ABUJA: A pro-democracy and non-governmental organisation, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) in a question and answer session with the Nigerian Army discussed intensively on Army versus Human Right.
Below are the answers to the numerous questions asked.
QUESTION 1. What is the essence of establishing the Human Rights Desk of the Nigerian Army?
Answer: To discuss the essence of the Human Rights Desk of the Nigerian Army, there is need to first give a little background of the desk. The Nigerian Army Human Right Desk was established under the Army Headquarters Department of Civil Military Affairs on the 17 of February 2016 by the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai in response to alleged human rights violations by troops of the Nigerian Army both in Counter Terrorism/Counter Insurgency and Internal Security Operations in the country. These allegations range from extra-judicial killings, torture, unlawful arrest and detention etc. The main essence of establishing the Nigerian Army Human Rights Desk is to receive and facilitate investigations of human rights abuses against military personnel. The Desk is also required to speedily treat allegations of human rights abuses against troops and to recommend the appropriate action(s) to be taken. In addition to that, the desk is also saddled with the responsibility of facilitating greater Civil-Military Cooperation and collaboration with various stakeholders. The mission of the Human Rights Desk is to project a professionally responsive Nigerian Army through human rights collaboration with the civil populace. In essence, the desk is out to curb human rights violations and to arrive at an amicable settlement.
QUESTION 2. What impact has the office made so far and how many petitions have you handled?
Answer: The Human Rights Desk made a lot of positive impact since its inception in 2016 and has so far has treated over 230 complaints. The Desk as a matter of routine engages in sensitization of troops in all Nigerian Army formations and schools on human rights and humanitarian laws and the need to observe them during operations. These have drastically reduced the cases of human rights complaints recorded at the Desk. Among the over 230 petitions we have recorded, over 80 percent has been treated, about 10% was unsubstantiated and the remaining 10 percent is still under investigation. We also render progress report to the appropriate superior authority accordingly. The efforts put in place in addition to our collaboration with stakeholders such as the National Human Rights Commission, Nigerian Bar Association, etc, have led to tremendous commendations and feedback especially from numerous complainants and those affected who have also thanked the Chief of Army Staff for establishing the Human Rights Desk. It is noteworthy that our activities receive wide coverage. For instance, Army Headquarters Department of Civil-Military Affairs host a weekly programme on Army Forces Radio Service FM 107.7 called civil-military Hours every Wednesday from 1030 – 1130 am where the audience is enlightened on the activities of the Nigerian Army especially as it affects the civil populace. Issues bordering on human rights are usually discussed during the programme. The programme also includes a phone-in calls where listeners air their views and seek answers to some pertinent questions. In addition to that, various phone and emergency line numbers through which the Desk can be reached for reporting cases of violations of human rights are usually given out to the general public during the radio programme.
QUESTION 3. Does the HRD office face any challenge in convincing Nigerians especially the civilians that it has integrity and credibility to handle their petitions?
Answer: It is necessary to state that we do not have any challenge in convincing civilians about our activities. This is due to the way we handle the numerous petitions we receive from them. It would interest you to know that apart from the emails sent to our office and the phone calls we receive, we also get civilians coming to our office directly at No 5 Lekki Close Garki II to report violations against them. It is also pertinent to state for the record that officers and soldiers of the NA HRD always dress in civilian attire in order to create a conducive and civilian friendly environment so that the issue of intimidation does not arise. We have handled and treated petitions successfully. So it is more like a referral and this is because of the confidence reposed on us while carrying out our tasks.
QUESTION 4. Does this office handle cases of domestic violence within your ranks?
Answer: The answer to that question will be in the affirmative. There are barely cases of domestic violence within our ranks but the complaints we usually receive are cases of abandonment and neglect of spouses and children as well as refusal to pay spousal support. In line with Section 211 of the Armed Forces Act, a brief has been written to the Chief of Army Staff for the approval of deductions from the erring personnel’s salary so as to cater for abandoned spouses/children. I am happy to announce that this request has been approved by the Chief of Army Staff. Currently, we have less cases of the occurrence of human rights abuses. This could be attributed to the occasional visits, seminars and workshops conducted by the Desk in various NA formations and units across the country to educate own troops on the importance of adherence to Rule of Law and the rules of engagement during operations. This is important because military personnel are subject to the doctrine of compact (meaning that in accordance with sections 114 of the Armed Forces Act, Military personnel are subjected to both civil and military laws and the need to maintain a happy home front cannot be overemphasised.
QUESTION 5. Does the NA HRD office plan to set up sexual violations offenders register?
Answer: I want to say that we already have in existence a sexual violation offenders’ register. Based on this, I can categorically tell you that from the breakdown of alleged human rights violations and the percentage of crimes from inception, sexual harassment and other related matters were 6 percent. This is because we often have few cases of sexual harassment. To be honest with you, since I took over the Human Rights Desk Office in August 2018, we have not had cases of sexual harassment and other related matters, so the 6 percent was recorded and treated before I took over the office. The cases that have high percentage are assault (17 per cent), extortion, trespass on property and unlawful arrest (12 per cent). The sexual violations offenders register enable us to monitor the names in order to checkmate or ascertain it a name appears more than once and to treat accordingly.
QUESTION 7. Do you handle cases of human trafficking if they do occur within the barracks?
Answer: It is important to highlight the nature of the cases that we often receive. Apart from those highlighted above, other cases include murder, impersonation, financial crime, unlawful arrest and enforced disappearance. Others are unpaid salary/allowance or gratuity and pension, unlawful seizure, breach of contract, unlawful dismissal, torture and extra judicial killing. However, we have never had cases of human trafficking and I doubt if such occurs in the barracks. The military is a highly organised body which is based on discipline and regimentation. It would be difficult for human trafficking to take place and I doubt if such occurs in the barracks.
QUESTION 8. What are the aspirations and projections of the NA HRD in the next five years?
Answer: Our aspirations and projections in the next years and beyond are numerous, I would mention but a few. We aspire to be bigger and better by continually improving or enhancing our performance. We also want to ensure that cases are reduced to barest minimum. We also hope to expand our mandate which is to protect human rights by ensuring its spread worldwide. To that end, we intend to equip the Desk with modern reference materials and to upgrade capacity and competences of the staff of the Desk in terms of training and re-training especially in area of conciliations, mediation and conflict prevention among others.
QUESTION 9. Finally, how many partnership agreements have you entered with stakeholders in the human rights organised community?
Answer: We have entered into a lot of partnership in form of collaborations and cooperation with various non-governmental organisations, international organisations, civil society organisations and a host of others and these are unwritten. For instance, we deal closely with the National Human Rights Commission, CLEEN Foundation, the Nigerian Bar Association and a host of other stakeholders. We collaborate with these agencies and organisations to ensure effective tackling of human rights violations and abuses. We intend to further expand the scope of our partnership and collaboration with other related agencies and association such as the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), the Legal Aid Council and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). Thank you.