The Executive Secretary National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Chief Tony Ojukwu SAN has inaugurated the Special Independent Investigative Panel on Human Rights Violations in the Counter Insurgency Operators in the North East (SIIP-NORTH) to unearth the truth in the allegations of rights violations against the Nigeria military.
It would be recalled that a foreign media organisation, Reuters had reported that Nigerian military was involved in abortion of many pregnancies in the North East in the last 10 years, added that the military was also involved in infanticide as well as other Sexual and Gender Based Violence(SGBV) while fighting insurgency.
Consequently, the Military, through the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen. Lucky Iabor, refuted the allegations, stated that the report was a ploy to malign the image of the Nigerian Armed Forces which has been at the forefront of the counter insurgency operations in the North East.
In December 2022, General Irabor led a team of top military officers to the Headquarters of the NHRC where he pledged that the military was willing and ready for any probe, particularly as it relates to Reuters’ report.
The Executive Secretary who received the General and his team said the Commission would constitute a panel to probe the allegations.
During the inauguration of the panel Ojukwu said the panel was constituted in line with the powers conferred on the Commission by sections 5 and 6 of the NHRC Act of 1995 (as amended)
The terms of reference of the panel include:
1. Investigate allegations of gross violations of national and international human rights laws/principles alleged against the Nigerian Armed Forces in the three reports by Reuters in line with (Sections 5(a)(b)(j) and 6(1)(a) of the NHRC Act, 2010).
2. Receive memorandum from individuals and organisations with interest in the subject matter of the mandate of the SIIP-North East, especially human rights, security and humanitarian organisations working in the North-East.
3. Make appropriate determinations as to culpability of individuals or institutions as may be deemed necessary in each circumstance. (Section 5(j) of the NHRC Act 2010).
4. Make determination as to the damages or compensation payable in relation to any violation of human rights where it deems this necessary in the circumstances of the case (sec. 6(e) of the NHRC Act, 2010).
5. Refer any matter of human rights violations requiring prosecution to the Attorney General of the Federation or of a State, as the case may be. (Section 5(p) of the NHRC Act, 2010).
6. Make recommendations to government on:
(a) Institutional, Policy and Regulatory measures to be taken to integrate human rights principles and practices into military and counter-insurgency operations.
(b) Propose Remedial steps that may enhance the professional conduct of military personnel in counter-insurgency operations.
(c) Any other related issues that the SIIP-North East may be considered appropriate.
Ojukwu said that the SIIP North-East would operate under the mandate of the National Human Rights Commission and shall enjoy its express and incidental powers under section 6(1) and (2) of the NHRC Act. Membership of this panel has been drawn from major professional backgrounds relating to the allegations contained in the report.
He said- “These includes law and human rights, medicine and psychology, military intelligence and humanitarian affairs”
“The National Human Rights Commission is honoured that these eminent Nigerians have agreed to share their time, talents and wealth of experience with the Commission. We are indeed grateful for your generosity. We want to thank the Nigerian Bar Association and the Nigerian Medical Association whose members are represented in the panel.
“My Lord and distinguished panel members, the allegations contained in the aforementioned reports are grievous and present a major concern to all of us in the human rights field. As I inaugurate this panel today, it is the hope of the Commission and indeed every Nigerian that this panel will work hard with all the human and other resources at your disposal to investigate and unravel the truth behind these allegations and ensure that justice is done in all appropriate cases.
“The Commission has given you the mandate and all necessary incidental powers to achieve the terms of reference and objectives for the establishment of this Panel. We are convinced that we have chosen the right team for this work.
“I want to end this statement by soliciting the full support and cooperation of all stakeholders in the humanitarian efforts in the north east for this Panel to achieve its mandate. These include the state governments, the Nigerian Military, the United Nations System, international and local non-governmental organisations and the traditional and religious institutions. We welcome the pledge by the Chief of Defence Staff that the military institution will cooperate with this investigation and the subsequent deployment of a Military Liaison to the secretariate of the Panel. To protect human rights and ensure accountability for violations is a sacred duty which all of us as the human family have a mission to uphold.”
In his response, the Chairman of the Panel, Honourable Justice Abdu Aboki, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, thanked the NHRC for finding him and other members worthy to serve Nigeria in that capacity.
He said that protecting human rights and ensuring accountability and remedies for violations are cardinal principles of every democracy and civilised society.
According to him, “Our panel is impressed and encouraged by the concern that has been shown by Nigerians and our international partners since the publication of the reports. It is now our job as a panel to investigate all the allegations of gross human rights violations raised in the reports He promised that the panel will discharge its duties and responsibilities in line with the terms of reference”.