RIGHTSView, By EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO: On Aba Military/Police Massacre of July 2015

Posted by News Express | 8 August 2015 | 3,843 times

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For two weeks – early to mid-July, 2015 – yours faithfully paid a visit to Great Britain and spent quality periods in distant settlements far removed from the boisterous city of London. This was for just a reason: to see United Kingdom from the perspectives of the ordinary everyday people and to gauge the feelings towards Africans by these largely rural Caucasians, who live happily in their seemingly well-urbanised and organised functional rural areas. 

Primarily, I stayed in South Woodham Ferrers in Chelmsford, which is approximately one hour speed train ride into the city of London, such as Stratford station, Liverpool Street or Oxford Circus, which I commuted daily. These rural people enjoy all the good things that civilisation has to offer: functional social infrastructures that work all-round the clock. Little wonder that even in their local press, the incidents of killings and crimes that result even in the murder of a child is given a national mention. The Metropolitan Police are at their best in terms of civility and effectiveness in conducting professionally competent investigations into cases of such fatalities. And the culprits are arrested swiftly and given their day in court swiftly, and a determination is reached in the shortest possible time. Close circuit televisions are working. Telephone networks are working. Human intelligence is working in Great Britain. These combined scientific and human forces make it impossible for any crime, no matter how small, to go uninvestigated. And offenders are punished in accordance with the law. I saw a police force that is clean, gentle, decent, professionally well-trained and motivated in Great Britain. The joy of staying in the aforementioned rural setting is that I was able to get the heartbeats of some real people about us, even though these people are far removed from our seemingly chaotic space. A common characteristic of the mindset of some of these people I interacted with is that Nigerians are not receiving the best treatments from those who have assumed the leadership role in all spheres of our lives, as human beings who should live like dignified creatures of God.

People I spoke with said the fact that too many precious lives are wasted daily by a range of freelance armed terrorists, and even members of the armed forces, goes to show the primitive level that the political class has reduced Nigeria into. They think most Nigerians don't have the benefits of getting their dues in terms of the strict observance of their fundamental human rights, which are universally approved in several international humanitarian laws. Even among themselves, commuters and travellers are treated with the highest courtesy. Commercial cab operators operate within prescribed rules and regulations: they don’t charge arbitrary fees, especially if those passengers are holiday makers. The United Kingdom has become a Mecca of sorts, for millions of foreign tourists from every corner of the Earth, precisely because of how functional that society is. The United Kingdom is largely governed by strict observance of the Rule of Law; and no particular class of people is subjected to separate laws anywhere in that society. These people I met have greatly humanised their society, and have incorporated compassion and equality as essential components of the body politic. In Britain, ordinary people willingly assist the nation-state to resolve crimes, no matter how knotty and complex. And people go about their livelihoods believing that no armed security operatives will take the laws into their hands and terminate precious lives of citizens on whimsical tendencies. Such is the beauty of humanity that I have witnessed in my over a dozen visits to the United Kingdom through the years.

But my last trip was particularly interesting. I featured in a live British Broadcasting Corporation's Radio news programme and answered questions related to human rights in Nigeria, vis-a-vis the operations of the Nigeria military. 

This background painstakingly mentioned above precisely explains why the internationally-respected United Kingdom-based Amnesty International had to issue a report on the bad situation of human rights in the North-east of Nigeria, which was titled “Stars on their shoulders, blood on their hands: The war crimes committed by the Nigerian military.”

This report no doubt is replete with legal lacunae and fundamental pitfalls, especially because of certain hasty and fallacious conclusions the writers drew regarding the culpability or otherwise of some named top military Generals in these gross violations of the rights of suspected terrorists, or what the typical Americans will like to call ‘enemy combatants’. But in reality, it is a naked fact that within the Nigeria military are some rogue elements who perpetrate crimes against humanity. As a registered body made up of creative writers we have, in many ways, used the media strategically to highlight cases of human rights violations across Nigeria. But we have some fundamental differences in principle to some innuendos and inaccuracies encompassed in that Amnesty International's watery report. Ironically, one of the two reasons for my recent visit to Great Britain was to take the protest in written form, and our objection as a Nigeria-based non-governmental organisation, to the global headquarters of Amnesty International in central London, which I did successfully. And as stated earlier, even spent 15 minutes in a live prime-time radio news programme of the African Service of the famous BBC, the official media mouthpiece of the United Kingdom. 

