Gen. Musa, Man of War And Rights Challenge

Gen. Musa, Man of War And Rights Challenge

By: Emmanuel Onwubiko

Mr. Akin Irede on April 28, 2022, in a piece published in The African report wrote that after over 10 years of battling Islamist terrorists in the northeast, Nigerian Armed Forces are now gaining the upper hand thanks in part to General Chris Musa, the Theatre Commander, ‘Operation Hadin Kai’.

Born Christopher Gwabin Musa in Sokoto State, northwest Nigeria on December 25, 1967, Musa attained primary and secondary education in the conservative Muslim state although he is originally from Zangon Kataf Local Government Area in the Christian South of Kaduna State.

In 1986 he was admitted into the Nigerian Defence Academy in Kaduna State where he underwent intense and rigorous military training for five years during a time the Nigerian military held political power in the country.

In September 1991 he was commissioned into the Nigerian Army as a second lieutenant in the Infantry Corps, one of the most difficult sections of the army as it is not only physically demanding but psychologically draining.
As a young infantry officer, Musa was trained on how to engage and destroy enemy ground forces. After being commissioned, he went on to obtain other degrees and attend several courses at home and abroad.

Some of these courses he attended include: the Young Officers Course Infantry at the Nigerian Army School of Infantry in Jaji, Senior Staff Course at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji.
He also attended the Commanding Officers Course at the Nigerian Army School of Infantry, Jaji.

He holds an Advanced Diploma in Security Management from University of Lagos, Advance Diploma in Defence and Strategic Course (China) – International College of Defence Studies -National Defence University (ICDS-NDU).

With his appointment as the Chief of Staff by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu after the current administration was inaugurated slightly one year ago, the most senior military officer in the present day Nigeria, General Christopher Gwabin Musa, has his job cut out. He is expected by Nigerians to have the greatest respect for the human rights of citizens. He is so lucky that previous service chiefs, particularly Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai had established strong mechanisms for monitoring and promoting human rights of citizens including the military and the civilians alike. The challenge is whether the hierarchy of the armed forces of Nigeria would retain those mechanisms for the promotion, protection and advancement of human rights.

Already, the United Nations Human Rights
Office of the high commissioner had on March 14th 2016 applauded the military for establishing Nigerian military Human Rights Desk.

The UN wrote that the creation of a Human Rights Desk by the Nigerian army, and a review of the forces’ Code of conduct and Rules of Engagement, represent an unprecedented breakthrough.

The UN stated that Nigerian Government has announced the creation of a Human Rights Desk for its national army.

Composed of six legal officers from the Nigerian Bar Association and the legal section of the army, the new body will investigate allegations of human rights abuses perpetrated by national military personnel. The desk will also work to strengthen the army’s capacity to protect human rights and report annually on progress.

This decision comes months after the UN Human Rights Council requested the UN Human Rights Office to send a team to investigate and report on the atrocities committed by the Boko Haram insurgent group. The Council also urged the Nigerian military forces to respect human rights during their counter-terrorism operations and to hold perpetrators accountable for abuses.

Since 2009, at least 15,000 people have died because of the actions of the Boko Haram insurgent group, UN Human Rights Chief Zeid noted at the time. A number of reports have also implicated the Nigerian security forces in allegations of human rights violations in the context of counter-insurgency operations. Boko Haram’s terror campaign continues with its critical impact spilling over on the human rights situation in Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

To help the Nigerian army better respect human rights, the UN Human Rights Office and the UN Country Team have provided a detailed review of the Code of Conduct of its national army and presented recommendations for amendments to make it fully compliant with international human rights and humanitarian standards.

“The adoption of a Code of Conduct and Rules of Engagement implied that mechanisms will be put in place to implement them. The Desk is one such mechanism,” said UN Human Rights Advisor in the UN Country Team in Nigeria, Martin Ejidike. “They could directly impact peoples’ lives by reducing the number of cases of human rights violations and deny impunity for perpetrators within the security forces.”

Last December, Ejidike helped bring together at the same table National Defence officials, UN agencies and the National Human Rights Commission who, during a workshop, analysed with troops real case studies on the ongoing Operation Lafiya Dole in Maiduguri, north-eastern Nigeria.

“Counter insurgency and counter-terrorism operations are usually difficult for conventional forces as insurgents do not observe human rights norms,” Major General Akem pointed out during the workshop in Maiduguri. “But, as professionals, the armed forces are obliged to do so.”

General Rogers, Chief of Civil and Military Affairs, said that the creation of the Human Rights Desk addresses the increasing interest by local and international actors on the human rights issues related to the counter-insurgency operations in Nigeria. The army’s aim is to bridge the gap with civil society on human rights.

The UN Human Rights Adviser will work with the UN Country Team to provide specific expertise to the Desk on issues such as child protection and impunity for rights violations.

