Foremost civil rights advocacy group, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), has urged the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Ibrahim Attahiru, “to stop the indiscriminate use of firearms by his officers and men in parts of Imo State which have resulted in the killing of scores of civilians” which the rights group said constitute “crimes against humanity and gross violations of the Constitutional rights of freedoms of the citizens.”
HURIWA “particularly condemns the conversion of the government House gate in Owerri into a killing field by armed soldiers who have in the last 48 hours killed scores of innocent bystanders and a bus driver,” according to a statement issued on Wednesday in Abuja signed by the National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, and National Media Affairs Director, Miss Zainab Yusuf.
The rights group said it “will officially be writing to the Chief of Army Staff to demand redress for these heinous and intolerable crimes of extra-legal executions of citizens and to serve him a notice that he could be dragged before the International Criminal Court in The Hague Netherlands should he fail to get his operatives and officers to operate in accordance with the laws of Nigeria and in line with the Rules of Engagement in all internal military operations and in compliance with the best global practices.”
HURIWA cited the killing by soldiers in Owerri of Miss Divine Nwaneri, a 24-year-old student of the Imo State University (IMSU), Department of Soil Science and Biotechnology, who died after she was hit by a stray bullet allegedly fired by military personnel, on Sunday, April 25, 2021. The rights group said not even war time should soldiers be seen using fellow human beings for games as if they are in a hunting expedition just as the rights advocacy organisation said even in war time the military ought to respect the Vienna Declaration and avoid all acts of extra-legal executions.
HURIWA also condemned “the killing by soldiers of a bus driver who was reportedly conveying pigs and drove through the Government’s House road in Owerri unaware of the blockade imposed arbitrarily by the Nigerian Army banning all traffics on that hitherto busy road and this innocent bus driver was simply killed just for driving through a government road constructed from taxpayers money and apparently killed by soldiers maintained at the expense of the Nigerian taxpayers.” HURIWA described this as “atrocious, unwarranted, and primitive.”
It also condemned the alleged burning of houses of traditional rulers in Benue State during a military raid, warning that “arbitrariness and such illegality has no place in the military of the 21st century just as it wonders if the Nigerian army is being returned to the state of nature whereby might is right.”
HURIWA said that “the current hierarchy of the Army needs to effectively get interested in expanding the frontiers of dialogues between civilians and soldiers because that is how to get the citizens to fully appreciate the sacrifices of the men and women in uniforms.”
It restated that “the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 is the grundnorm or supreme law that voids any other law that is inconsistent with it to the extent of the inconsistency even as the Rights group tells the Chief of Army staff that the roles of the military does not include arbitrary and unlawful application of firearms against civilians but that legally in Sections 217-220, the Constitution provide for the establishment, roles, command and operational use of the armed forces and related matters.”
HIRIWA then proceeded to recall the specific roles of the military as follows: “For the avoidance of semantic doubts, sections 217(1) and (2) provides as follows:
“(1) There shall be an armed forces for the Federation which shall consist of an Army, a Navy, an Air Force and such other branches of the armed forces of the Federation as may be established by an Act of the National Assembly. (2) The Federation shall, subject to an Act of the National Assembly made in that behalf, equip and maintain the armed forces as may be considered adequate and effective for the purpose of (a) Defending Nigeria from external aggression; (b) Maintaining its territorial integrity and securing its borders from violation on land, sea or air; (c) Suppressing insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so by the President, subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly; and (d) Performing such other functions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.”
HURIWA also quoted from a plethora of expert opinions to inform the Army Chief that soldiers are not above the law because it says that the doctrine of compact means that they can be charged both in military judicial forum and criminal justice system because as was further explained by Justice Willes in Dawkins v. Lord Rokeby, who opined thus “But with respect to persons who enter into the military state, who take His Majesty’s pay, and who consent to act under his commission, although they do not cease to be citizens in respect of responsibility yet they do by a compact which is intelligible and which requires only the statement of it to the consideration of any one of common sense, become subject to military rule and discipline.”