The nasty round of confrontation that broke out recently between the Federal Government, the military and international human rights research organisation Amnesty International [AI] should not have escalated to the level that it did. AI had issued a report on the incessant farmers/herder’s conflict in the country. Its investigation carried out across the country concluded that over 3000 previously unreported deaths occurred due to those clashes in the last three years.
In the report, many victims and survivors told appalling stories and alleged failure on the part of the military to protect them from impending attacks. The army and Presidency did not take kindly to the report and reacted in a very hostile manner. Both accused Amnesty of releasing a divisive report that has the potential of discouraging the military from their campaigns against different kinds of criminals in the country.
Defense Headquarters said “the malicious trend by AI is becoming a frequent ritual and it is rather unfortunate. In times like this, Amnesty International is expected to apply the natural law of liaison by working with security agencies as partners. This would have been the best way to ensure that insurgency and crisis is completely wiped out rather than engaging in falsehood, maligning the military and painting her in bad light at any slight opportunity.” The military even called for AI’s sacking from Nigeria.
Though the report is damning, it does not look like a deliberate effort to malign the military. The 70-page report followed AI’s normal procedure for carrying such investigation. For instance, the researchers spoke to all sides in the conflict, including herdsmen and farmers in affected states. Both parties provided testimonies and photo evidence to support their case. Testimony of many farmers indicted the military for not providing protection to their communities from attacks. But another striking remark by a local official in Adamawa State was, “I want the government to live to its responsibilities. If anyone commits a crime, they should be arrested and dealt with. But when people see, think and feel they can get away with crime, it does not only embolden them to domore but encourages others as well. I want peace.”
This statement captures the essence of the escalating conflicts in Nigeria. Many perpetrators of violent acts are never punished. Even those who were arrested are let off the hook before justice is seen to have been done. Instead of the military to condemn and denounce AI, the report should be an opportunity for introspection. The military has serious challenges of its own, one of which is to deal with conflicts in an impartial manner. If some sides believe there is partiality, they would resort to self-help. This may explain why there is an increase in arms trafficking into Nigeria.
AI’s report goes beyond indictment on the military to state that there is near-absence of governance in the country’s rural areas. Rural communities are at the mercy of bandits and militia who carry out wanton killings without being obstructed by security agencies. This loophole has been highlighted by another body, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, in November 2018. One of the testimonies from that report says bandits “were going from house to house, looting and taking away anything they found valuable and then setting the houses on fire.”
This kind of unobstructed killings carried out by bandits and militias is a feature of failed states and should never have been reported anywhere in this country. Government should make itself relevant to Nigerians in rural areas by putting in place a security system with quick response to distress cries by the people. Even though Nigeria Police have for long spoken about community policing, little has been done in that regard. In many parts of the world it has been implemented successfully.
We urge government and the military to have a more open mind on the AI report and study it carefully in order to learn the right lessons.