THE UNITED STATE LEAHY LAW: THE NIGERIAN ARMY IS “GUILTY AS CHARGED”
The American “Leahy Law” is so named after its owner, Patrick Joseph Leahy, the 75 years old fortieth-year Senator representing Vermont in the United State’s senate. He has been in the US Senate since 1975 and he sponsored the bill that materialized into the Act restraining the US government from militarily assisting governments and their military formations found to violate fundamental human rights of people in areas where they operate in the cause of discharging military assignments.
Issues relating to Nigeria’s lost of favour with the US government in benefiting from military-related business relationship, which recently brought the Leahy Law into focus, and about which President Buhari endeavoured to address by suggesting a bias around the US’ refusal to sell military hardwares to Nigeria, to aid the fight against the Boko Haram group; requesting a legislative review to that law to enable Nigeria buy military hardwares from the US government – what a presidential gut? It is interesting how President wanted a review in a US law but desired to keep his country’s laws intact. Hmmm! Oma se ooo!
I dont know how the presidency wish to succeed with getting around President Buhari’s erroneous query of the US law, which saw America “aiding and abetting the onslaught of Boko Haram in Nigeria”. It was certainly a diplomatic somersault for President Buhari.
Nevertheless, it is clearly indicative of who President Buhari is – a man who will always see Nigeria first no matter who is involved. He had an occasion with the UK in his time in 1985 when he crated Umaru Dikko as a British human cargo meant for export to Nigeria. The late Head of State, General Murtala Ramat Mohammed, finding himself in the same shoes as President Buhari did, would have made the same submission; it is all about their brought-up.
Senator PJ Leahy’s response to what he called Buhari’s “misdirected” indictment of the US is a clear call to the Buhari’s administration to reassess its understanding of, and re-engineer, the current mental capacity of our security men to respect human rights in their relationship with the people, particularly the weak and the helpless. Some service men in Nigeria have disoriented and distorted civilian mindsets, robbing the institutions they represent of public trust.
The Nigerian public perceive our uniform men as obstructive, exploitive, deceitful and unfriendly. An ordinary Nigerian would hardly trust a uniform-man as a friend, he sees him always as a potential oppressor. How can community policing work when the police and the people are in an inequitable war?
Mr President’s understanding of the average Nigerian uniform-man’s world view is visibly very faulty, especially following the recent statement by Femi Adesina, Presidential Spokesman, indicating that President Buhari made another sense with his diplomacy-eroding remark.
Two things President Buhari should have known before responding to that US’ law like he did, a law which insists on human rights before conceding to sell military hardwares to Nigeria, are that the military that threw him up as Commander in Chief in January 1984 is different from the one he inherited about two months ago.
So much happened to that military in 30 years, including been overseen at one point by a Commander in Thief.
The second is that in any democracy, especially as it is in the case of the United States, the law is supreme and the rule of law is liturgical. They do not have half measures in their laws as we have in ours: as in whether a glass is half full or half empty – these are semantics, and the US won’t fall for that; this is therefore the very reason for Senator Leahy’s elementary response to Buhari; imperatively asking President Buhari “can’t you see?”
Recently, there was an uproar by some Nigerians, quarrelling with the Amnesty International pictorial report accusing Nigerian soldiers of human rights violations, and before now, some former military high commanders in the Nigerian Army have been fingered in these violations. So typical of Nigerians was that unjustifiable uproar: to them it was all about protecting the sanctity of our sovereignty; as if anyone was intending to buy up Nigeria and her people.
What is wrong with a concerned neighbour, from whom you desire to borrow a shirt, identifying eczema on the skin behind your neck and asking you to treat it before you can have his shirt? Whether we like to accept it or not, any negative fallout in the application of any military collaboration involving the US that will question their morality in policing the democratic world will always be checked. They should err on the side of caution if they must make mistakes: the United States is not Nigeria, Abeg!
The reports from international human right partners with the US found our military guilty of human rights violations in their operation to flush out the Islamic insurgents in North East, Nigeria; and we complained that they did not see well, but our denial did not alter how others view these reports. Now that the chickens are home roasting rather than roosting, our President tried to question the laws of another democratic nation – where did he keep the sanctity of the sovereignty of the United States in his appeal for the review of their law?
So it should be clear how Senator PJ Leahy’s rebuke is a very big pointer to my earlier call on President Muhammadu Buhari to institute reforms for our Police and Civil Defence formations, as published by Naij.com news in May 2015. I called Mr President’s attention to the distorted mental orientation of our regimented outfits and their exploitive rules of engagement; and recommended a census of the junior ranks in our security outfits to check all the “Tom and Jerry” in our security outfits. I can bet how we will find illegal immigrants in our Police. There are stronger communal bonds and brotherhood amongst Muslims than any other grouping the world over, and this must come into focus in our political considerations in Nigeria.
I will not go too far to draw a complimentary picture of the mentality and attitude of an average Nigerian military man in the public. Let me remind us of November 3 2008 in Lagos, how one Miss Uzoma Okere was been and stripped naked by Ratings of the Nigerian Navy; and I say a man who can strip a woman in public can rape her secretly.
On 11 May 2012, some Nigerian Navy Officials beat up and tore the clothes of men of the Ogun State Traffic Compliance and Enforcement outfit for apprehending their convoy which was driving against traffic, the institution that permits this in public can permit murder in secret.
May 18 2014, Mohammed Shuaibu, a staff of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) was beaten to unconsciousness by Air Force men as he was awaiting his colleague at the FAAN car park. His offence was overstaying his welcome at the car park. A trooper who can do this in public can kill in secret.
I can also remember a one time Chief of Air Logistics Command, Air Vice Marshal Nura Imam who called his Airmen “mad dogs” when they manhandled the revered political icon Chief MKO Abiola in his home in 1986.
