As public outcry continues to greet the internal military operations of the Nigerian Army in Oyigbo, Rivers State on the invitation of Governor Nyesom Wike, and Aba in Abia state, the Army’s Chief of staff lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai has assured that his office will investigate petition of gross rights violations sent to him by HURIWA.
The Prominent Civil Rights Advocacy group-: HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) had petitioned the office of Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai over serious allegations of sexual molestation of girls in Aba, Abia State and the alleged use of brute force on civilians just as the Rights Advocacy group HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION reminded the Army Chief of his solemn pledge to respect the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental freedoms of the citizens.
The Rights group said the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai has replied to its petition in a message sent to it as follows: “Well noted. Investigation is already ongoing. Be assured of thorough investigation. God bless you”.
HURIWA said it had asked the Army Chief of staff to act swiftly to investigate these allegations because these atrocious criminal acts of some of the operatives on internal security operations are tarnishing his hard earned good image as a no- nonsense officer who wields the big stick to deal with acts of professional misconduct and indiscipline since the last five years.
HURIWA said: “We have just deliberated for three hours and as a body, we have decided to send to the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai a strong WORDED petition to draw his attention to the cases and reports of gross human rights violations by soldiers posted to Aba in Abia state on internal security operations under the Operation Crocodile smile. We got reports from our members in Aba, Abia state of serious violations of the fundamental dignity of the HUMAN persons against many girls by soldiers manning checkpoints just as we have received reports of sexual harassment of girls by soldiers in Aba, Abia state”.
“These actions if verified are direct violations of the Constitution because the chapter 4 of the Constitution contains the entire body of fundamental human rights including Right to the dignity of the HUMAN person, Right to freedom from torture, Right to life and freedom of movement. These persistent reports of sexual attacks against younger persons of the female gender must be thoroughly investigated and the soldiers responsible for such heinous crimes against humanity should face the internal mechanisms of judicial sanctions within the Nigerian Army as a matter of urgency and this is to assure the international community of the commitments of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai that the armed forces will continue to respect and protect human rights during operations, knowing the consequences of its violation”.
HURIWA recalled that the Army had recently in a communication with the Rights Advocacy group HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) explained the essence of establishing the Human Rights Desk of the Nigerian Army as follows: “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.”
HURIWA said it asked the Nigerian Army what impact the Human Rights office made so far and how many petitions it has handled and the Chief of Civil Military Relations of the Nigerian Army said thus: “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.”
HURIWA recalled that the Army was asked if the Human Rights Desk (HRD) office face any challenge in convincing Nigerians especially the civilians that it has integrity and credibility to handle their petitions but the Nigerian Army told HURIWA that: “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.”
HURIWA stated that it will follow up on the subsisting petition it has sent to the office of the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai to ensure that the gross violation of the HUMAN RIGHTS of citizens in Oyigbo Rivers State and Aba in Abia state are thoroughly investigated and indicted military operatives found guilty of having prima facie evidence against them are charged and sanctioned in line with the extant laws of Nigeria.