IPOB: abiding UN conversion

YOU probably saw the video the other day…of Nigerian army personnel in an Armored Personnel Carrier (APC), being pelted with stones, bottles and all other kinds of projectiles by a mob suspected to be members or supporters of the now-maligned Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB. In the video, you could hear what the Nigerian army later described as “warning shots” aimed at repelling the mob. But the mob kept advancing on the APC. You also heard some in the crowd vowing revenge on the army. A day or so later, another video went viral. In this one, you could see men dressed in the Nigerian army camouflage uniforms forcing some men into the mud by the roadside. Most of the men were already stripped down to their trousers. They were forced to lie with their heads down in the muddy water. Some who took too long to comply were beaten into faster compliance. A man lay to the side by the bushes, an entire leg of his trousers soaked in blood. A voice on the video remarked that he was dead. There were flags and other paraphernalia of the IPOB and Biafra scattered on the ground nearby.

By the evening of the same day, another video had surfaced. This one was of several mobs by the roadside stopping vehicles and demanding in Igbo language if any Hausa person was on board. You could see a lorry on fire and another one appearing to be on its side. The mobs were armed with cutlasses, bottles, sticks and rocks. Some of their members wore the Biafra colors and carried IPOB paraphernalia. On social media and in private conversations, IPOB supporters, mainly people of Igbo extraction, blame the army for starting this fire by attempting to arrest IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu. Those who support the military action, mostly non-Igbo people, blame Kanu and members of IPOB for testing the patience and will of the Nigerian government. Whichever side of the issue you belong, one thing is certain: the picture right now looks very much like the pre- 1967-1970 civil war pogrom. And that is very disheartening.

How did we get here? I won’t attempt to answer the question in this essay because many others before me have asked and answered it. What concerns me right now is the deployment of military personnel to handle what the DSS and or the police can handle, or should have been equipped and trained to handle. I understand the argument by those who said all the videos mentioned above did not depict the atrocities committed by IPOB members, some of which included physically barricading the path of the army element, ambushing the soldiers, killing four of them and injuring others. I understand that argument quite well. And I know one other thing: the adrenalin running through the body of an armed soldier when faced with imminent death will cause him to do incalculable damage to the enemy first, if he has the opportunity. Which is why you do not send the army to do the job of mob control or arrest that the police and DSS are better suited to do.

If we talk now, dem go brand us “Enemy of the State” and start chasing us upandan with police, DSS, Customs, Immigrations and even vigilantes. But how do you criticize the deployment of soldiers to the private residence of a man without incurring the wrath of the presidency? I have an idea: blame it on the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen Tukur Buratai; blame it on Chief of Defense Staff, Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin – for those two must be in the know before troops are deployed within and outside Nigeria. We can take the blame for this aberration a little higher. How about laying it at the doorstep of President Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari? Wouldn’t he have been the last person to know before the president himself knew? Buratai would have communicated his plans to Olonisakin, who would, in turn, have asked Abba Kyari for a meeting with the President so he could brief him. Abba Kyari would likely have just given the go-ahead in the name of the president because…emm…Mr. President was indisposed, or just didn’t have the time to see everybody and every file all of the time. Right?
Wrong. In this day and age, nations don’t send soldiers chasing after their own civilian citizens. Responsible nations spend too much money on the training and welfare of their soldiers for them to be deployed on such trite mission as “show of force” on the street of a rabble-rouser. That is so Hitlerian…so tyrannical and so out-of-date. The blame lies squarely at the doorstep of President Buhari. And as the saying goes, the buck stops at his desk. I understand that section 217(2) of our Constitution authorizes the president to deploy troops to any part of the country in support of the efforts of other law enforcement agencies in order to help suppress “insurrection”. I understand all that. (This is more like what the U.S. National Guard, which is under the command of individual state governors, does in the U.S.) But I also understand that sending soldiers to do law enforcement missions will make them easily susceptible to violating UN’s Articles 1 – 33, which form the UNCAT – United Nations Convention Against Torture.

Article 1.1 of the said UNCAT defines torture, in part, as: “any act by which SEVERE PAIN or SUFFERING, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official (emphasis mine)or other person acting in an official capacity…”
Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions prohibits “violence of life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, CRUEL TREATMENT and torture.” It also bans “outrages of life and person, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment (emphasis mine).Nigeria is a signatory to both the United Nations and the Geneva Conventions. When you look at one of those videos, it would appear the line was crossed from “show of force” to torture. You can argue that various law enforcement and security agencies in Nigeria violate these Articles every day and it doesn’t make a difference whether it is the police, the Navy or the DSS doing it. It does make a huge difference.

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