This was because we think that institutionally the Nigerian military does not permit gross human rights abuses by operatives targeted against unarmed civilians during internal security operations. But we are aware that there are rogue elements within both the Nigerian military and, especially, the notoriously indisciplined and willfully incompetent and unfriendly Nigeria Police Force; which derive diabolical excitement in killing fellow citizens at the slightest provocation. But we still believed, as it were, that certain positive efforts were put in place in the recent past by some top military commanders, such as the former Army Chief, Lieutenant General Onyeabor Ihejirika, to address perceived grave violations of the human rights of citizens by the members and operatives of the armed forces. Sadly, it seems just like leopards, which hardly change their spots, some of these rogue elements still left in the Nigerian military of today are yet to learn a lesson or two on why they should treat unarmed civilians as fellow citizens who deserve respect for their constitutionally guaranteed fundamental human rights, as encapsulated in Chapter 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).

Specifically, the Right to Life remains sacrosanct, except and until otherwise pronounced by a competent judicial institution, after painstaking sessions; which would culminate in well-considered verdicts emanating from courts of first instance, and made subject to appeals at both the Court of Appeal and the court of finality: The Supreme Court of Nigeria. In other words, the only time the life of a Nigerian could be terminated legally is when such a person is competently convicted for capital offences. And such a convict loses the chance to get reprieve from the Supreme Court of Nigeria or, lastly, if the specific state governor whereby such offences were convicted fails to grant pardon, as allowed under clemency provisions in the constitution. Operatives of the armed forces are under strict obligation to comply with global best practices during internal and external security operations; and are compelled to respect their terms of engagement, which has no place for impunity or war crime such as extra legal executions of unarmed civilians, as has recently happened in Ariaria International Market in Aba, Abia State. 

On the last day of July, 2015, while most Nigerians were warming up to receive the month of August (regarded by the Igbo as a period for general reunions and meetings in their communities), the devil inhabiting some of these rogue military operatives of the Nigeria Army again struck in the commercial nerve centre of Aba in Abia State. This resulted in the extra-judicial killing of over half a dozen young traders and artisans. 

Those innocent bystanders were shot point-blank by soldiers and policemen called in by God knows who, to bring to an end a seemingly peaceful March to the Police Division in the Ariaria Market in Aba, Abia State. These peaceful demonstrators were reportedly angered by the shooting to death of a shoemaker in that market by some police operatives who came with the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency staff to arrest suspected users of weeds and other banned substances. These anti-drug enforcers, who were unhappy not to have successfully arrested the kingpins of these drug rings, who run their illicit trade allegedly very close to the very busy Ariaria Market, decided to vent their unrighteous angst by opening fire, which resulted in the felling and shooting to death of the young shoemaker, who sat quietly in his shop attending to his legitimate duty as a law-abiding citizen of  Nigeria. The protesters took the remains of this slain Nigerian youth on the wheelbarrow to the police station to demand justice, but as they have become so notoriously brutal, the armed police operatives brought out all their weapons of mass destruction - and opened fire with live bullets. As if theirs was not enough, they proceeded to invite a near-by military establishment to join them in their harvest of deaths, which these army operatives willfully did, resulting in what is now known as The Aba Military Massacre of July 2015. In the South-East – most soldiers made up of persons of other tribal and religious affiliations treat the ordinary people in the five Igbo-speaking states as a population under armed occupation. And the authorities in Abuja simply look the other way and let this evil scenarios continue without adopting institutional policy to address the lopsided recruitment nature of these various armed forces. Does Nigerian Armed Forces not belong lawfully to all Nigerians? Why are the people of Igbo-speaking South-eastern states maltreated in their homelands, like persons under military occupation by aliens? This must stop now.

Why is the Nigerian military not doing enough to prove these doubting Thomases in such international groups like Amnesty International wrong and demonstrate practically that indeed institutionally it does not tolerate a policy of gross violations of the human rights of the citizenry?  Why do military operatives easily open fire even when their lives are in no way under any kinds of threats even by protesters? Why has Nigeria, under the so-called democracy, failed to set up by an act of the National Assembly, an Ombudsman that would forensically examine all cases of use of firearms by operatives of the military and para-military institutions? In Britain, such an institution exists, making it mandatory for all cases of use of firearms to be scientifically and forensically investigated.

Why have we swept many cases of extra-legal killings by armed security operatives under the filthy carpets of national impunity? Amnesty International in that report, which some of us disputed some of its conclusions, rightly stated that extra-legal executions by soldiers are becoming too difficult to document; because these gruesome killings happen almost on a daily basis. What is the institutional response of the Nigerian military hierarchy to surely put an end to this impunity, which has graphically depicted the institution of the Nigerian Military as being backward, primitive and savagery? What is the synergy between the military institutions and Nigeria's main human rights monitor, the National Human Rights Commission?  

