From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
A coalition of Civil Society Organisations led by an advocacy group; the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), has carpeted foreign media stoking the embers of hatred to weaken the popularity of the Nigerian Army by painting the terrorists as victims rather than villains.
At a press conference in Abuja which was anchored by HURIWA carpeted Reuters; a foreign media outfit, which the group described as being on the vanguard of destroying the credibility of the Nigerian Army with unsubstantiated propaganda, enough to undermine national security.
Recalling how Reuters hurriedly sent out an unverified story accusing Russia of being responsible for the November 15th, 2022 missile incident in Poland, which nearly led NATO into a world war with Russia, the group drew a comparison on how the Media were used in Rwanda to spread hatred, dehumanize people, and even guide the genocidaires toward their victims.
“The tension between the two groups existed for decades, but what was a protracted social conflict morphed quickly into a genocide with significant assistance from the media.
“Three journalists have even been found guilty of genocide, incitement to genocide, conspiracy, and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
“We must find a way to respond to such abuses of power without violating the principles of freedom, which are an indispensable cornerstone of democracy.
“Propaganda plays an active, supportive role in facilitating the atrocities, as well as an influential role in establishing the pre-conditions for mass killings.
“The lessons for international society are twofold. Whilst a free press is a sine qua none to hold those in power accountable and represents the very foundation free societies rest upon, it needs to be emphasized that freedom comes with responsibility.
“The abuse of the freedom of speech to create division through hate speech, and unsubstantiated accusations that in turn lead to large-scale violence is an indicator of an arising conflict”, HURIWA explained.
Relatedly, the group highlighted how successive Chiefs of Army Staff and especially Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, who during his 5-year stint did a lot to mainstream the promotion and protection of human rights in the daily operations of the Army.
Beyond this, the statement noted that upon assumption of office, Buratai and his Principal Officers monitored issues on allegations of human rights abuses against troops deployed for operations across the country in line with the President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces’ mandate in the fight against terrorism.
Again, the Coalition revealed that through the establishment of Human Rights Desk Offices in the Army headquarters and across the Nigerian army divisions, the Army is being able to address petitions and other different claims against it.
This move, the group explained was borne out of the increasing interest of the local and international human rights bodies in what the Nigerian Army is doing in the Northeast and other parts of the country.
“To many human rights analysts, this marked a departure from the old order when the Military was on the defensive whenever allegations of human rights violations were leveled against it.
“Incidentally, while commissioning the human rights office at the Headquarters of the 7 Division Nigerian Army in Maiduguri, Buratai noted that the establishment of the desk office was borne out of the increasing interest of local and international rights bodies in what the army is doing in the North-East and other parts of Nigeria.
The Coalition quoted Buratai to have said: “The Nigerian Army is trying to open up the system and close the gap with the civil populace, human rights bodies, and Civil Society Organizations; the nature of inquiries, commentaries, and claims from these institutions requires a professional and specialized response by the Nigerian Army. What we are witnessing today has been facilitated by the Nigerian Bar Association and National Human Rights Commission”, Burati added.
Continuing, the Group informed that The Military–Media–Public Awareness Programme noted at an event, with CLEEN foundation at Jabi Motor Park, Abuja, that “the army is passionate about the rights of civilians and had measures in place to ensure that rights of civilians are protected. These measures included the opening of Free Toll Line 193, a designated Toll-Free Call Centre, and Public Complaints Rapid Response Unit.
“The offices and the toll line 193 are open to members of the public whose rights have been infringed upon; they can always walk into the office and lodge their complaints. So, the Army is doing its best to ensure that they respect the rights of civilians. We assure them that once they come to us they protected their rights and we do our best to serve them better”.
The group then opined that for all these and many more, there is no gainsaying the fact that the transformation of the Nigerian Army rapidly manifested under the leadership of the Chief of Army Staff; Lt. Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai (Rtd), who was proactive in the war against terrorism despite efforts by moles and saboteurs embedded within the Army.
Therefore, while tasking the international Community to fully discern or absorb the lessons from Rwanda by cautioning foreign media not to sensationalize reports, the coalition urged the current Chief of Army Staff on the importance of adopting some of the significant approaches introduced towards improving the consistent dialogues between the Army and the civil society by Buratai.