Saturday, July 15, 2017 2:47 pm
Brigadier General AT Hamman is the Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army. In this interview with ADEMOLA ADEGBAMIGBE, DEJO ADEBISI, YOMI OSOBA (FEMI IPAYE snapped the shots), he reacts to the allegation of human right abuses against the Army
Q: The allegations of human rights abuse by military men in the course of the various operations launched to counter the various security challenges confronting Nigeria has become like a recurring decimal, especially as we have seen in the various reports of Amnesty International and other human rights group recently. As the Provost Marshall, who is in charge of ensuring that the troops are just and fair in their dealings with their compatriots and bring them to justice if they err, what is your reaction to allegations contained in these reports?
A: On the issue of human rights abuse, I think the Amnesty International is thinking that we are like one of those Armies that have problems in Africa like in the DRC where the regular Army broke into factions and they all have different warlords who are perpetrating all sorts of human rights abuses and atrocities. Maybe that is the impression that they have. But I must state that most of the allegations against the Nigerian Army were always thoroughly investigated, records are there. At times, we confront them, where are your facts? We have ours. You don’t go to the streets, talk to one or two people and they just tell you one or two things without making efforts to confirm them.
Fortunately for us, the present leadership of the Army invited Amnesty International to Army headquarters sometimes last year and I am sure that they were also surprised because one of the greatest allegations was that we summarily executed hundreds of Boko Haram suspects who have escaped sometimes when they attacked the camp here in Maiduguri to free their people in detention. But that particular issue was investigated thoroughly and even some of our people who allowed that to happen were held culpable and were dealt. So, some of these allegations are surprising to us and most of them are really uncalled for. We’re not perfect. We’ve had instances where our troops must have done one or two things but they were thoroughly investigated and those found culpable has to face court martial and all that. So, it is not that we are an Army that goes out there to abuse human rights; rather, we are to protect the rights of citizens of this country.
The fact is that soldiers are getting more in contact with the civil populace with the different operations set up by the Chief of Army Staff in response to the different security challenges facing the country. But is there a process where a civilian can report an abuse by soldiers and get in investigated beyond this issue of discreet video recording?
Since the Chief of Army Staff came in, he has done a lot to ensure that any case of violation of human rights abuse is investigated and he has set up a Human Rights Desk where of course, we have contacts with civilians to facilitate reporting and investigation of cases of human rights abuse by the troops. A call centre has been established with specific number for people to call in to make such reports. Even before then, I can tell you that there was no report- formal and informal that got to him that he never asked us to investigate. May be some people don’t know how to go about the reporting process. But I tell you, even if you send the Chief of Army Staff a text message now that ‘oh, your soldiers did this or are doing this,’ I can tell you that within seconds of receiving it, I will also receive it in my own phone too, with only one word, ‘investigate.’ Even when we had allegations that during the ongoing recruitments in one or two states- Nasarawa, Sokoto- that there were certain malpractices. And I just got a text, saying ‘investigate’ and my people immediately departed for Keffi where they will be going to Sokoto. So, we have different avenues and channels of reporting such abuses. But I think with this call centre when it becomes popular, it will even be easier for the people to report such abuses.
What is the Army doing to make the call centre popular among the people?
I think the Public Relations people and the Directorate of Civil/Military Affairs are actually doing that. Like I told you, it just coming up and people are becoming aware of it. We are also interfacing with the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights Commission so that the populace will know about it. It’s just some simple number -193- on any network. You call in, you make your report from whatever part of the country and immediately you call comes in they pass the information to us and we will dispatch our men to tackle the problem.
What about initiating a process of educating especially the rank and file about the need to respect human rights of civilians, military, civil relations …
Yes, there are actually deliberate efforts to do that. They are being taught a lot of these things even in their various schools. We are beginning to inculcate a lot of human rights studies into the curriculum. We have been having seminars too to ensure that there is proper harmonious relationship between the populace and the military. Like he spoke of the various security challenges and the Chief of Army Staff being responsive, our troops are always out there doing police work and all that. And look at the percentage of the people committing these offences, they are just a very small number and you cannot say because one bad egg has done something, then, it is the entire Nigerian Army that is brutalizing the people.
But I have also seen where even the civilian populace also has tried to do one or two things to the soldiers. We also tried as much as possible to restrict soldiers to the Barracks, except maybe when they are off duty. They go to the same market like the civil populace, so you can’t prevent them from mixing with the larger society. We are all civilians before we joined the Army and we will all go back to being civilians. Now, you have a focused Nigerian Army leadership that is poised to ensure that all these things are actually put in place. I think the present leadership has spent more time in the field to ensure that the right things are done.