By Philip Agbese
The Nigerian Army has traversed the historical path very gloriously. I have always known it as famous for professional exploits in Nigeria and abroad during peace keeping operations in parts of the world. The United Nations (UN) has severally decorated participating Nigerian soldiers in its Peace Keeping Operations with various revered medals for outstanding performances at different times.
I have no doubt that it is the zenith of earned recognition of professional competence. All over the globe, the performance of the Nigerian Army endears them to people’s hearts infinitely. I have observed overtime in my years of practice as a researcher on human rights law and international humanitarian issues that troops of the Nigerian Army as a state actor are likeable and liked anywhere, they offer service to humanity.
The ECOMOG Peace Keeping Mission in Liberia and the Angolan Peace Keeping amongst an avalanche of others enliven these memories bitingly. Interestingly, the Nigerian Army has just celebrated her 157 years anniversary of existence as an institution.
The Nigerian Army @157 was also marked as the 2020 Nigerian Army Day Celebration (NADCEL). The NADCEL 2020 theme; Nigeria’s Territorial Defence and Sovereignty: Imperative for Nigeria Army’s Sustained Training and Operations,” again caught my fancy. The theme was lofty, engaging and extremely refreshing for experts in many fields.
I am attached to this year’s theme because it encapsulated the Army’s fixation on the ideals of sustained perfection and excellence which the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen TY Buratai has brought to bear . And more pointedly, its constant eagle eyes on excelling on its constitutional roles of securing Nigeria and her peoples.
Days after, echoes of NADCEL 2020 under the incumbent Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and Punchman of the counter-insurgency operations in Nigeria, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai are still pulsating with the tenor of fanfare of fabulous achievements, generosity, innovations and unbridled affection for humanity.
Dynamism, we always say, characterizes the world and its humongous, multi-layered institutions. So, the Nigerian Army under its progressive leadership is also enmeshed in a surfeit of enduring changes and improvements for better service delivery in consonance with its core constitutional mandate.
Therefore, as an army that has produced some of the world’s best, it is simply understandable that some milestones must have been documented in so many areas over the decades. But I know the Nigerian Army as persistently striving to see tomorrow as better than yesterday. Therefore, the current era showers the Army with torrents of unbeatable innovations and improvements.
Despite the Army’s diverse formations, departments and units, each one of them has had a taste of Gen. Buratai’s charismatic leadership. A brainly leader by all gradations, his reforms and innovations within the short period of his administration has elevated the Army to unimaginable heights of professional perfection. We cannot say, the Nigerian Army has attained it completely, but astonishing progress has been recorded unparalleled .
A significant and sensitive area in the institution of the Nigerian Army which has suffered desertion and absolute neglect for decades, but Gen. Buratai’s purposeful leadership has initiated and brought to limelight is the crucial issue of observance of human rights. The Army leadership under Gen. Buratai has impinged on the psyche of both its personnel and those the Army seeks to protect within their operational jurisdiction, the essence of upholding the tenets of human rights
As an independent researcher , with near 2 decades studies, I am privileged to closely monitor security events in the country. I can boldly rate the Army under Gen. Buratai as having tremendously improved on its human rights records.
The COAS’ first attention in this area was the initiative of creating the Human Rights Desk at the Army Headquarters’ (AHQs) Abuja. The same has been duplicated in all the major Divisions of the Nigerian Army throughout Nigeria so as to bring access to justice closer to Nigerians. We know every institution has in sufficient quantum, its share of bad eggs.
So, Gen. Buratai has envisaged that once in a while, some soldiers on national service or special assignments could breach professional etiquette or Rules of Engagement (ROE) by violating or abusing the human rights of civilians. My experience in the past was that the Army permanently positioned itself to protect soldiers accused of human rights abuses. But Buratai has put a stop to it. His riot act sounds; “breach the rules and face the consequence.”
