By Ayo Akanji
For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others — Nelson Mandela
The stated mission of Amnesty International, an NGO founded by Peter Benenson in 1961 is to “campaign for a world in which all of the persons enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other International Human Rights Instruments. It is an organisation that was started by a pulse; a pulse felt by a man to justify the disgust of people who feel repulsed and disgusted by the various injustices around the world and their concomitant helplessness.
Their work was recognised when in 1977, they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the defence of human dignity and a UN prize in the field of human rights, in 1978. Their reach expanded and they came to Nigeria. And a cordial relationship started. However, a once-smooth relationship is now being threatened by a posture anew, open bias and misreported happenings.
The fight against terror in Nigeria popped up around 2009. What we watched on TV and from afar played out in our very own lives. The sanctity of places of worships was defiled. People died in their hundreds daily from bomb explosions. Military installations were attacked and military hardware were sometimes carted away. The gusto show by the terrorists, Boko Haram was scary. Flags were hoisted in communities they controlled while making the inhabitants pay tax.
The military was ill-equipped and badly motivated to fight Boko Haram controlled areas bigger than the entirety of Belgium, people couldn’t go to worship without being frisked for explosive devices.
Now! enter the Buhari administration. “Victory Is From God Alone” is the motto of the Nigerian Army. Pre Buhari administration, Nigerian soldiers ran away from the theatre of operations, under the guise of “tactical maneuvering” whatever that meant.
In the same vein, the terrorists are being decimated gradually. Areas they held sway was snatched away by gallant men of the Nigerian Armed Forces. Towns were liberated, schools reopened, social life came back to what it was, farmers resumed farming, major roads were reopened. The progress made by the Nigerian Armed Forces in neutralising Boko Haram Terrorists is very visible for all and sundry.
However, Amnesty International has persistently been misinforming Nigerians and the world about the myriad of crisis being faced internally and being solved by the security agencies. Amnesty seems not to care about the 30,000 Nigerians killed by Boko Haram and how the current administration is re-integrating hitherto internally displaced persons (IDPs) back to their communities, while recovering abducted Nigerians.
Conversely, under the Buhari administration, the relationship with our neighbours under the auspices of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) is firm and the result can be felt in the cross-border strikes where camps and armorers of the terrorists are being destroyed and neutralised. The Presidential assistant, on Media & Publicity Garba Shehu was apt, when he posited that “It often appears as if the Nigerian government is fighting two wars on terror: against Boko Haram and against Amnesty International”
Rather than join hands with the Armed Forces in this fight, Amnesty International has made it a routine to always puncture whatever successes the Nigerian Armed Forces records. The organisation releases statistics and statements that, according to it proves that Nigerian Army is unethical and unprofessional. It goes along to say things and even as far as publishing reports that makes Nigeria a sort of orphan in the market of military hardware.
This happened circa 2014 when the United States couched its decision of not selling hardware to Nigeria in a Leahy Law. This same organisation turns around in full circle to accuse the army of being “unprofessional”. It is always like the army is battling to combat the scourge of Boko Haram on one hand and the twisted narratives thrown around by AI on the other. AI has this tendency to recycle stories to downplay the efforts of the Army and the Nigerian Government.
Nevertheless, these stories, for whatever reasons they were recycled, look like a clear attempt to undermine the army, jeopardize the war on terror and constantly black-paint the successes recorded by the Armed Forces. It always trumps the human rights card. It would appear that AI has made it its mission to create confusion and derail Nigeria’s war effort with lies and conspiracy theories without solid evidence. When you press for more evidence from AI, you hear tales like we “protect our sources”.
One must note that, the timing and title of their last report was laced with desperation to truncate Nigeria’s war effort and send a signal of fear as Nigerians prepare to vote. The military registered its dismay to an unfair claim that OWN troops abandoned their deployment which led to the killing of innocent Nigerians. This claim is not only bereft of truth, but in its usual mannerism, another futile effort by AI to portray the Nigerian military as incapable and project the Nigerian government as not protective of her people in the eyes of the global community.
To underscore how the Nigerian Military had been willing to share its activity with AI for mutual understanding, a meeting with AI in Abuja — at the promptings of the Nigerian Military- took place, first of its kind anywhere in the world. Here, the army briefed AI on their activities and even answered questions. This is a first as no other country’s armed forces has accorded Amnesty that respect.
A human rights desk was established by the army to further underscore the importance and premium the army places on lives. Nigerian Army has strived to improve civil-military relations by interfacing with stakeholders, NGOs, CSOs and the media. Nigerian Army has collaborated with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), International Community For Red Cross (ICRC), Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) amongst numerous others. Soldiers even go as far as conducting sanitation of areas they stay/camp to boost civil-military relations.
The Federal Government has been proactive in its fight against terror. The evidence is the massive reduction of bomb blast across the country. Different battalions, Strike teams, Forward Operating Bases (FOB’s), Quick Response Wing (QRS) have been planned and established in these flash points.
Hitherto comatose Aircraft have been reactivated by men of the Nigerian Air Force, under its Research & Development saving millions of dollars, dozens of platforms procured. The synergy between the armed forces is such that the Airforce goes on Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR) and helps the army with actionable intelligence which aides it to neutralize terrorists with their superior and precise fire power.
However, AI alleges that arrests haven’t been made on the farmers-herders crisis. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It’s amazing how AI, despite all the researching wizardry it’s known for, it missed the news of a key mastermind of the conflict, Alhaji Aliyu Tashaku who is in prison for deaths in this ugly conflict between farmers and herders. The army has made many more arrests.
The Minister of Information noted that “947 suspects have been arrested in connection with the farmers-herders clashes. While, 841 suspects are being prosecuted. Infact, 16 of the accused persons have been convicted.”
On mopping up of illegal weapons, It’s on record that, last year — a round of heavy weaponry were harvested in Rivers State, when 22,430 militants, agitators, criminals, cultists and sundry characters embraced the amnesty offer of the state government, and surrendered about 1,000 firearms, 7,661 rounds of ammunition, and 147 explosives. Smugglers were arrested for the unlawful importation of 49 boxes containing a total number of 661 high -calibre guns.
Also, the Nigeria Police has recovered 9,657 illegal firearms and illegal ammunition in the possession of suspected militias, bandits, armed herdsmen and farmers in a nationwide mop up exercise.
An update on their actions is very evident on their Twitter handle. It is left for Amnesty International to decide what it wants; a partner in progress or barrier in the project?
Akanji is a security analyst, and writes on topical issues from Abuja