With the enforcement of the enhanced legislative powers of the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission, I'm aware that the agency enjoys similar powers of summons just like a high court of a state, which constitutionally adjudicate and reach binding decisions of the breaches of the fundamental and constitutional human rights of the citizenry. Yet, not much has been done to bring mass murderers in army uniforms to successful prosecution and punishment. 

This impunity smacks of lack of respect for our national laws and, sadly, political leaders continue to disrespect national institutions. But they are quick to respond to findings made by groups such as the London-based Amnesty International. Should charity not begin at home, if I may ask? The Constitution in the very beginning identifies the Nigerian people as the rightful owners of the Sovereignty of Nigeria, and also clearly gives the people the ownership of the legitimacy and authority; which they the people democratically should donate on regular basis and at intervals during peaceful, transparent, free and fair electoral contest to politicians who campaign and seek the mandate of the people of Nigeria to assume leadership positions for a specific period of time, known as tenure of office. Why then do the political and military class treat ordinary everyday people in Nigeria as a collective  nonentity, and why is there no national outrage on the side of we the oppressed everyday people of Nigeria?  Why are the people of Nigeria so tolerant of this brute force, which are crudely deployed and employed by soldiers and the police, to chastise, intimidate, harass, maim and slaughter fellow Nigerians?  Why will the army turn their weapons against the same people they are recruited, trained and maintained to protect? Why will this sort of crime against humanity continue, and what is the authority going to do or already doing to bring the perpetrators of the infamous Aba massacre of July 2015 to trial and punishment? Will these crimes of mass murders of Aba traders go unpunished, like many others and will the National Human Rights Commission simply resign to fate, hoping that the families of the victims will accept what has been imposed on their families: wailing and lamentations visited on them by the despicable and atrocious criminal acts of state sponsored cannibalism?  

On our part, we are already compiling evidence of these killings for further international advocacy actions, should the Nigerian state feel comfortable to let the sleeping dogs lie, even when these so-called sleeping dogs, in form of the rogue members of the Nigerian Army, have collectively murdered sleep. We hereby call on the Chief of Army Staff, Major-General Tukur Buratai, to order the arrest and prosecution of the rogue operatives who gunned down the innocent Ariaria shoemaker and others similarly murdered on the same evening. We call on the National Human Rights Commission to institute a transparent public hearing even in camera, especially for the purposes of protecting witnesses, so as to fish out  perpetrators of the mass killings in Aba, Abia State, who are still armed and dangerous. They should be fished out, disarmed, debriefed, prosecuted and sanctioned, according to the laws of Nigeria which absolutely prohibits murder, with the maximum punishment of the death penalty for convicted offenders. 

As promised on oath by the President, please let no single Nigerian life be wasted. Neither should those who turn their weapons, bought with the resources of all Nigerians, to kill these same Nigerians whom they should protect, be allowed to go in peace. Because, since they have discharged their bullets illegally and ended the precious lives of compatriots in pieces, they themselves deserve no less the same punishment to serve as strong deterrent to would-be trigger-happy rogue military or police elements in other parts of the country.  

We assure the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Solomon Arase, and the Chief of Army Staff, Major-General Tukur Buratai, that if they conspire to let these killers go scot-free, then they themselves must be prepared for the gale of international civil rights advocacy that would logically follow. The consequences would ultimately be their prosecution before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands for failing to stop crimes against humanity. Enough of these grand scale impunity. A stitch in time saves nine. Let President Muhammadu Buhari quickly order the investigation of this dastardly massacre of traders in Aba by soldiers, police and their NDLEA partners in war crime. President Buhari who, ironically, holds a traditional title bestowed on him by Eze Ikonne of Eziama, Aba Kingdom as the Enyi-Oha (good friend of the people), show his commitment to the enforcement of the principle and practice of Rule of Law, by ensuring that those soldiers and police who killed Aba traders are fished out, prosecuted actively, and punished sternly. Does Buhari hate the Igbo, as most people all around the World have concluded, with his recent loud exclusion of any military General of Igbo origin from the membership of the Nigerian Defence Council? His (President Buhari’s) action or inaction in unravelling the perpetrators of the Aba massacre, will be a good response either/or in determining the aforementioned conundrum.  

RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

Source: News Express

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