The brutal murder of five humanitarian aid workers, the other day, once more brought home to many Nigerians the country’s helplessness in the face of the barbarism of the Islamic Caliphate West African Province (ISWAP). The usual nightmare video of blindfolded victims with AK-47-wielding terrorists behind them told the story of yet another massacre of innocent aid workers. They were abducted on June 29 along the Monguno-Maiduguri Road in Borno State.
Killed were Ishiaku Yakubu of the Action Against Hunger, Abdulrahmn Dungus who worked for the affiliate of the French NGO Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development; and Luka Filibus, a child protection officer with the aid group, International Rescue Committee. Joseph Prince and Abdulrahman Bulama worked for the Borno State Emergency Management Agency. President Muhammadu Buhari sent condolences to the families of the murdered men and their organisations, promising that security agencies would work closely with their organisations to implement measures to ensure that no such kidnapping of staff members occurs again.
Shock and horror were expressed worldwide over the gruesome killings. The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, lamented that at a time humanitarian needs have reached unprecedented levels, it is unacceptable that those trying to help are being attacked and killed. UN assessment is that nearly eight million people are in need of urgent life-saving assistance in Northeast Nigeria at the beginning of the year and today 10.6 million people need urgent support as conflict-affected states battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
The European Union expressed its condolences with the families of the executed men and appealed for the adherence to international humanitarian law and the safeguard of human rights. “Conflict is not an excuse to breach these rules,” it said. The United States expressed its shock at the murders. “These brave individuals dedicated their lives to easing human suffering. We hope that their families and colleagues can take comfort in their selfless sacrifices on behalf of others,” the US Embassy said. The Borno State Govenor, Prof. Babagana Zulum, described the aid workers as “heroes who were saving humanity.” The Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) also condemned the killings.
Available statistics reveal that as many as 42 humanitarian workers have been killed in the 10 years of Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. We join the world to condemn these savage killings of selfless men and women who, out of love for humanity, put themselves in harm’s way to ameliorate the suffering of others.
The more recent casualties include the two workers killed on the attack on Kajuru Castle, Kaduna, in which Faye Mooney, a British Communication and Learning expert with the non-governmental organisation (NGO), Mercy Corps, and Matthew Oguche, a Nigerian training assistant with the International NGO, Safety Organisation (INSO), died when gunmen stormed the resort and also kidnapped three individuals. In August 2019, a video emerged of kidnapped aid workers in which a women who gave her name as ‘Grace’ surrounded by five men believed to be her colleagues, were pleading for their lives and begging the Nigerian government and the international community to intervene so that their captors can release them. These were clearly the six humanitarian workers of Action Against Hunger (NGO) whose convoy was attacked on July 19, 2019 on their way to the border community of Damasak in Borno State. In that incident, one of the drivers was killed on the spot; one staff member, two drivers and three health workers were abducted. The kidnappers were later identified as the terrorists from the ISWAP, the splinter group from Boko Haram. The video was a heart-breaking reminder of the murder of Hauwa Liman, the humanitarian midwife slaughtered in October 2018 by ISWAP which had earlier demanded a ransom and threatened to kill the hostage after the expiration of its deadline, a threat it carried out.
It is utterly reckless for Boko Haram and ISWAP to kill humanitarian workers because the international community made aid workers literally untouchable. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and related Protocols I and II of 1977 forbid their being harmed under any circumstances. Their rights are spelt out in great detail. They are free from any violence. They cannot be taken hostage. They also cannot be subjected to humiliating or degrading punishment and they cannot be included in collective punishment. But they go into combat zones at their own peril. Occupying forces may ban them.
In 2003, the international community went even further to strengthen their protections when the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1502 by defining and treating attacks on them as war crimes. It is not clear that the terrorists are aware of the inescapable danger they face in killing aid workers. Therefore, Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists and commanders are bound to face the World Court someday unfailingly for these war crimes.