Nigeria: ICC Probe – Implications for Military, War Against Insurgency

On November 18, 2010, the International Criminal Court, ICC, Office of the Prosecutor announced a preliminary examination into allegations of war crimes against the Nigerian security forces.

The preliminary examination focused on alleged crimes under international law in the context of armed conflict between Boko Haram and Nigerian security forces, including the crimes against humanity of murder and persecution, and multiple war crimes.

In 2019, the ICC announced that it had expanded the examination to cover the clashes between Nigerian soldiers and members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, a body of Shi’ite Muslims and the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB.The examination also focused on the existence and genuineness of national proceedings in relation to these crimes.

After decades of thorough examination, the court on December 11, 2020, announced that it had decided to close the preliminary examination, on the basis that there is sufficient reason to conclude that both the Nigerian military and Boko Haram have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes.

ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, insisted that the court had found a reasonable basis to begin investigating members of the Nigerian Security Forces for crimes against humanity, which they allegedly committed in the course of prosecuting the counter-insurgency war in the North-East. Bensouda said the ICC was probing the Nigerian Armed Forces for conscripting children below the age of 15 into the military and “using them to participate actively in hostilities; persecution on gender and political grounds; and other inhumane acts.”

The ICC prosecutor further noted that just like the Boko Haram insurgents, members of the Nigerian Security Forces were facing allegations of war crimes like murder, rape, torture and cruel treatment, are being probed by the ICC.

Apart from these, Bensouda said the ICC was probing members of the Nigerian Security Forces for “enforced disappearance; forcible transfer of population; outrages upon personal dignity; intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such and against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities and unlawful imprisonment.” She also said Nigerian government had failed in its obligations to hold those responsible to account.

Army reacts

Expectedly, the Nigeria Army was uncomfortable with the announcement by ICC as it insisted proper procedures had been engaged to resolve all issue of human rights abuses in the course of carrying out the war against insurgency.

Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, in a statement described the probe by the ICC and the call by global rights group, Amnesty International, for ICC to expedite action, as “wicked, unnecessary distractions.”

The statement partly read, “There is no doubt such statement and instigation can distract the Nigerian Army troops with its demoralising effects. It will have negative consequences on troop’s morale, interest in military service by Nigerians and severe setback to all our internal security operations in the country.”

Buratai, however, enjoined the troops to ignore the distractions and called on them not to be demoralised by these moves.

Next Stage

Haven concluded the preliminary examination; the next stage in ICC probe procedure is to commence actual investigation. The ICC Prosecutor now needs to submit a request to ICC judges who will decide whether or not the Prosecutor may proceed with the opening of a formal investigation.

To conduct its investigations, generally, the Office of the Prosecutor, OTP sends missions – usually composed of investigators, cooperation advisers, and if necessary, prosecutors – to concerned countries, collects and examines different forms of evidence, and questions a range of persons, from those being investigated to victims and witnesses. To undertake these activities, the OTP relies on the assistance and cooperation of States Parties, international and regional organisations, as well as civil society.

Once the OTP considers that it has sufficient evidence to prove before the judges that an individual is responsible for a crime in the Court’s jurisdiction, the Office will request the judges to issue a warrant of arrest or a summons to appear.

Lawyers, CSOs react Probe’ll assist in curbing insurgency – Agbakoba, SAN

Former president of Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Olisa Agbakoba says he believes that the ICC probe throw more light into the intractable security faced by the country and also help in tackling the fight against insurgency.

He said, “The probe will help throw light on what has become an intractable security issue seemingly beyond capacity of Nigeria’s security architecture. So to that extent the probe may actually be of benefit to putting down the insurgents.”

Future military engagements’ll be well guided — Odubela SAN

Senior Advocate of Nigeria, John Odubela is of the opinion that the operations and crimes allegedly committed by the military would help in future combat operation.

He said: “I feel that it’s better for the ICC to probe what actually happened and also extend it to other parts of the country so that we can have an independent probe and report without any influence which I believe will also be good for our country to guide us against future occurrences which I believe we may manage such situations better. I am also of the view that the report may also assist our government on the way forward in the country’s fight against insurgency on how to manage the fight without necessarily abusing the citizen’s rights.

“So I believe the investigation may also help in terms of how the atrocities of the Boko Haram and the Herdsmen in the North may also be curbed. The officials of the government may also be required to assist the international body in the course of their investigation.”

ICC’s decision sends right signal — A2Justice

Nigerian judicial watchdog, Access to Justice, said it was excited about the ICC decision, saying it sent the right signal that there would be consequences for crimes against humanity. The Director, A2Justice, Joseph Otteh, said: “Access to Justice is excited about this news; we had been looking forward to this for a very long time now; we had been very concerned that the ICC had not been able to reach that determination sooner. But with the news, we are very happy. This will send the right signal to those who have been prospering in impunity, those who have been killing people arbitrarily without a feeling that they would be called to account.”

Otteh noted that the ICC had shown that it could step in to seek redress for Nigerians where the Federal Government had failed.

Nigeria needs aid to fight insurgency — Asia

Lagos based lawyer Elvis argued that while the ICC probe is a just course, Nigeria’s security need international assistance to defeat Boko Haram insurgent who deployed unconventional methods to destabilize the country.

He said: “Internationally, there are rules and norms of engagement in armed conflicts. Our security forces are bound to observe these rules, otherwise, they will be exposed to probes such as the one the ICC is about to carry out. This has effect on the fight against insurgency particularly when you are dealing with a group like Boko Haram that have no regards for civility and are daily deploying crude tactics against Nigeria.

“We need to invest heavily on intelligence gathering to be able to maintain the balance between international rules of engagement and effectively dealing with a ruthless organization like Boko Haram. Apart from enforcing these rules, the international community should also come to the aid of Nigeria in terms of training and providing the needed support to defeat the group.

Military actions fell below Intl standards — Evans Ufeli

Executive Director, Cadrell Advocacy Centre, Evans Ufeli, said the ICC probe is a welcome development as the actions of the Nigerian security services in the fight against insurgency have been below international standards.

He said: “It is unfortunate that the Nigerian Army is being classed together in the same probe net with the Boko Haram insurgency in the ongoing International criminal Court’s (ICC) investigation. This shows the army has missed it. The events of the past have shown the army in the spotlight for unleashing violence on citizens rather than protecting the nation’s territory from external aggressions.

“The Nigerian military’s actions fell below the standard in international best practice and this may attract sanctions especially because the government of Nigeria has failed to take responsibility for the gory attack carried out by its soldiers against the peaceful Endsars protesters. In the midst of the lack of tact and communication, the government has laboured tirelessly to shut down every media voice reporting the EndSARS campaign and its aftermath with video clips obtained from the live videos procured there from.

Probe ‘ll expose our military weakness — Akingbolu

Activist and lawyer, Kabir Akingbolu believes that the investigation by the ICC will expose the weakness of the Nigerian military forces.

He said: “It is a welcome idea as it will help us to get to the roots of those destructive elements that are sponsoring terrorism and aiding the killings of innocent Nigerians. It will further expose the weaknesses of our security architecture and how unrealistic it is to surmmount the hurdles of insecurities in the country with the present postures of the security agencies which is only a little better than an arm-chair efforts and theoretical permutations that are not put to bear on the fight against the insurgents. A thorough inquest into the modus operandi of our security agencies will spill the bean and reveal to us the extent of human rights violations and who the sponsors are. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.

Vanguard News Nigeria


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