The Nigerian military Tuesday dismissed allegations of human rights violation in its fight against the Boko Haram terrorists in the North Eastern part of the country, describing it as “concoctions of the West to present Nigeria as a nation that cannot handle its own affairs or that can never get it right.”
United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said during her visit to Nigeria last week that issues of human rights violation by Nigerian forces is occurring in the North East.
Calling for transparent investigations into the allegations, Pillay stated: 'Many people I have met with during this visit openly acknowledged human rights violation have been committed by the security forces and that these have served to alienate local communities and created fertile ground for Boko Haram to cultivate new recruits.”
Director of Defence Information, Maj.-Gen. Chris Olukolade, said at a two-day forum on Advancing Freedom of Information Implementation on the African Continent in Abuja, that reports of human rights violation by the Nigerian troops, especially those showing soldiers shooting directly at civilians, may have been doctored.
The forum brought together key stakeholders from the West African sub-region and other parts of Africa to share experiences in implementing their Freedom Of Information laws, identify challenges confronting its effective implementation and find ways of addressing or mitigating them.
Speaking on “Protecting Sensitive National Security Information in the Age of Freedom of Information”, Gen. Olukolade stated that contrary to the allegations, suspected Boko Haram members arrested during operations are still in detention because the military respects human rights.
According to Olukolade, “if we were to be emotional, nobody will be in detention going by the amount of atrocities that Boko Haram has committed. But some of them are in detention and are being fed with public funds. Most of them are better fed than innocent people. This is because we respect human rights.
'Reports by the West of human rights violation are to present us that we cannot get anything right. Our personnel are trained not to violate human rights.”
On media reporting of the Boko Haram campaign and access to information, Gen. Olukolade said that the Nigerian military had given the media enough access.
He explained that according to the Nigerian anti-terrorism law, it is a crime for anyone to have contact with terrorists, yet media reports have indicated that the press is in contact with the terrorists.
'But up till today,' he said, “we have not arrested or prosecuted anyone.”
Noting that the Nigerian Defence headquarters have organised six media visits to the Boko Haram enclave in the North East to give reporters access to first-hand information, Gen. Olukolade regretted media reports of conflicting figures on casualties and “the sensational manner of reporting them”.
He further explained modalities for the release of information, stating that “before giving information, we want to be sure that it is accurate, that it conforms to security, that it doesn’t jeopardize our equipment. We want to be sure you are the right person to handle the information and we want to be sure it doesn’t violate any policy.”