Nigeria: The Injustice-Pressure Cooker Must Not Burst

351 views | Jibrin Ibrahim | September 6, 2019

#TrackNigeria This week, Agnes Callamard, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions published her end of visit report on Nigeria in which she raised a number of important issues. She first raised her key concern which is that the Nigerian Government is presiding over an injustice-pressure cooker that could burst at any moment. Her consultations with stakeholders were focused on examining violations of the right to life by State and non-State actors; the Government’s security strategy and the responses at Federal and State level to allegations of arbitrary deprivation of life in all parts of the country.

No Nigerian would be surprised by her findings. There have been increased numbers of attacks and killings in the country over the last five years. There is increased criminality and spreading insecurity. There is widespread failure by the federal authorities to investigate and hold perpetrators to account, even for mass killings. Nigerians indicated a lack of public trust and confidence in the judicial institutions and State institutions more generally. She noted the high levels of resentment and grievances within and between communities related to toxic ethno-religious narratives and “extremist” ideologies – characterised by dehumanization of the “others” and denial of the legitimacy of the others’ claims.

All these have translated into a generalised break down of the rule of law, with particularly acute consequences for the most vulnerable and impoverished populations of Nigeria. She expressed the view that commentators, analysts and government officials appear to downplay or ignore the warning signs from these trends or to assume that no matter their gravity that these will be overcome. She was emphatic that pretending Nigeria is anything short of a crisis is a major mistake especially as in June 2019, the World Poverty Clock had reported that over 91 million (46.5%) of 200 million Nigerians were living in extreme poverty. This is exacerbated by the spreading environmental degradation and desertification evident throughout West Africa and the reality the increasing proliferation of small and military-grade weapons made readily available sets the stage to comprehend the gravity of the situation.

She noted that the country-wide patterns include police and military excessive use of lethal force in violation of applicable international standards, the lack of effective investigations, the absence of meaningful prosecution and the militarisation of policing. The result, she says is further mistrust and break down of confidence in the security agencies especially given the lack of transparency and effective communication on security issues. The Nigerian State, she says, has a one-track strategy – reliance on the military and securitisation approach. While this approach has reduced the progress of the insecurity, at least on the surface, in the North East, in many other situations, the security response appears to have only added new grievances and fostered further distrust, without either curbing insecurity or better protecting the local population, particularly those living in isolated areas in the North West and the Middle Belt.

She drew attention to other eco-political systems of violence, such as the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) and IPOB where the security response has taken a “dangerously quasi-prospective approach” in which individuals, communities and associations are actively targeted for what they may have done decades ago, or for what they may do or may become, rather than for what they are doing or have done. She pointed out that throughout the country, the securitisation strategy has also been used by local power-holders to enforce arbitrary and unlawful policies, decisions and action, such as the mass expulsion of city- dwellers living at the margins, to give way to money-making condominium or other private-public developments.

She said she had numerous accounts from people who told her that the security forces had killed their loved ones, or that they failed to protect them even when warned of impending attacks and that they had failed to investigate and prosecute killings. This, she explained, is the root cause of the widespread loss of trust and confidence that is leading to a proliferation of (vigilante) self-protecting armed militia. The emerging so-called vigilante groups are practicing “jungle justice” resulting in gruesome killings of alleged criminal gang members and others, adding in the medium to longer term, to the security challenges confronting Federal and State authorities.

She however drew attention to some positive signs. For example, the extent and level of arbitrary deprivation of life in the North East, including arbitrary killings by security forces, appears to have gone down since 2016. While accountability for violations in the course of the conflict against Boko Haram has not yet been delivered, the decreasing number of allegations in 2018 and 2019 is a positive development which ought to be further examined, including for the purpose of identifying the lessons.

She also praised the National Human Rights Commission which has become over time a strong institution that has delivered important work. Its full independence must continue to be respected and additional resources provided so that it can work to the full extent of its mandate. She also showed appreciation for Nigeria’s “vibrant civil society” which has been supporting the most vulnerable segments of the population, including in their quest for justice.

She pointed out some dangers in the current situation. The current military strategy in the North East consists in the creation of “garrison towns” in which people are screened, some detained, while others are housed in consolidated “super camps”. With the exception of these towns and super camps, the State’s territory seemingly is emptied out in an effort to break up Boko Haram’s supply routes and making it impossible for the group to rely on local communities for their food and fighters. She criticized the strategy because of the unknown numbers of civilians who remain in inaccessible areas; the lack of protection afforded to them against Boko Haram attacks; and, the likely assumption that all those remaining are likely supporters of the insurgents.

On 8 March 2017, the military set up a special board of inquiry (SBI) in line with the provision of Section 172(1) of the Armed Forces Act CAP A20 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004. The SBI found that the delayed trials of Boko Haram detainees resulting in cases of deaths in custody constitute a denial of the detainees’ right to a fair trial. However, the SBI found no evidence of arbitrary arrests or extra judicial executions of detainees; a conclusion that runs contrary to the many allegations that she had received. This ties in with the findings of the Presidential Panel on Human Rights Violations against the military, which I had served on and which was established after the work of the special board of inquiry report she referred to. Unfortunately, the White Paper on our report has not yet been published and remedial action is yet to be taken.

She is categorical that the farmer-herder conflict may have become or will become Nigeria’s gravest security challenge owning to the following factors: the number of casualties and the extent of the existing humanitarian crisis; the rapid geographical spread of the violence and killings, extending now well into Southern and North Western States; the ethno-religious dimensions of the conflict and the many toxic rhetoric that seek to explains and justify the killings; the seemingly intractable problem of the shrinking arable lands as a result of desertification; the sub-regional tentacles of the conflict with similar problems reported in other countries of the sub-region; the potential for greater propagation of the conflict due to the accessibility of weapons and the existence of ethno-religious narratives. She admitted that the extent of the killings attributable to the conflict is unknown but said there are allegations that 11,000 persons have been killed in the Plateau State alone since 2001.

She drew attention to what she termed to be the arbitrary killings of members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN). She recalled the findings of the Kaduna State Judicial Commission of Inquiry to investigate the December 2015 incident that the Nigerian Army committed serious human rights violations against IMN members, including disproportionate use of force and failure to keep record of recovered casualties. However, no further action was taken at the State or Federal level to investigate and prosecute those criminally responsible for the killings. She also lamented violent repression of IMN demonstrations for the release of their leader, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky in which many of their members have been killed.

Finally, she drew attention to the fact that since 2015, members of IPOB have faced arbitrary arrests, torture and extra-judicial executions, predominantly in the context of demonstrations. Between 2015 and 2016, it is alleged that law enforcement officials killed at least 100 IPOB members in different events in Aba, Awka and Onitsha

Another 150 persons were alleged to have been killed in September 2017 during Operation Python Dance II.

These are serious issues and I hope the government will give this report the attention it deserves.

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