That 14 th March 2016, publication was anchored by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. That office produces an extensive range of publications on a variety of topics related to human rights, which provides information of interest to Governments, national institutions, civil society, the general public and the media.

Upon assumption of office as the topmost military General and the Chief of Defence Staff, General Christopher Gwabin Musa did not disappoint some of us in the organised civil Rights community going by his first public statement in which he emphasized the primacy of respect for human rights and the restoration of security, stability in Nigeria as the core mandate assigned to him and the rest of the service chiefs who were jointly sworn in into offices by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

The newly appointed service chiefs did promised to respect human rights while discharging their constitutional mandates even as they promised to rid the country of the insecurity bedevilling it.

The Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Christopher Musa, stated this on behalf of other service chiefs when they visited the Ministry of Defence in Abuja shortly after their constitutionally mandated oaths taking ceremony.

However, Musa said the Armed forces under his watch would go about their duties professionally with respect for human rights.
He urged the citizens to see the Armed forces as theirs.

Musa said, “To the civilians, the Armed forces are for you and we will do whatever it takes to ensure Nigeria thrives.

“We are committed to what we have been tasked to do. While doing this, we are going to respect human rights. We can assure you that we are going to be very professional in our approach.
We assure you all that we are here and we are committed to ensuring that we achieve the mandate of the president.”
Musa also promised himself and the service chiefs would bring about peace that children would be proud of.

He said, “We want Nigeria to be peaceful. We grew up when Nigeria was peaceful and we know what it looks like and we want to ensure that our children will be proud of the country during our time.”

Speaking, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, Ibrahim Kana, said that as part of the efforts to reform the military, the immediate past government approved the establishment of Octagon.

Kana said, “The MOD has developed activities to key into the affairs of the new government, specifically the reform of the armed forces, which the past government approved and we have commenced implementation.

“One of them is the establishment of Octagon; you know, in America, we have the Pentagon. In Nigeria, our leaders that came together chose Octagon, a situation where civilians and military work hand in hand to see to the provision of security to the nation.”

He also said the military would support the Federal Government to ensure the growth of the economy.

Aside the issue of making promises to respect human rights, the Chief of Defence Staff is well aware that it is obligatory that the military adhere strictly to the rules of engagement in all internal security operations.

Specifically, Section 217 (2) (c) of the 1999 Constitution and Section (8) (1) and (3) of the Armed Forces Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, (LFN) 2004 provide code of conduct and rules of engagement for the armed forces in internal security.

For instance, no officer or soldier must be found aiding or abetting any act of arson, vandalism or unprofessional conduct; and troops are duty bound to intervene in any situation to avoid a breakdown in peace, stability or law and order of an area where they are deployed.

Section 217 (2) (c) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides that Nigeria’s armed forces shall suppress insurrection and act in aid of civil authority to restore order when called upon to do so by the President, Commander-in-Chief reinforced by Sect (8) (1) and (3) of the Armed Forces Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, (LFN) 2004, it stressed that this presupposes that troops have to use necessary force to quell crisis resulting in deaths, injury and damages to properties.

Other highlights of the ROE include:

The principle of minimum force and proportionality must be applied at all times; whenever operational situation permits, every reasonable effort shall be made to control the situation through measures short of using force, including personal contact and negotiations; the use of lethal force shall only be resorted to if all other means to control the situation have failed or in case of unexpected attack or suspected Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attack during which a delay could lead to loss of life or serious injury to personnel; and that any force applied must be limited in its intensity and duration; it must also be commensurate with the level of threat posed.
Force shall be used only when absolutely necessary to achieve an immediate aim; the decision to open fire shall be made only on orders and under the control of on-scene commander, unless there is insufficient time to obtain such order. Fire can however be opened if the life of a soldier, any law-abiding member of the public and/or property of which it is our duty to protect is in grave danger; fire must be aimed and controlled. Indiscriminate firing is not permitted.
Fire may be opened to forcefully stop any vehicle that fails to stop at a checkpoint or road block when ordered to stop for search; automatic fire will only be opened as a last resort; avoid collateral damage; after fire has ceased, render medical assistance and record details of incident both in writing and using audio/visual equipment whether or not casualty has been recorded; and whenever in doubt, seek clarification from higher headquarters.

But one year after, a lot of water has passed through the bridge and there have been several instances of gross human rights abuses by the military and it seems the human rights desks in all of the armed forces of Nigeria have gone to bed and are dysfunctional. The chief of defence staff on his own, did the unthinkable by appointing a special adviser on human rights which is very encouraging.

But the roles played by the military in OKUAMA community of Delta State during the internal security operations ordered by the military to fish out those armed non-state actors that shot and killed over one dozen soldiers on peace keeping mission, were characterised by grave human rights violations. The military also arbitrarily closed down the Barnex plaza for ten days after two junior Army officers were beaten during a fisticuffs with traders as a result of business disagreement.

