WE find the war of nerves between the Federal Government and the Nigerian Army on the one hand, and the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF and global human rights group, Amnesty International, AI, on the other, very troubling and unnecessary.
On Thursday, December 14, 2018, the Army announced the “suspension” of the activities of UNICEF from our embattled North East region, alleging that the United Nations humanitarian agency was engaged in “acts inimical to the security” of the nation. However, a few hours after, the Army reversed itself, citing the intervention of “concerned Nigerians”.
UNICEF is a surprising newcomer in the battle of wits between the Nigerian government and international groups monitoring the security and humanitarian situations in the country. The government’s (and in particular the Army’s) disagreements with Amnesty International predate the Buhari regime. Amnesty had published several reports of alleged human rights abuses against captured Boko Haram fighters between 2013 and 2015, which the then opposition capitalised upon in the push for the electoral defeat of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Ironically, with the former opposition now in power, Amnesty’s allegations of human rights abuses by the military have, again, pitched it against the government and the Army. Amnesty had published reports of “horrific killings” of 350 Shiite Muslims in Kaduna and 150 Biafra agitators in Aba by the Army; and the massacres of over 3,600 innocent civilians by armed herdsmen in 26 states, especially the Middle Belt zone, since 2015. In its latest report, Amnesty pointedly accused elements in the Army and the Federal Government of “shielding” people involved in these killings and failing to ensure that justice is served against them.
In return, the Federal Government, the Army and the Buhari Media Organisation rose in unison against Amnesty, accusing it of doing a hatchet job, seeking to dampen the morale of our soldiers and plotting to destabilise the country.
While we commend Amnesty International for its efforts to expose the alleged excesses of our forces in dealing with unarmed protesters such as the Shiites and IPOB (while queerly portraying the herdsmen attacks as “herders/farmers clashes”), we vehemently disagree with its undue interference in our efforts to tackle the Boko Haram terrorists seeking to divide our country.
Amnesty must rededicate itself to the human rights and safety of law-abiding Nigerians from terrorists and errant military and government officials alike. It must also support our anti-terror war and desist from distracting our troops. The move to suspend UNICEF is simply unconscionable and unacceptable.
The Federal Government should open its door of dialogue to these concerned global groups and forge positive relationships that will be beneficial to the higher interests of our country. Seeking to oust them from Nigeria will send the wrong signals. We call for a constructive engagement.