The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), has continued its unrelenting fight for the protection of civilians in armed conflicts through a legal framework, which the group is now urging President Muhammadu Buhari to sign in order to ensure the Protection of Civilians (PoC).
CISLAC for months has been expressing concern over the growing worrisome trend of what has become acceptable collateral damage in the escalating deaths of civilians during armed conflicts. These worries are understandable following the realistic cold statistics confronting interested parties monitoring conflicts in Nigeria.
According to the Programme Manager, Defence and of Security, CISLAC, Mr. Salaudeen Hashim, some of the Nigerian realities are: “Civilian lives lost to various armed conflicts in the past decade are over 500,000 and cannot be ignored by the media. Over three million people are displaced due to armed conflicts, while over 10 million people depend entirely on humanitarian aid to survive.
At least two million people live in areas controlled by armed opposition groups (AoGs), sexual exploitation and abuse. Civilians’ Joint Task Forces (CJTFs), Amotekun, Ebube Agwu and Hisbah now boast over 100,000 members with spiralling civilian abuses.
If the government put the PoC policy in place, it will become the first country in Africa to do so, and we think it is something fundamental that the country should write its name on the epitaph of good governance.”
Hashim explained that the notion of acceptable collateral damage, seriously needed to be reconsidered, added: “As is evident from several cases, significant harm to civilians occurs not only through wilful intent or what can be considered violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL).
Adherence to the letter, as well as the spirit of IHL needs to become the norm, resulting in resolute efforts to mitigate civilian harm to the greatest extent possible, thus we want the President to sign the bill for the Protection of Civilians (PoC).” He made these startling revelations at a recent roundtable meeting organised by CISLAC, with support from Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).
The meeting was to further highlight the importance of the government assenting to the law that will see to the protection of civilians during armed conflicts, with the state and non-state actors adhering to this law at conflict scenes and time. The meeting was also to rouse the media from its complacent attitude in report ing issues surrounding armed conflicts to becoming investigative reporters, unearthing the hidden nuances and dangerous effects of conflicts in the lives of the masses and how civilians had become the acceptable collateral damage.
Hashim said: “Rolling out tanks everywhere does not solve anything. Instead it takes away food and sources of livelihood. We are burning farms in the name of fighting insecurity and bandits are also burning farms.
We need a soft approach. Why is it easy to get voters’ cards to particular villages, but not security personnel? Communication infrastructure is the biggest way to tackle insecurity. Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) should look for ways to partner with security forces.”
He said that conflicts and insecurity were enabled by small arms in circulation. He also argued that porous borders and corruption at different borders in Nigeria are some factors fuelling insecurity. He said that the old narratives should be changed, stressing: “We need media reports to help our leaders to make informed decisions.
We need to do a lot of civil engagements. Since 2015, we’ve taken $1 billion for insecurity. When we talk about securing civilians, we must also talk about the welfare of the security personnel.” Hashim pointed out that security forces should take minimal care during armed conflicts so as not to harm or cause civilians harm.
He criticized the kneejerk approach of the government in times of emergencies, whereby they quickly deploy security forces without proper briefing of soldiers being drafted to the conflict or warfronts.
“To plan an operation security forces need to know and understand the environment. They should endeavour to use someone in the community for informa-tion, and also, oversight agencies have poor knowledge of what they are overseeing. Knowledge gaps continue to make insecurity linger. If security agents are trained, they’ll know how to use discretionary powers,” said Hashim.
The Executive Director of CISLAC, Mr. Auwal Musa Ibrahim (Rafsanjani), opined that the escalating incidents of violence in Nigeria had become alarming and thereby unacceptable. He revealed that present statistics and reports showed that Nigeria has overtaken Afghanistan and Somalia in terms of kidnapping and banditry. He wondered why the government seemed to have jettisoned its primary purpose of governance and protection of Nigerians.
Ibrahim noted that documented killings and other issues of insecurity reflected the state of insecurity in the country. He stated that these killings mean that the pledge of Buhari to combat insecurity about five years ago before being elected into office as President had become a mere campaign promise. He therefore called on the Federal Government to wake up to its responsibility by providing security and safety of Nigerians.
Ibrahim said: “This is why we call for, as a matter of urgency, for the adoption of the Protection of Civilians and Civilians Harm Mitigation policy into law.” Hashim explained that the media should report by raising awareness about the reality and potential for civilian harm during military and security operations and also create awareness about the existing civilian harm mitigation procedures and processes.
He maintained: “There should also be reports on awareness about good practice in civilian harm mitigation practices across the world and the tracking and re-porting on both civilian harm incidents and civilian harm mitigation responses.
The media should highlight how corruption undermines Protection of Civilian by counting the social and human costs. Higher priority to transparency, accountability and open governance issues. Promoting voices seeking the eradication of urban and rural poverty and creating forums and platforms for discussion of alternative development issues. Journalists must take more interest in in-depth reporting, analysis of the urgency to promote Protection of Civilian and Civilian Harm Mitigation in Armed Conflict.
They must always have the people at the centre of their coverage. They must stick to issues, follow up and evaluate performances. They must report, write features and do sector focused journalism, collaborate with other stakeholders.” Hashim fretted that the absence of policy or legal framework could result in lack of clear basis for assessing government response to PoC and Civilian vulnerability reduction.
“Also, it can result in the absence of a document that is internationally acceptable to sell protection of civilian potentials of the country to increase social, economic and development assistance within and outside. May further results in absence of a documentary that gives development partners opportunity for determining entry points to help while it retains ownership of the document.”
Hashim said civilians continued to be harmed in conflicts and become collateral damage because protection of Civilian and Civilian Harm Mitigation was vague in Nigerian laws.
He stated: “The culture of human security is sacrosanct and must prevail. The art of command and the science of control to overcome the challenges of a complex or uncertain operational environment require a cutting-edge approach, defeating the enemy, preserving the force, and protecting civilians.”
He urged journalists to join hands in fighting to ensure that the legal framework was signed by doing regular editorials on the urgency to have a PoC-CHM regime in place at all levels. He also explained that all actors, including the President, have an essential role to play as the Commander-in-Chief, especially in his body language and strategic directions.
He added: “Nigeria loses hundreds of lives to the conflict in the North East, North West, South East and South South. The deficit of 0.3 million lives in the past year with a loss of an average of USD 20 million paid in various ransoms. Nigeria becomes the first country in Africa, if it goes ahead with the legislation. Civilian Harm Risk Impact Assessment is urgently required to prioritize areas of risk. Protection is not just from physical harm, it also covers all components such as livelihood and healthcare.”