The Defence Headquarters, DHQ, yesterday declared that the military was the worst victim of Boko Haram insurgency as it had suffered so much damage to its image. The DHQ, which was responding to allegations of human rights abuses against the military by the Amnesty International, however, said it was investigating the cases to bring anyone culpable to justice.
The Director of Defence Information, DDI, Maj.- Gen. Chris Olukolade, said in Abuja, that one of the weapons being used against the military in the counterinsurgency operation was impersonation of military personnel by the Boko Haram terrorists.
It explained that the insurgents were using uniforms similar to those of the troops to deceive and attack their victims.
This, the DHQ said, had also made it very difficult to differentiate between genuine military operations conducted by troops and cases of human rights abuses perpetrated by the insurgents.
It stressed that the video footages of purported extra judicial killings of Boko Haram terrorists by troops circulating on the internet, which the Amnesty International believes are genuine were alien to the ongoing operations by the Nigerian military.
“The cases of impersonation that have pervaded the counter-terrorism operations in Nigeria and many other related issues, which cast doubts on the claims made in the video, the Defence Headquarters views those grave allegations very seriously, more so as it borders on the integrity of the ongoing counter-terrorism operation, which must be sustained in the interest of our national survival.
“The Nigerian military welcomes the interest being shown by international bodies and civil society groups on the observance of human rights in all aspects of ongoing counter-terrorism campaign in Nigeria.
“Despite the highly challenging and peculiar nature of the variables in the operations, the importance of accountability for all actions has remained paramount.
“The Armed Forces of Nigeria is conscious of the nation’s obligation to observe all rules, regulations and commitments in all activities, and wishes to reassure the international community, bodies and citizens that it will not encourage or condone any form of violation,” Olukolade stated.
The spokesman faulted the allegations of gross human rights abuses levelled against the military by the organisation and “those circulating video footage purportedly showing Nigerian military carrying out extrajudicial killing of suspected terrorists.”
He added: “We must unequivocally state that the Nigerian military takes the issue of human rights seriously and will never condone any proven case of abuse by its personnel.
“Military authorities are deeply concerned about the set of video footages being circulated and which unfortunately has also become reference data for Amnesty International in its report.
“Much as the scenes depicted in these videos are alien to our operations and doctrines, it has to be investigated to ensure that such practices have not crept surreptitiously into the system, all to the detriment of expectations in line with best practices to which the nation’s military has committed itself.
“The Defence Headquarters considers these allegations too grievous to be associated with Nigerian troops, considering the doctrinal and operational contents of the training imparted to personnel on a continuous basis; emphasising the importance of respect for human rights and dignity of human person as well as observance of humanitarian laws.
“Rather, the scenes in that video clip clearly depict a pattern consistent with the atrocious operations of the terrorists.”
He, however, noted that the military had set up a panel to investigate the allegations and whoever was found culpable would be sanctioned.
“Consequently, the Defence Headquarters in addition to the already existing Joint Investigation Team, JIT, has constituted a team of senior officers and legalcum- forensic experts to study the video footage and the resultant allegations of infractions in order to ascertain the veracity of the claims with a view to identifying those behind such acts.
“This will further determine and stimulate necessary legal action against any personnel or anyone found culpable in accordance with the provisions of the law.
“You will recall that a Joint Investigation Team was earlier constituted based on previous allegations of human rights abuse. The JIT is still in place and have regularly conducted visits to detention facilities. It is currently on tour of some of such facilities across the country.
“The JIT has also regularly forwarded names of those suspects who are culpable to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution. An additional list is currently being compiled to facilitate the decongestion of detention facilities,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government yesterday in Abuja rejected the allegations of civil rights violation levelled against the military by the AI in its latest report on the insurgency in the North-East.
It said sources of such claims and their possible political motivations ought to be considered by any discerning mind.
The government, while appreciating the contribution of persons and groups towards ending insurgency in the country, said it however, “wishes to state in unmistaken terms that it maintains a strict zero tolerance policy for violations of the rules of engagement.”
The Coordinator, National Information Centre, Mike Omeri, said: “In this wise, the government has not and will never turn a blind eye to abuse of our people’s human or civil rights by anyone, including the military.”
In its latest report by Salil Shetty, AI’s Secretary-General, the global rights watchdog said: “Gruesome video footage, images and testimonies gathered by Amnesty International provide fresh evidence of war crimes, including extra-judicial executions and other serious human rights violations being carried out in North- Eastern Nigeria as the fight by the military against Boko Haram and other armed groups intensifies.
“The footage, obtained from numerous sources during a recent trip to Borno State, reveals graphic evidence of multiple war crimes being carried out in Nigeria.
“It includes horrific images of detainees having their throats slit one by one and dumped in mass graves by men who appear to be members of the Nigerian military and the Civilian Joint Task Force, CJTF, state-sponsored militias.
“It also shows the aftermath of a Boko Haram raid on a village in which the armed group killed nearly 100 people and destroyed or badly damaged scores of homes and other buildings.
“This shocking new evidence is further proof of the appalling crimes being committed with abandon by all sides in the conflict. Nigerians deserve better. What does it say when members of the military carry out such unspeakable acts and capture the images on film?”
Omeri said as it was now, the government did not have cause to believe that the details of the accusations had been properly verified.
He, however, added that justice would be done once the government obtained hard facts pointing to rights violations by the military.
“Although, we have great respect for Amnesty International, if such allegations are to be deemed credible, the sources of the claims and their possible political motivations should and ought to be examined and carefully considered,” Omeri stated.
He added a mark of government’s adherence to the rule of law was reflected in the fact that there were many civil servants who were members of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign and the government had refused a clamp down on them.
Omeri also advised Nigerians to be wary of those now using the Boko Haram as a franchise to extort others, saying some unscrupulous persons were hiding under the guise of insurgents to demand “protection fee” from unsuspecting communities.