By John Ibekwe
Let’s play a game. Take a statement issued by Amnesty International, or a story credited to the NGO, strip it of the organization’s name and read the story again. The outcome is that one would be left with a head scratching situation. The resulting story from this exercise would give one the impression that the statement or story emanated from one of Nigeria’s opposition political parties, their affiliates or one of the groups proscribed as terrorist organizations.
A read through Amnesty International’s manifesto reveals a non-governmental organization that is committed to holding government accountable for complying with the required adherence to human rights. In the double speak of NGO circuit, it is an organization that “speaks truth to power”. But this is a concept that has been so abused in recent years, especially by the Nigerian franchise of the organization, that it is now practically lying to power.
This transition from an impartial organization into an actively partisan interest is a travesty. In instances that it has to weigh in on human rights situation, Amnesty International has perfected a script that automatically and persistently casts the Federal Government of Nigeria as the aggressor and whatever group is contending with the government as the victim.
Sadly, this stereotyping of the situation has created a culture of ignoring the wrongdoings of such groups. Take for instance the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a proscribed terrorist group, which Amnesty International has futilely canonized as incapable of doing anything bad. But in reality it is a group that imposes economic blockades that threatens the livelihood of families, extort the local population, hurl hate speech against persons of other ethnic nationalities, engages in enforced disappearances, murder people and bury them in mass graves and sundry crimes. Yet each time IPOB members take their brigandage to the streets and law enforcement personnel brings them under control Amnesty International starts singing its repression song. It makes demands for IPOB members to get free passes without holding them to account for the crimes they commit on daily basis.
The Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) is even more virulent than IPOB and, not surprisingly, more beholden to Amnesty International. This parliament-invading, cop-killing and journalist-killing rabid group enjoys the protection of Amnesty International, which continues to frame it as a peaceful entity even when the judiciary ruled that it is a terrorist group that has now been so designated by the country. IMN’s specialty is denying others the freedom of movement by obstructing their right of way. Entreaty by security agencies to vacate such obstruction of other people’s right of way usually result in them launching slingshots, projectiles and cudgels that have repeatedly resulted in fatalities. This group is however “harmless” in the estimate of Amnesty International. The rights of the IMN terrorists matters, the Nigerians that are their victims are inconsequential while the security personnel that try to enforce order are rights abusers.
Somewhere else in the mix is an opposition that has been named as sponsoring violence, reported to have armed ethnic militias and terrorist groups in its bid to grab power. Some of its members have been indicted for terrorist financing amongst other things. The opposition has in several instances been fingered in financing IPOB and IMN. This has been going on for a while.
Fast forward to recent days and weeks. IPoB, IMN, the opposition and a pack of commercial activists came together with the stated goal of overthrowing the government. It didn’t matter that the way they wanted to achieve their objective was through days of rage that the protests’ leaders clearly stated will include “bundling” elected persons out of office. It is immaterial that they spoke of destroying security organizations that could stand in their way. Amnesty International not only mislabelled this enterprise as amounting to free expression, it also became an active promoter of the protests. This effectively implies that the organization is among those calling for a forceful overthrow of the government through means that are not recognized democratically.
The point has to be made that Amnesty International has a right to join the protests and protesters. But once it does that it loses the right to play the role of an umpire. Its views are clouded its affiliation to these extreme groups and their ideologies. Can Amnesty International therefore still be a judge in its case against the Nigerian government having clearly demonstrated to be an interested party? The answer is simple. No.
Worse than aligning with those plotting to overthrow the government is the tendency of the NGO to engage in a tiff with the Nigerian authorities. This raises the question of the objectivity of the positions it adopts as well as its reports – interim and comprehensive. If they are objective, as they should be, then it will not have to get into confrontations to validate itself. That is a function of unbiased track record.
With a record as tainted and as biased as Amnesty International currently holds in Nigeria it will take some time and a lot of damage control, with fence mending, for it to regain that position of an impartial umpire. The established partisanship of the group must be at the core of the angst of groups that are demanding that it should leave Nigeria. An organization that prides itself as fighting for the rights of people is now seen as the threat to those rights. Rather than address these concerns and make amends, the target of the people’s anger has rather responded with belligerent arrogance that confirmed that it has no desire of halting its targeted attacks against the Nigerian state.
The Federal Government would have to take concrete steps to curtail the powers that Amnesty International has arrogated to itself as an opposition player and umpire since this does not bode well for any country, least of all a Nigeria that is fighting terrorism and other forms of contrived security breaches. It has to recalibrate the status of Amnesty International in Nigeria in line with growing citizens’ demand. The exercise should ask and seek answers to pertinent questions: is Amnesty International an NGO, a political party, terrorist group or a parallel government?
In conclusion, the recent and ongoing events present opportunities for Amnesty International. It is a chance to review the way it conducts itself in Nigeria and come up with reformed approaches to issues. If it has to temporarily close shop to achieve this then it should. It cannot continue to arrogate the role of an umpire to itself while being actively partisan.
*Ibekwe, a civil rights activist wrote from University of Nigeria, Nsukka.