The COAS’s establishment of the Human Rights Desk is a practical and novel step designed consciously to improve Military/Civil relations, by allowing civilians who feel their human rights have been abused or unlawfully bruised by soldiers to lodge their complaints to the Army authorities through the Human Rights Desk.
And a personal investigation and observations have confirmed the operationality of the Army’s Human Rights Desk. It has functional phone numbers and officers permanently manning the desks 24 hours per day to receive complaints. Why I even doff my cap for Gen. Buratai the more is the reality that he has broken the jinx or public perception of Army Barracks as impenetrable fortresses for aggrieved civilians.
Now, any civilian who alleges any wrongdoing on him by soldiers freely walks into any Army formation the accused soldier is domiciled to serve him court summons. The Army authorities releases the accused soldier to appear in civilian courts with his lawyers to defend the charges levelled against him. I can confirm that this was impossible in the past and admissibly, a great innovation in recognizing the dignity and fundamental rights of Nigerians.
And more to it, Gen. Buratai does not shield soldiers found complicit of human rights abuses of civilians anywhere. Whether the allegations are specific or general nature, he subjects the suspected soldiers to the lawful disciplinary action and if found guilty, the prescribed punishment is applied.
The Army Chief handles reports of alleged human rights abuses by soldiers with expediency. I still recollect the speed with which the Army boss constituted a Special Military Board of Inquiry to probe allegations of human rights abuses by soldiers operating in the Northeast, as publicized by Amnesty International (AI) in order to ascertain the veracity of the claims.
It turned out that the Military Panel absolved all the accused soldiers over the allegations bandied in public domain by AI. This was later confirmed by confirmed by an independent Presidential Probe Panel constituted by President Muhammadu Buhari over the same matter, following the failure of AI to substantiate the motley of allegations against the Army.
The Nigerian Army under Buratai has court marshalled and punished soldiers from the North to the South who have been accused of maltreating or visiting violence on civilians on the streets of Nigeria severally and punished the culprits accordingly. The Army Chief has truly earned my respect as a patriotic leader who stands for truth whether his primary constituency is involved. Nigerians can attest to this experience at different times.
I can still remember that during the Army’s Operation Python Dance 2 in the South East, armed civilian criminals of the IPOB ilk provoked soldiers on patrol in some parts of Abia state. They pelted soldiers with stones and hurled other dangerous weapons at them.
The action was provocative enough for the soldiers I know their temperament to have triggered violent reaction by opening fire at the aggressors. But none of such happened, because of the discipline of respect for the human rights of Nigerians inculcated in soldiers under Gen. Buratai’s leadership.
And refreshingly too, Gen. Buratai has also revisited the denial of the fundamental human rights or gender disparity against Female Army personnel entrenched in the Nigerian Army for decades. The Nigerian Army had placed a restriction on the commissioning of female officers and their promotion into some special corps. They suffered this gender discrimination, a clear blight on their career and a violation of their fundamental human rights.
However, Gen. Buratai has exited the draconian embargo and female officers are now enjoying same privileges with their male counterparts in the Army. Buratai worked it out and reflective first, in his novel formation of the Special Nigerian Army Female Corps.
The specially trained Army Female Corps are also deployed to the Northeast, where they are fighting Boko Haram/ ISWAP terrorists with their male colleagues. I foresee and predictably, the possibility of a day in future, when a female Nigerian Army officer who merits it would be appointed Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff. It is one of the legacies Gen. Buratai would be remembered as an officer who climbed to the pinnacle of his career as the Army attains the age of 157 years.
In a nutshell, the Nigerian Army has done quite very commendably, especially under the leadership of Gen. Buratai , when we make reference to its adherence to human rights prescriptions. It only showcases the Nigerian Army as a worthy institution and it tells us plainly the extent the Army has indeed, come of age in the NextLevel Agenda of President Buhari.
*Agbese is a civil rights activist and author and contributed this piece from Abuja.