Human Rights Protection Is Priority Under Present Administration – Minister

Yemisi Izuora 

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has said

the protection of human rights is a cardinal objective of the Buhari

Administration, and that the violation of rights is not a government

policy.

Addressing a High-Level Roundtable organized by the Atlantic Council,

an American think tank on international affairs, in Washington, DC, on

Thursday, the Minister said the picture of impunity and complete

disregard for extant laws and international obligations painted by

Amnesty International, in a recent report, is not a true reflection of

the character and ethics of the Government of Nigeria or any of its

agencies.

Since the counter-insurgency war started in 2009, Amnesty

International has issued periodic reports on alleged human rights

violations by the Nigerian military, with the latest of such reports

bordering on violations of human rights and International Humanitarian

Law by the Nigerian Armed Forces and other government agencies.

Alhaji Mohammed told the Roundtable that the government has taken

several measures to address human rights violation in the course of

the counter-insurgency operations, including the establishment of

Human Rights Desks in all military formations, the quarterly Human

Rights/Military Dialogue, Training on Mainstreaming Human Rights into

Counter-Insurgency Operations, and Court Martials of officers indicted

for human rights violations.

”Very soon, the Federal Government will adopt a National Policy on

the Protection of Civilians in conflict situations to further

strengthen and entrench its constitutional practice of Protection of

Civilians,” he said.

The Minister also spoke on the counter-insurgency operations,

insisting that Boko Haram has been badly degraded hence it is

incapable of carrying out organized massive attacks beyond using women

and children to carry out suicide bombings against soft targets.

”Many have queried how we could say Nigeria is winning the battle

against Boko Haram when the insurgents have continued to carry out

deadly attacks. However, to understand this, it is necessary to put

things in context. When President Buhari was being sworn into office

29 May 2015, 24 Local Governments making up a territory three times

the size of Lebanon were firmly in the hands of Boko Haram. They

hoisted their flag, collected taxes, installed their own Emirs and

administered a large swath of territory. That is history now as not an

inch of Nigeria’s territory is being administered or controlled by

Boko Haram.

”Before the advent of this Administration, Boko Haram could carry out

attacks anywhere in the North East and beyond at a time of their own

choosing. They attacked the UN Complex, the police headquarters, motor

parks and a military barrack in the capital city of Abuja. That is now

history.” he said.

Alhaji Mohammed also told the Roundtable that the incessant

farmers-herders clashes were neither religious nor ethnic in nature,

as they have been portrayed in some circles.

”There is no question that this (conflict) is driven mostly by an

increased contest for dwindling natural resources like land and water.

This has been worsened by demographic pressure and climate change.

Nigeria’s population in 1960 was 45 million, and this has ballooned to

about 200 million in 2018, but the available resources have not grown

at all. If anything, they have shrunk.

”As desertification continues to encroach and the Lake Chad that

provided a livelihood for over 35 million in several countries shrank

from 25,000 to 2,500 square kilometers, herders in particular are

forced to move south in search of grazing land and water for their

cattle,” he said

The Minister said beyond the main causative factors, however,

disgruntled politicians and beneficiaries of corruption, who have

vested interest in undermining the Buhari Administration through any

means necessary, have latched on to the conflict.

He cited two instances to buttress his assertion that the

ethno-religious slant given to the clashes constitutes a false

narrative.

”The northern state of Kebbi is predominantly Muslim and Fulani. Yet,

70% of those who are in jail in the state are there over

farmers-herders clashes. Yet, the herders are Muslim and Fulani, and

the farmers are Muslim and Fulani. There can therefore be no

ethno-religious basis for these clashes.

”Also, the northern state of Zamfara is the hotbed of cattle

rustling, which perhaps has claimed more lives than the

farmers-herders clashes in the entire middle belt. Yet, those rustling

cows are Muslim and Fulani, and those whose cows are rustled are

Muslim and Fulani. Therefore, to impugn ethnicity and religion into

these clashes is simplistic at best and downright mischievous at

worst,” Alhaji Mohammed said.

The High-Level Roundtable, which was convened by the Africa Centre of

the 57-year-old think tank, was attended by about 30 current and

former senior US government officials, as well as other stakeholders

in the US Policy on Africa.

The participants included retired Gen. William E. Ward, former

Commander, US Africa Command; former US Ambassador to Nigeria Robin

Sanders; Ms Florizelle Liser, President and CEO, Corporate Council on

Africa; Mr. Thierry Dongala, Senior Advisor, House Foreign Affairs

Committee; Mr. Trevor Keck, Deputy Head of Policy, International

Committee of the Red Cross and Dr. EJ Hogendoorn of the International

Crisis Group’s Africa Programme.

The Nigerian Ambassador to the US, Ambassador Sylvanus Nsofor, led a

team of the Nigerian Embassy officials to the one-day event.

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