As a leader in the organized Civil Rights community with a special interest on ways and means of mainstreaming respect of the fundamental human rights of the citizenry in all internal military operations, I have been naturally inclined to following up on the information that filtered out about a nationwide internal military operation that would be the last of 2019.
The information flow from the army is unmistakably professionally powered. That we must concede to the media management team selected by the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai who himself is unmistakably media savvy. The many years of positive and constructive engagements we have enjoyed with the hierarchy of the Nigerian Army stimulated in me the deeper inclination to find out what the military operations would mean especially because of the groundswell of divergent positions about the previous exercises viz-a-viz the human rights implications.
One of the new trends that was somehow communicated to the public as an integral aspect of the ongoing phase of the holistic internal military operation that would be enforced all over the country was identified as positive identification exercise by Nigerians during the periods of these exercises which as announced would be simultaneously inaugurated to cover the entire nation. This positive identification component as expected and as announced would be intelligence-driven and not meant to undermine the enjoyment of the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the relevant provisions that are found in both chapter 4 and to Some extent chapter 2 which is the fundamental principles of state policy.
However, from the word go, I suspected that it is possible that certain reactionary forces may decide to play up this aspect of the exercise and by doing so create a deeply entrenched negative perception about the real intent, import, essence and significance of that aspect of the larger body of the internal military operations.
As the head of the team from the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) that organized a six-hour-interface and seminar with the organized civil Rights community and media in the South East of Nigeria, the bulk of the questions thrown up at the forum bordered on the poisoned perception already generated and unleashed on the public space concerning that aspect of the military exercise in which certain suspected individuals would be tasked to show that they are not as bad as the intelligence linking them to belonging to any terrorist acts which are in the possession of the Military authority.
My team and I composed of tested and trusted media contents’ analysts got back to our hotel rooms in Owerri, Imo state and spent the better part of the night after that brainstorming sessions with selected leaders of the mass media and the organized civil society community in the South East, to pour through the essential characters, ingredients and essential elements of the information that we got during the day.
Our decision was to recommend to the hierarchy of the Nigerian Army to modify the element of positive identification to bring it in harmony with extant provisions of the fundamental human rights provision which are constitutionally guaranteed given the groundswell of misconceptions. However, it would seem that the negative forces who may be working in connivance with some reactionary elements have successfully marred that component of the internal military exercise with the mistaken identity of a sinister plot to criminalize and demonize all and every Nigerian citizen.
In the context of the above evidence that mischief-makers have successfully poisoned the public perception about the positive identification component of the exercise by the military we then have every reason to also reflect on the issues raised about the internal military exercise with specific reference to the public caution that was issued to journalists to help douse the tensions generated by the misperception and negative perception about military operations which has been made to look like an exercise targeting the wanton violations of the fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution which the citizens are entitled to as of Rights.
For a start, it was reported that the chief of army staff (COAS) Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, had pleaded with journalists to stop portraying the personnel of the Nigerian Army in a bad light. Buratai spoke at a two-day civil-media-military relations summit organized for journalists in the South-east.
The COAS accused print and broadcast media journalists of painting the Nigerian Armed Forces negatively than positively to their audiences. Buratai, who was represented by the Chief Training and Operations Officer, Nigerian Army, Maj. Gen. Eno Obong Udoh, noted that an organization like the Nigerian Army cannot rule out bad eggs among its personnel. The Army chief accused the media of demoralizing the military personnel who he said stake their lives to keep the nation safe. How can you be vilifying the same people that are staking their lives and their troops every day and actually paying the supreme price for you? How can you be vilifying them every day? “Some people will just sit down on television, holding discussions only about the Nigerian Army, thinking that they will win awards for doing so.
“This (summit) is a great and historic occasion that will hopefully create the awareness of what the Nigerian Armed Forces and all the security agencies are doing in this country to curb the mirage of security threats that are facing this nation so that there can be developed in our great nation; so that Nigeria can be as great as it is supposed to be. In 2007-2008, our oil production level was only 700 barrels per day. Who has forgotten that? Today, people are saying: why should the Nigerian Army defend pipeline? Is it because we are not producing? Is it because we are not producing 2.2 million barrels and above per day? Or should we go back to 700 barrels per day?
“The media is the one who is emphasizing on the casualties of the Nigerian Army as against the casualties of Boko Haram insurgents, bandits and so on. You are the one writing and supporting them unwittingly through your publications. By so doing, you demoralize the troops. “The media forget that they should be the one raising the morale of the troops who have put their lives on the line.
The media is the greatest offender and this historic event is not just for Atilogwu Udo; it is to correct the wrong impression or perception that we spread in our media that the Nigerian Army is against the people.” I owe it however to posterity as a stakeholder with a professional working knowledge of what the Laws says on the military in Nigeria in the area of the continuous dialogue on ways and mainstreaming respect for human rights during internal operations, to state that the current Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai is a fine officer imbued with the requisite and vast knowledge of ways and means of administering a law-based internal military operations and there is abundance of empirical evidence to so demonstrate.
The Army Chief had previously authored a guide book on internal military operations specifically directing operatives and officers to abide by extant rules of engagement in internal military operations which are deeply rooted in the sanctity of the Nigerian Constitution and importantly on the NECESSITY OF RESPECTING FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS OF CITIZENS.
Permit me to state that information concerning that aspect of positive identification component of the military exercise could have been better managed and appropriately communicated to stop the tension generated by the initial negative perception so the divisive plots of the negative forces are decisively dealt with and effectively rubbished. The negative perception which generated general mistrust about that aspect of POSITIVE IDENTIFICATION was the errorneous belief that every Nigerian citizen would be required to carry with him or her, a positive means of identification.
To be continued tomorrow
Onwubiko heads Human Rights Writers Association Of Nigeria (HURIWA)