By FRIDAY OLOKOR, ADELANI ADEPEGBA, OLALEKAN ADETAYO AND TOLUWANI ENIOLA
Amnesty International has last week called on President Muhammadu Buhari and the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands to investigate some former and serving Nigerian service chiefs for war crimes.
The crimes, according to the global civil rights organisation, were perpetrated during the fight against Boko Haram in the North-East between March 2011 and 2014.
It said in a comprehensive report, entitled, “Stars on their shoulders, blood on their hands: War crimes committed by the Nigerian military,” that no fewer than 8,000 persons were “murdered, starved, suffocated and tortured to death “in the North-East during the period.
AI added in the report which was presented in Abuja on Wednesday by its African Director (Research and Advocacy), Netsanet Belay, and Senior Director of Reseach, Anna Neistat, that it had “compelling evidence” for the investigation of the former and serving service chiefs as well as “mid-level and senior-level military commanders.”
The rights group outlined the roles and possible criminal responsibilities of those along the chain of command – up to the Chief of Defence Staff and Chief of Army Staff.
It therefore listed a former Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika; former Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim; the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, and the Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Kenneth Minimah, among the nine senior military figures that should be investigated for their command and individual roles in the commission of the crimes.
The others are Maj. Gen. John Ewansiha, Maj. Gen. Obida Ethnan, Maj. Gen. Ahmadu Mohammed, Brig.-Gen. Austin Edokpayi and Brig. Gen. Rufus Bamigboye.
The AI report revealed that since March 2011, more than 7,000 young men and boys died in military detention while no fewer than 1,200 people were unlawfully killed in February 2012.
It said, “We call on President Buhari to end the culture of impunity that has blighted Nigeria ,and for the African Union and international community to encourage and support these efforts. As a matter of urgency, the President must launch an immediate and impartial investigation into the crimes detailed in the report and hold all those responsible to account, no matter their rank or position. Only then can there be justice for the dead and their relatives.
“The Nigerian military, including senior military commanders, must be investigated for participating in, sanctioning or failing to prevent the deaths of more than 8,000 people murdered, starved, suffocated, and tortured to death.
“Based on years of research and analysis of evidence – including leaked military reports and correspondence, as well as interviews with more than 400 victims, eyewitnesses and senior members of the Nigerian security forces – the organisation outlines a range of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity committed by the Nigerian military in the course of the fight against Boko Haram in the North-East of the country.
“The organisation has also submitted to the ICC a list of names of military officers who should be investigated for their possible role in the crimes under international law and serious human rights violations documented in this report.
“They (officers) would be responsible if they knew or if they should have known about the commission of the war crimes and failed to take adequate action to prevent them or ensure that the alleged perpetrators are brought to justice.”
According to AI, more than 1,200 people were victims of extrajudicial killings by the military and associated militias in the North-East while the worst case documented took place on March 14, 2014 when the military killed more than 640 detainees who fled Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri, Borno State, after a Boko Haram attack .
According to the report, the conditions of detention in Giwa Barracks and detention centres in Damaturu “were so overcrowded that hundreds of detainees were packed into small cells where they had to take turns sleeping or even sitting on the floor.”
The report added that “at its peak, Giwa Barracks which was not built as a detention facility was accommodating more than 2,000 detainees at one time.”
The organisation said it had also petitioned the ICC with a view to ensuring the prosecution of the indicted officers for war crimes in Nigeria.
AI added that it had already shared the findings of the research and relevant evidence with the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC.
“AI has also shared the findings of this research and relevant evidence, with the office of the ICC . The organisation has also submitted to the ICC a list of names of military officers who should be investigated for their possible role in the crimes under international law and serious human rights violations documented in this report,” it added.
Buhari acknowledged receipt of the AI report and promised to study it with a view to taking an action on it.
He said in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, from Niamey, Niger Republic that the report contained many disturbing allegations that needed to be looked into.
“I assure you that your report will be looked into.We will not tolerate or condone impunity and reckless disregard for human rights,” he added.
But the Defence Headquarters said the AI report smacked of extreme bias “which is disturbing coming from an otherwise reputable organisation that is expected to be just and fair to all.”
The DHQ added in a statement by the Director, Defence Information, Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, that the serving and retired senior military officers mentioned by AI had no reason whatsoever to indulge in the allegation made against them.
“It is unfortunate that the organisation just went out to gather names of specified senior officers, in a calculated attempt to rubbish their reputation as well as the image of the military. The action, no doubt, depicts more of a premeditated indictment aimed at discrediting the country for whatever purpose,” it stated.
The DHQ noted that each of the previous allegations made by AI had been thoroughly responded to and cleared in the public and insisted that the human rights organisation had taken a premeditated position, “which is far from noble.”
It added, “It is curious that a body that has never been able to seriously condemn terror in Nigeria now claims to have done an extensive research with the aim of discrediting the nation’s effort at curtailing terror.
“It is clear that Amnesty International becomes more active in presenting distractive allegations whenever the terrorists are losing ground in the battle. It is very unfortunate that Amnesty International has used this report to further confirm its questionable interest in the counter-terrorism effort in Nigeria.”
The DHQ advised AI to stop playing the role of an irritant coming up loudly only when the terrorists are losing out and remaining silent or complacent whenever they (terrorists) heighten their atrocities.
It said that it was unfair of AI to persist in effort to discredit the military by seeking all avenues to stigmatise individual officers purely to satisfy an agenda against the security agencies and image of Nigeria before the international community.