BY: EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO
As a stakeholder in the organized Human Rights Community for over two decades, I can say it without any fear of contradiction that the last five and half years the Nigeria Army perhaps recorded the most phenomenal and concrete milestones in the task of mainstreaming the respect for fundamental Human Rights of citizens by the military in internal military operations.
There have also been lots of complaints from across the nation bothering on alleged human rights violations committed by troops during internal security operations. However, with the setting up of structures on ground by the immediate past COAS Lieutenant General TY Buratai, these internal resolution platforms were seriously kept on their toes investigating and enforcing their resolutions. The hierarchy of the Army also scaled up national and broad-based conversations with governmental and non-governmental bodies working to advance human rights. The Army’s hierarchy was known also to have been dragged to several judicial fora but importantly, we saw greater improvement in the area of respect to court’s invitations unlike what obtained previously.
The last five years and half can be described poetically and in a linguistic term as ‘the Buratai years’ which is the period that lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai mounted the rostrum as the nation’s Army Chief.
An irrevocable fact of our history is the pivotal place that the institution of the military occupies in the governance pantheons of the country.
Therefore, the general conversations of most observers in Nigeria usually touch on the respect or otherwise of the Human Rights of the citizenry by the military which in the current constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is captured institutionally and statutorily under section- 217 (1) which states that: “There shall be an armed Forces for the federation which shall consist of an Army, a Navy, an Air force and such other branches of the Armed Forces of the federation as may be established by an Act of the National Assembly.
As stated above, the issues around Human Rights dominated the texture, contours and forms of the National Conversations by a lot of Nigerians because of a number of factors one of which is the central place of chapter 4 of the Nigerian Constitution which speaks to the fundamental freedoms and Human Rights that naturally belongs to the citizens as inalienable and undeniable. Also, there was a heated debate within the past five years whether national security should supersede adherence to the rule of law. President Muhammadu Buhari canvassed the idea that national security comes first before the rule of law but the overwhelming authorities of those who should know faulted his line of debate but maintained that the principle if rule of law is supreme just like the Nigerian constitution stated in the earliest provisions. So the debates over human rights if citizens are the lifewire of the constitutional democracy that we are practicing which explains my fascination with those rate achievements made by General Buratai to set up mechanisms for mainstreaming respect for human rights of citizens by soldiers and as I said, there is no single narrative on whether to rate Buratai highly or poorly in the area of human rights but what is important is the pragmatic milestones attained through his leadership and these structures such as the civil and military dialogues department and the human rights desks are eternal legacies which would be carried through by the new Army chief going forward.
As I picked up my pen to reflect on what should normally constitute the Human Rights agenda of the newly appointed Army Chief Major General Attahiru Ibrahim who succeeded Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, I was lucky to have taken delivery of a freshly published book by a Professor of philosophy at the New College of the Humanities of Northeastern, London, A.C. Grayling titled: “The Good State: On the principle of Democracy.”
Therein, the learned academic reminds us of the trajectories that gave birth to the Documentation of International laws to safeguard the promotion, protection, and enforcement of the fundamental Human Rights of the global citizens.
He wrote as follows: under the catchy heading of “Rights in a democracy; thus:
“In the seventeenth century the idea that people have certain natural rights’ which are inalienable – meaning that they cannot be overridden or taken away by anyone or anything – formed an essential part of the idea that the state comes into being through a contract between people who, in the ‘state of nature, cannot enjoy their natural rights in safety. In John Locke’s version of contratarian theory, the fundamental rights are those to life, personal liberty, and secure possession of one’s property. By the end of the eighteenth century the idea of natural rights – rights possessed by everyone just in virtue of existing as a human being- had come under attack. Jeremy Bentham called them ‘nonsense on stilts, and Edmund Burke criticized them as mere abstractions , arguing instead that the source of rights is tradition and inherited institutions and practices, and that overturning them- as in the French Revolution, against which he inveighed- would result in anarchy”.
“Both Bentham and Burke took the view that rights exist only in society, and cannot exist outside or before society, and that they come into existence as a result of law or agreement; which means that rights are conferred, not automatically or intrinsically possessed. For those who think as Locke does, rights are understood negatively, that is, as protecting against interference, obstruction, or depredation. Nothing else is required for the protection of one’s own rights than that of others does not interfere or obstruct one’s exercise of them. Others are not required positively to do or provide anything; they have only to refrain. The idea that rights are positively conferred by law or agreement is consistent with the ideas of both negative and positive rights. A negative right is liberty; a positive right is an entitlement. Both place obligations on others, either to refrain from interfering or obstructing, or to provide what a positive rights entitles its bearer to have. But it is easy to see that the obligations imposed by positive rights are more onerous”.
“On what grounds did the member states of the United Nations adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948? The Declaration itself claims that rights flow from ‘the inherent dignity of the human person’. Critics point out that the concept of ‘human dignity’ presupposes a particular set of moral views about persons and about what conduces to human flourishing – or at least, must do so if the notion of ‘dignity is to be less vague. Which view should we adopt, critics ask, given the marked differences among such views in different traditions of thought and culture? This is in effect a relativist version of scepticism about the idea that rights inhere in us purely in virtue of our being human”, the learned Professor and Philosophy concluded.
And so, there is no doubt that the entire human rights community in Nigeria and indeed the world over will continue to miss the immediate past Army Chief Lt-General Yusuf Tukur Buratai for bequeathing a record of impeccable human rights record to his successor, General Ibrahim Attahiru.
It is also a welcome development when the new Army Chief pledged to uphold the legacies of his predecessor.
Only recently, a leading civil rights advocacy group-: Human Rights writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) in its submission to the new Army Chief dated February 1, 2021 asserted that the Association will continue to partner with the Nigerian Army in the areas of promotion and protection of the human rights of all Nigerians, irrespective of gender, tribe or religion, assuring further collaboration, partnership and improved relations in the protection of human rights of the citizens.
According to HURIWA, “It is often during armed conflicts that human rights are infringed upon the most. Therefore, over the years, experts have focused much attention on the formulation of instruments aimed at alleviating human suffering during war and conflict. Today, three areas of modern international law attempt to provide protection to victims of war: human rights law, refugee law and humanitarian law. While these fields are closely linked, they need to be distinguished systematically. Refugee law has been discussed in Part IV. This chapter focuses on international humanitarian law, which differs from human rights law in that it concentrates on specified conflict-related acts and does not give rise to individual claims.”
“Humanitarian law applies in armed conflict, restricting the actions of warring parties, providing for protection and humane treatment of persons who are not taking part or can no longer take part in the hostilities. Like international human rights law, humanitarian law protects the lives and dignity of individuals, prohibiting torture or cruel treatment, prescribing rights for persons subject to a criminal justice procedure, prohibiting discrimination and setting out provisions for the protection of women and children. In addition, humanitarian law deals with the conduct of hostilities, combatant and prisoner of war status and the protection of the Red Cross, Red Crescent and Red Crystal emblems.”
“A distinction is generally made between the law designed to protect military and civilian victims of armed conflicts on the one hand, and the laws governing the way war is waged, on the other.”
“The international law of armed conflicts, of which international humanitarian law is a part, was formulated much earlier than international human rights law. Important phases in the development of the humanitarian law of armed conflicts were the (diplomatic) Conferences of Paris (1856), Geneva (1864), St. Petersburg (1868), Brussels (1874), The Hague (1899, 1907) and Geneva (1949 and 1977).”
This piece is to appeal to the newly appointed Army Chief General Attahiru Ibrahim not to downplay the place of Human Rights in his official duties as that defines how the global community views the nation to assess how qualitative constitutional democracy is.