Civil rights advocacy group, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), has petitioned the office of Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai, over serious allegations of sexual molestation of girls in Aba, Abia State, and the alleged use of brute force on civilians.
The rights advocacy group reminded the Army Chief of his solemn pledge to respect the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental freedoms of the citizens, while asking him to act swiftly to investigate these allegations.
It lamented that the atrocious criminal acts of some of the operatives on internal security operations are tarnishing “his hard earned good image as a no-nonsense officer who wields the big stick to deal with acts of professional misconduct and indiscipline since the last five years.”
HURIWA said: “We have just deliberated for three hours and as a body, we have decided to send to the Chief of Army a strong worded petition to draw his attention to the cases and reports of gross human rights violations by soldiers posted to Aba in Abia State on internal security operations under the Operation Crocodile Smile.
“We got reports from our members in Aba, Abia state of serious violations of the fundamental dignity of the human persons against many girls by soldiers manning checkpoints just as we have received reports of sexual harassment of girls by soldiers in Aba, Abia state.
“These actions, if verified, are direct violations of the Constitution because chapter 4 of the Nigerian Constitution contains the entire body of fundamental human rights including right to the dignity of the human person, right to freedom from torture, right to life and freedom of movement.
“These persistent reports of sexual attacks against younger persons of the female gender must be thoroughly investigated and the soldiers responsible for such heinous crimes against humanity should face the internal mechanisms of judicial sanctions within the Nigerian Army as a matter of urgency and this is to assure the international community of the commitments of the Chief of Army Staff that the armed forces will continue to respect and protect human rights during operations, knowing the consequences of its violation.”
HURIWA recalled that the Army Chief has on many occasions informed Nigerians that if there were complaints of human rights violations against personnel, such complaints were investigated and where necessary, those involved were either court martial or charge to court just as the rights group said the decision of the group to personally write the Army Chief was because of the need for the operatives of the Nigerian Army to be compelled by their superiors not to continue to engage in professional misconduct and indiscipline that graphically paints Nigeria before the international community as a nation without rules and regulations.
The rights group therefore called on the hierarchy of the Nigerian Army to allow civil society groups to monitor the internal military operations of the Nigerian Army in Oyigbo in Rivers state to ascertain the true state of affairs there following spiralling accusations that soldiers are engaging in ethnic profiling of Igbo residents and systematically carrying out pogroms following the recent killing of some soldiers by suspected members of the Indigenous peoples of Biafra (IPOB).
HURIWA also condemned the public statements of Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State which the group said violates all known laws against hate speech by playing up the erroneous impression that IPOB is purely Igbo or that IPOB speaks and work for the over 60 million Igbo ethnic nationals.
HURIWA warned the Rivers State government to respect the Constitution by arresting and bringing citizens accused of committing any crime no matter how grievous before the courts of law rather than play up ethnic sentiments and hate speech targeting and castigating Igbo speaking people of Nigeria.
“It is the hate speech by Governor Wike that has created an atmosphere of mutual suspicion against the Nigerian Army and this is why there are allegations of ethnic profiling against Igbo by the Nigerian Army on the prompting of the Rivers State Governor who has not managed the crises as much as a statesman should.
“The Rivers State Governor needs to be tolerant of all other ethnic groups not indigenous to his state but who are legitimately engaged in meaningful business.
“The Rivers State Governor has poured petrol into the fire literally which is why there are fears and General atmosphere of panic that soldiers are killing young Igbo youth.”
On the petition to the Army, the rights group said: “We have also written our petition to the office of Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai to let him take action to ensure that the rules of engagement are followed by the operatives of the Nigerian Army in Oyigbo in Rivers State.
“The Nigerian Army should quickly let the world know exactly what the situation is because it is totally unacceptable that independent civil society stakeholders are not being allowed to observe the enforcement of the internal military operations in that restive part of Rivers state to make sure that there is no case of extrajudicial killings of civilians or even persons suspected of any crime since section 36(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999 as amended which is the Grund Norm of the Country provides for fair hearing for suspects accused of any sort of crime.
“We expect that the Chief of Army Staff who has done a lot to set up a department of civil military relations and a human rights desk will do whatever he can not to tolerate the application of extrajudicial executions of Nigerians by operatives of the Nigerian Army.” (BigPen)