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Baga…Knowing the Truth
« on: April 30, 2013, 12:03:04 PM »
In the wake of Baga, it is essential for the institutions of the Nigerian state to take steps to reassure the victims, the country and the rest of the world, writesChidi Anselm Odinkalu

Reports filtering out from the encounter between alleged insurgents and members of the Armed Forces in and around Baga, in Borno State sometime between 18 and 21 April suggest that an incident of profoundly tragic proportions took place. The identities of the parties involved, what triggered it and how it resulted in the tragic an incident on the scale of the destruction suggested by the reports  remain unclear. Though equally contested, the exact casualty count, whatever it ultimately turns out to be, appears to be clearly intolerable.

Amidst the trade in allegations, counter-allegation, denials and clarifications, it is essential for the institutions of the Nigerian state to take steps to reassure the victims, the country and the rest of the world that the legal instruments and institutions for accountable protection of both the territorial integrity of the country and the lives of those who live in it can and do work.

Baga joins a growing list of communities whose encounters with internal security operations have left mass destruction in their wake. These include Ogoni, Umechem, Odi, Odioma, Amansea near Ezu River, Zaki Biam. The fact that this appears to have become a trend suggests multiple failures that must be addressed systematically. Central to achieving this is the need for independent and detailed investigation of what happened. The victims and their communities have a right to the truth about what happened. The Federal Government which has ultimate responsibility to guarantee the security of all who live in Nigeria, has a self interest to facilitate such independent investigation and verification of the truth.

The Baga incident comes at a particularly sensitive time for the communities affected and for the rest of the country. The Federal Government has just deployed a committee to explore dialogue and reconciliation with respect to the insurgent incidents in parts of northern Nigeria. Another committee established by the Northern Governors’ Forum around the same subject has just submitted its report. Failure to address this incident with fairness and balance could undermine these efforts.

As the initial reports filtered through about the Baga incident in the past week, several influential voices have called for a Judicial Commission of Inquiry to investigate what happened. Nigeria’s Supreme Court decided, however, in 2002, that the Federal Government does not have powers to undertake judicial commissions of inquiry outside the Federal Capital Territory. Incidents like this continue to dramatise the flaws in this decision.

Presently, however, the only powers of investigation which can be deployed to examine this incident independently at the federal level reside in the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the National Assembly respectively. Both institutions have onerous responsibilities in this situation to work with both the Borno and Federal and Governments in unraveling what transpired. In particular, as an independent State institution, the NHRC must act with balance, fairness, confidence, rigour and dispatch on this case. It cannot afford to fail.

For its part, the Federal Government, including the leadership of the Armed Forces, as well as the Borno State Government, should afford full facilitation for an independent investigation of this incident by the National Human Rights Commission. Failure is not an option. Absent a committed independent effort to investigate this situation, Nigeria risks inviting the Prosecutor of the International criminal Court (ICC). Should the ICC decide to get involved, it will be ultimate proof of the failure of our independent institutions of accountability, including the NHRC and the courts as well as our political institutions, to come to the aid of communities and victims like those in Baga.

Since 2010, Nigeria has been under preliminary examination by the Prosecutor of the ICC. This is still ongoing and now in its final phases. In her report and update on the status of preliminary investigations into the situation in Nigeria in November 2012, the Prosecutor of the ICC had this to say: “allegations against Nigerian security forces in the context of their operations against Boko Haram may reflect serious human rights violations, the information available at this stage does not permit a finding of a reasonable basis to believe that such acts were committed pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organizational policy to attack the civilian population. There is also currently no reasonable basis to believe that the confrontations between the security forces and Boko Haram amount to an armed conflict. Again, these initial assessments may be revisited in the light of new facts or evidence”.

To keep the Prosecutor from “revisiting” this assessment, the Federal Government must see the NHRC as a credible partner in helping it understand what happened and in precluding a repeat.

Knowing the truth about what happened is an essential pre-condition for addressing and redressing it but by no means adequate on its own. Much else will be required to complement this. At the core of this, it is necessary to properly govern the deployment of the Armed Forces in internal security operations and address structurally why we have got into a situation in which the Armed Forces are now deployed in internal security operations in nearly all States of the Federation. On the one hand, every responsible government must take optimal steps to guarantee the safety and security of its inhabitants. Sometimes, this may entail the deployment of the army in internal security operations.

It bears recalling that under section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution, “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” Section 217(1)(c) of the same Constitution, defines the functions of the Armed Forces to include “suppressing insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so by the President, but subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.” The President is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

Any deployment of the Armed Forces in internal security operations should be governed by effective rules of engagement on which its troops are trained and should have effective command and control mechanisms. Absent this, the Armed Forces may be exposed to avoidable civil liability as well as damage to its reputation and morale. Additionally, mission stretch in internal deployments could constrain the effectiveness of the Armed Forces in their primary mission of defending the country against external threats and, thereby, do long term damage to its doctrines and professionalism. This is to be avoided.

Beyond these institutional arrangements, more effective border and intelligence administration to interdict the movement of small arms and mobile ordnance into Nigeria is urgently needed. Some of the reports about the Baga tragedy appear to suggest the deployment by the sides involved of heavy ordnance. This also needs to be investigated. The violent overthrow of the Khaddafi regime in Libya de-commissioned considerable hardware and has unleashed a vast supply of both ordnance and mercenaries across the Sahel, feeding large-scale insurgencies across the region. To head off more serious consequences for Nigeria, we will need better co-operation, including surveillance, intelligence sharing and both joint and better border policing with our neighbours, especially around the Lake Chad region.

As we proceed to deal with this tragedy, it is vital to remember the mandate and counsel of the Nigerian Constitution, which requires in Sections 17(2)(b) and (c) that “the sanctity of the human person shall be recognized and human dignity shall be maintained and enhanced”; and  “governmental actions shall be humane.” Tragic as it is, Baga is an opportunity for all concerned institutions within the Nigerian State to show that these constitutional values are not in vain. At the National Human Rights Commission, we will do what we can to be guided by these.

Odinkalu is the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission

Adewale Odubiyi
Owner, Nigeria Oil & Gas Forum

Nigeria Oil & Gas Forum

Baga…Knowing the Truth
« on: April 30, 2013, 12:03:04 PM »


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