and women who have lost their lives in the pursuit of human rights for the people living in these communities.
“While these resurgent acts of terrorism challenges the rights that we celebrate today, I nevertheless believe that freedom including the right to live without fear will triumph eventually over terrorism and the Nigerian Army remains committed to working toward that end.”
Buratai commended a the support and partnerships with local and international non government organisations, especially the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Red Cross and Crescent as well as Nigerian Bar Association and National Human Rights Commission for “human rights training programme for military personnel and its Nigerian Military Human Rights Dialogue initiative” that “have largely enhanced the human rights awareness and education of our personnel”.
In the same vein, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, commended the theme of the Seminar, saying “it is on rule of law and counter terrorism being the major security threat across the globe”.
According to Onnoghen, the place of law in any given society cannot be overemphasised, adding that in a democratic system of government, it is the rule of law that dictates the paces at which human beings interact among themselves.
He asserted: “The respect for the fundamental human rights of citizens cannot and must not be second in the nation’s agenda. From time immemorial, it has been a precondition to any civilised existence. John Locke argued in his Two Treatises of Government (1688) that individuals possess natural rights independent of the political recognition granted to them by the state.
“This has been affirmed by the Supreme Court which I represent here in plethora of cases that fundamental human rights cases should be given priority and urgent treatment whenever they come up before the courts. This has been my mandate since assumption of office as the CJN to ensure speedy and fair trial of cases which are urgent in nature.”
Having these in mind, Onnoghen said, the need for the members of the armed forces to obey the rule of law in their operations also cannot be overemphasised.
“This is because, the business of bearing arms or defending the nation involves life and death for both regular forces and the citizens. There have been allegations and cases of human rights abuse against the military in its efforts to stamp out terrorism and insurgency in Nigeria,” he stated.
The CJN however, aknowledged that there have been tremendous improvements with regards to the military observing rule of law in its operations, unlike what was obtainable in the past. He assured the Armed Forces that like other matters, their cases will always be treated with the required fairness, equity and good conscience.
Onnoghen further assured that “the Judiciary shall open its doors to the Nigerian Military at any time in terms of training and capacity building for the military legal advisors and the Judge Advocates towards efficient military justice delivery.
“The United States of America for instance, have completely made reforms on their military justice system where the Judge Advocate General System and the Unified Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) are practiced”.
He noted that the difference in the Judge Advocate General System is that an accused can appeal the decisions from summary trial unlike in Nigeria where administrative remedies are only available to the accused.
According to him, these are better reforms that could turn around the fortune and future of the military justice and the Judicial System.