By Richard Murphy
As a first, Nigeria is not a banana republic where everything goes. There are laid down rules and regulations. There is a Constitution that also guides our actions and inactions, just like in the majority of the world where there is a democracy.
The piece by Bertrand Perrochet, the director of operations of Medecins sans Frontiers (Doctors without Borders) titled “Is Counter-Terrorism killing Humanitarian action in Nigeria,” portrays a picture of a deliberate attempt by the military authorities to deprive victims of the Boko Haram war in North-East Nigeria access to Medicare.
Could that be true? And if yes, what purpose would it serve? These are some of the questions that ran through my mind when I laid my hands on the article. However, after reading, I was genuinely disappointed that such contradictions and half-truths could emanate from the stable of such an organization that should know better about the great efforts that have gone into humanitarian efforts by the relevant authorities in Nigeria.
I can bet that Bertrand Perrochet was misled by his lieutenants supposedly on the ground in North-East Nigeria. And he acted erroneously too. Or just maybe he is acting out a script, with his French connection. Be that as it may, it is inexcusable for such half-truths to be peddled before the international community. This is my grouse with the write-up.
In counter-terrorism operations, the number one rule is restriction and access only for medical aids as when necessary. But again, such access could be denied when there is a propensity for harm to come the way of humanitarian workers. We are witnesses to instances where humanitarian workers are abducted and in some killed by belligerent members of terrorist groups. Nigeria has had its fair share of it. And this is in line with one of the pillars of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy that stipulates “addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism.
You would agree with me that unhindered access is a conducive condition to the spread of terrorism. Back to Bertrand, the military authorities had denied access to towns outside their control called “Garrison,” and there are many children in those enclaves in dire need of medical attention. As a first, that is not a statement of fact as it was not backed with any empirical evidence. I thought that before such postulations could be made, there ought to be in the least, first-hand information, and not assumptions. They ought to know better that people could see through such propaganda easily.
Secondly, the military authorities would not endanger the lives of humanitarian workers by granting access to areas not safe by all ramifications. Don’t forget that the lives of these humanitarian workers are as well important. For example, it is common knowledge that the remnants of Boko Haram fighters are littered around the fringes of the Lake Chad region. So would it make sense for the military authorities to grant access to Bertrand and his lieutenants? They would be probably be killed or abducted for ransom.
Ironically, this much he alluded to. But he again contradicted himself by stating that “doctors should not be forced to make judgments on who is a good patient or bad patient.” I am not sure there is any such classification in the theatre of operations. Maybe he is talking about rendering medical services to wounded terrorists, who, in his words, do not want to have any form of interaction with humanitarian workers. “We are faced with fragmented armed groups that don’t want to talk to us, have indiscriminately assaulted civilians, attacked health structures, and kidnapped and killed aid workers.”
If this is the case, there is a justification for some of the actions taken by the military authorities to preserve human life because it is only the living that can render humanitarian services.
I am of the candid opinion that Bertrand wanted a situation where his team would go into the trenches and render humanitarian services like Father Christmas. If that is what he is canvassing, I am afraid that is the height of ignorance. And he must also understand that in counter-terrorism operations, and concerning Nigeria, humanitarian services have been one of the foundations on which the counter-terrorism strategy was built.
There are no forms of discrimination, as he claimed. Maybe he is unaware of the various search and rescue operations carried out by the military authorities in the region. And the result has seen to the rescue of hundreds of women and children, mostly malnourished and in dire need of medical attention. These women and children are attended to by military medical personnel and subsequently taken to safety where access to robust medical services can be availed. And this is where Doctors without Borders and other humanitarian organizations come in.
Lest I forget, this is a war situation and not a medical outreach. These are two different things and Bertrand, and his lieutenants must realize that taking back the “steering wheel of the ambulance” is a process and not an event because the ambulance had been hijacked by terrorist groups when they took up arms and killed and maimed unarmed innocent women and children. And that is why the military authorities are bent on reclaiming the hijacked ambulance so that Doctors can reach women and children without hinder.
Counter-terrorism cannot kill humanitarian action in Nigeria even though there have been established cases of international humanitarian organizations, mostly of French origin, providing covet logistic support to Boko Haram terrorists in North-East Nigeria. Bertrand and his lieutenants must understand the true meaning of humanitarianism in the context of a war situation. It is not a cinema where Doctors without Borders would be seen manoeuvring dangerous terrains in return for a standing ovation.
Tremendous successes are being recorded daily, and no amount of blackmail can deter the fighting troops. Like I said earlier, Nigeria is not a banana republic. There are laid down rules and regulations. And this French obsession with Nigeria’s counter-terrorism efforts must stop.
*Murphy is a security expert and wrote this piece from Calabar.