On October 20, 2020, armed men of the Nigerian Army opened fire on peaceful and unarmed #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki Tollgate in Lagos, Nigeria, resulting in a disputed number of deaths.
Recently retired Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai when questioned, said the Nigerian Army abided by the rules of engagement on the night of the massacre after previously denying the army’s involvement despite multiple eyewitness accounts.
According to data from World Population Review, Nigeria is ranked the 16th most dangerous country to live in with a peace index of 2.898.
The average Nigerian lives in fear of violent crimes by insurgents, kidnappers, armed robbers and the military.
From reported day to day harassment to unlawful detention, to the massacre of peaceful protesters, the basic human rights of Nigerians are subject to threat under the barrel of the gun of the Nigerian Army.
Appointed July 2015, Buratai’s tenure has been trailed by the arbitrary killing of civilians, a lack of regard for the legally mandated rules of engagement and zero tolerance for freedom of speech – a fundamental right as provided in the constitution.
Bullying and Sexual Exploitation Of Civilians
The Nigerian Army on September 14, 2017, reacted to an online video showing armed military officers humiliating civilians believed to be supporters of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu at a checkpoint in Abia State.
In March 2019, the spokesperson for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Festus Okoye, accused soldiers of intimidation and unlawful arrest of election officials during the governorship elections in Rivers State. The Nigerian Army under the leadership of now-retired Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai immediately announced the creation of a committee to investigate those allegations within two weeks. The report was never published.
Reports also showed that men of the Nigerian army sexually exploited and abused women and girls in state-run IDP camps, informal camps, and local communities in and around Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, and across the Northeast.
In April 2019, Air Force officer was convicted and sentenced for sexual exploitation of a 14-year-old girl in Bakassi IDP camp, Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.
While Boko Haram insurgents continued their deadly campaign, the nation’s military was able to hide its own horrendous crimes against humanity.
On October 3, 2019, the military released 25 children held as Boko Haram suspects from Giwa barracks in Borno state. This came after the Human Rights Watch asked the Nigerian government to sign and put into effect a United Nations handover protocol to ensure the swift transfer of children apprehended by the military after discovering children were held in degrading and inhuman conditions in Giwa barracks.
According to reports by the UN, 1,900 children were detained in 2017 and 418 children were detained in 2018 for theirs or their parents’ alleged association with Boko Haram. The Human Rights Watch added that they were till date unaware of how many children were still detained by the military.
Silencing The Media
On October 17, 2020, acting director of Army public relations, Sagir Musa, announced the 2020 edition of the Crocodile Smile Exercise scheduled to commence from Tuesday, October 20 to Thursday, December 31. The cyber warfare exercise was designed to identify, track and counter negative propaganda on social media.
On October 20, 2020, the announced date for the commencement of Operation Crocodile Smile, armed men of the Nigerian Army arrived at the Lekki Tollgate in Lagos, Nigeria and opened fire on peaceful and unarmed #EndSARS protesters, resulting in a disputed number of deaths.
Recently retired Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai when questioned on the Lekki Tollgate Massacre, insisted that the Nigerian Army maintained professionalism and abided by the rules of engagement on the night of October 20, 2020.
In January 2019, armed soldiers raided offices of Daily Trust Newspapers, temporarily detaining staff for allegedly publishing classified military information.
In a report dated July 10, 2019, Premium Times wrote about the unlawful attack and detention of 36 Nigerian journalists between January and July, with 30 of the attacks recorded during the 2019 general elections.
It should be reiterated that the primary duties of the Nigerian Armed Forces are to follow the constitution, defend the country from external aggression, protect the country’s borders and by so doing, protect the lives of the Nigerian people.
It is, however, surprising that some officers of the Nigerian Army under the leadership of Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai have used their position of power to hone their harassment skills. Or how else can one explain the above inhuman treatment of said offenders by the Nigerian Army?