It was military men who beat up Fela Anikulapo Kuti and his family, threw down his mother to her death from a storey height and burnt down his “Kalakuta Republic”, the property housing his entire family and business concerns, this was in 1977. I can go on and on…and on! I would rather stay back to also recall that nothing was done by the authorities in response to all the human right abuses identified above.
In its true essence, Nigerians are a conquered people before their uniform-men. A Wing Commander, in 1997, told me that the military man sees an average civilian as a coward but would usually stand down for the ones who challenge them openly. Truly so, I realise that a coward exploits another coward more terrifyingly when he discovers the other coward is more cowardly than him.
It is usual to find a military man in civilian clothing behaving un-militarily in public than when he is in his uniform. They are more courteous to people in public when putting on civilian clothes. So there is something about the uniform and gun that makes the Nigerian soldier behave like a terrorist. This is the focus of the Leahy Law.
So if we have a military in which a few men can come out of their barracks on a Saturday morning, at “peace time”, and burn down State government owned buses because of an “okada man” colleague of theirs, who was behaving unruly on Ikorodu road in Lagos and was brushed in a minor accident by one of the buses on 4 July 2014; nothing happened about this. I wonder what this specie of men would do at “war time”, at what point the people are more vulnerable, terrified and willing to give up their rights and power over their own lives and bodies.
It can be recalled that at the time the Jonathan administration sent the Joint Task Force to Borno State, the rascality of the insurgents had escalated tremendously, and the initial assignment of the military was to take prisoners: they had to sieve “who was who” from among the people. At that point even Buhari, at that time, amongst others, accused the Nigerian government and the Army of fighting “against the north”. There were visible human right violations at that time. Violence, intimidation, harassment of civilians constitute the only language understood by our uniform-men.
The aim of the Leahy Law is not to hold down any government from protecting its sovereignty and defending its borders but it places an urgent responsibility on such government to arise in defense of helpless people, uphold human rights, investigate abuses and punish liable culprits of the abuses.
I have identified instances of peace time abuses which complaints were widely established, and except for the one that involved Miss Okere, Admiral Harry Arogundade and four Naval Ratings that was adjudicated upon, with the assistance of the Lagos State government; every other abuse was made inconsequential.
It is also clear how the various reports on human right abuses committed by the Nigerian military, in their prosecution of the Boko Haram insurrection have been swept under the carpet of impunity, unconcern and public distraught, instead of been investigated, prosecuted and those found guilty punished. Nigerians live daily under the constant abuses of uniform-men. President Buhari must hear this, and be active about this. It is far beyond asking Mr President to be proactive. Harassment and public molestation of civilians is a part of the mental psyche of “uniform-men” in Nigeria.
In my opinion, the embargo placed by the United States government on the sell of military hardwares to Nigeria could have been relaxed, in the same way President Buhari asked for its review, if there were cases of previous human right abuses that were investigated, and probably prosecuted. On the least, America wants to see that the rule of law is in practice under our democracy.
It is not enough to make a military formation strong, its reliance by the people depends more on the conduct and candour of its men. Corruption is not only in the misappropriation of funds, it is also in the dysfunctional attitude of men towards public service. In the same way a civil servant is punished for pilfering with public funds, a soldier should be punished for misusing the paraphernalia of his post.
It is upon this submission that I disagree with the position of the late political sage, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe who said “it is only a mad man who would challenge a man in uniform (holding a gun)”. I see his position as the admittance of the continuous failure of governance in regards to taming the “mad dog” nature in the Nigerian military: why would anyone challenge a “man in uniform” if his behaviour in public is well oriented? These were attitudinal matters of military men that should have been addressed from the onset.
More than the fight against financial corruption, it is equally important to fight against “attitudinal corruption”. It was the focus of President Buhari’s 1984 “war against indiscipline” drive. The Leahy Law calls the government in Nigeria to fight all types of corruption: corruption against the law, corruption against the people, corruption against the environment, and so on…anything on human right.
As long as we cannot live in isolation from the comity of nations, we must at all times upgrade our worldview of global issues. It is now clear how been “local champions” in global matters can earn us such Leahy presidential rebuke.
What will it profit us as a country to cover up for the visible faulty mental attitude of our security men; men who only see themselves as wild beast whenever they are in their uniforms and clutching their guns closely to their frames? How long can we continue to live in self-denial? Did we not see how an officer of the Police Mobile Force, in mobile video footage in Lagos, kicked, beat and cocked his gun against an helpless young Nigerian woman he so seriously messed up in mud water?
If this kind happens on a one-on-one encounter, the brutality the military meted on the indigenes of Borno, Adamawa.and Yobe States when endeavouring to sieve out terrorists living amongst the people can only be imagined. A situation which was later abated by the establishment of the “Civilian JTF”, when the military embraced the people in collaborative partnership. So the initial rule of engagement by the military was primarily a show of their lack of strategic knowledge for civil engagement and communication between the soldiers and the people.
If the Buhari administration needs military hardware from American, time is now to investigate ALL human right abuse allegations against the military.
Time is now to teach our military the superiority of the civilian population over the Armed Forces. Time is now to teach soldiers how to queue up when they are in fuel stations, ATM galleria, and await their turns on bank-teller queues. Under no circumstance should a soldier use a whip or his service belts on any Nigerian. It is said that “One bad apple spoil the bunch”, and I know that ten bad apples can spoil ten bunches in the same way…and so on.
It is only when the reformation of the mental attitude and the character of our soldiers towards Nigerians are achieved that will be when I will believe that our soldiers are innocent of the “murder and rape” insinuated against them by previous reports upon which Senator Patrick Joseph Leahy responded to President Muhammed Buhari’s request for the review of the Leahy Law.