But on the 3rd April 2024 , the Arise News television aired an interview in which we were told that the military are authorised To Make Arrests And Interrogate Civilians, and this was said by Nigeria’s Defence Chief General Christopher Gwabin Musa.

“The army is authorised to make arrests because we have a joint interrogation center,” says Nigeria’s Defence Chief, Christopher Musa.

Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Christopher Gwabin Musa, in an interview with ARISE News, addressed the accusations by the residents of Niger Delta communities including Okuama, that the military is overstepping its authority by investigating civilians, as the constitution and Armed Forces Act mandate police handling of such matters, not the military.

Musa stated that the army is not acting unlawfully or taking matters into its own hands, because it is legally deployed and authorised to make arrests and to interrogate.

“We are happy that the Commander in Chief has given us a mandate to recover the arms to arrest the perpetrators. A lot of comments have been made by different kinds of people, some from lack of understanding.

“When you have a Joint Task Force, Joint Task Force involves members of the armed forces, that is the army, navy airforce, we have the police, the DSS, every other security agency is part of it. So when we have arrests, we have a joint investigation team, it is not like the army is taking laws into their hands. Once we are deployed on operation, we have the right and the mandate to arrest all acts of criminality within that area.

“They were legally deployed and with their mandate, they are authorised to make arrests, they are authorised to interrogate, because we have a joint interrogation center that works together as a team under the Joint Task Force.”

Musa made it clear that criminal actions against security personnel are taken very seriously.

“Let me just appreciate Nigerians and Nigeria for standing by the military. People have commiserated with us for the death of our colleagues. The military is established as the authority of the government to protect Nigeria and to protect Nigerians. That is why we take it very seriously when criminals take laws into their hands against members of the armed forces or any security agency or any citizen of the country.”

Musa said the attack on the soldiers was made because of their efforts to eliminate illegal activities like pipeline vandalisation and oil theft from the area, adding that the soldiers weren’t able to defend themselves from the attackers because they went to the Okuama community unarmed.

“The Okuama attack was premeditated, just because they are a group of criminals, cultists, militants that because they make a lot of money from crude oil theft, believe they are above board. And they did this deliberately.

“Just because the commanding officer and his team were ensuring that any acts of pipeline vandalisation, crude oil theft, illegal refineries were completely eradicated from that region.

“So they were there deployed legally, they were doing a legal operation and it was because the commanding officer felt the threat was not that high, that was why he went there and felt he could discuss with the individual. He did not go armed. If he had gone armed, he would erase everybody in that place, but he felt these were people he knew, these are Nigerians that he could talk to. And when he stepped up to talk to them with his team, they were rounded up and all shot, and not only shot, their body parts were cut, their hearts and private parts were removed.”

The Chief of Defence Staff also said that the military is conducting thorough search operations to recover ots weapons and apprehend those responsible for the attack, urging those who have been declared wanted to submit themselves for investigation.

“It was a measured operation, it was a measured response. We are conducting cordon and search operations to thoroughly search for our weapons and to arrest those that carried out this dastardly act.

“I’m sure you’re watching what’s ongoing in Ukraine-Russia, you’re watching what’s ongoing with Hamas and Israel. We’re not doing that. We’ll try to do things differently this time around.

“The aftermath definitely will be that gradually, when we finish the cordon and search operations, and cordon and search operation means we are searching every nook and cranny within the community, because we know they have a lot of illegal money from crude oil theft, they have bought a lot of weapons.

“During the disarmament exercise that was conducted, a lot of them didn’t hand over all they had. And because it is in the riverine area close to other countries, they have ways that they also bring in weapons. It was because they had weapons they were able to perpetrate this.

“So, it is for us to thoroughly clean this community and ensure that no weapons, no explosives, nothing is left there, and that none of them is hiding.

“I’m happy with the traditional ruler that submitted himself, which is the best thing. I wish all those other ones that were in the pictures will also equally do the same.

“We are not animals. We are not barbaric… If they had not touched our armed forces, nobody would have been there. We have lived peacefully with them, we have encouraged them, we conduct civil military relationships. If you go to most of the communities, we provide amenities for them, just to show them that we are not an occupational army, we are the Nigerian Armed Forces. And we are here for Nigeria to ensure that Nigeria is peaceful.”

The truth is that, we agree with General Christopher Gwabin Musa that the military operatives are not barbaric but the military needs to inculcate the culture of respect for human rights which is non-existent as I write. The human rights desks in the Army, the Navy and the Air force are moribund. The ordinary soldiers still thinks that he is above the law.

This gentleman who is the Chief of Defence Staff has the challenge of ensuring that his operatives operate within the ambit of the law and the Grund NORM of Nigeria. This is a legacy he has to deliver to the nation during his tour of duty as the most significant General in today’s Nigerian military.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.

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