The Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, on Monday dared human rights activists, who had threatened to drag him and other officers and soldiers of the Nigerian Army to the International Criminal Court.
Buratai, who stated this while addressing principal staff officers, general officers commanding and field commanders at a meeting in the NA headquarters, Abuja, said the commanders should not be afraid of the ICC while performing their duties.
He also ordered military commanders and troops to go after looters and hoodlums raiding warehouses and vandalising property across the country, adding that sponsors of #EndSARS protests were out to discredit the Army
There has been outrage over soldiers’ shooting of peaceful protesters on Tuesday last week in Lekki, Lagos, with some of those who condemned the incident threatening to take Buratai to the ICC.
Protests by youths calling for the scrapping of the Special Anti-Robbery of the Nigeria Police turned violent following the shooting in Lekki.
Also, mobs have been looting public and private property besides the burning of police stations and other government buildings.
But on Monday, Buratai did not comment on the allegation that soldiers shot protesters.
He, however, denied that the army masterminded the miscreants involved in the arson, vandalism and looting of public and private property in many cities.
The chief of army staff made it clear to his men that there must be no room for disloyalty amongst all officers and soldiers of the Nigerian Army.
He said the PSOs, GOCs and field commanders must reiterate to all their subordinates that the army was determined to ensure democratic stability in the country as the only panacea for development and progress.
Buratai said, “The recent activities by unscrupulous elements have shown their desire to acquire arms and ammunition at all costs from security personnel. No less than 10 AK-47 rifles have been lost to these miscreants in the past two weeks across the country with attendant loss of lives of personnel.”
According to a statement read by the Army spokesman, Col. Sagir Musa, on behalf of the COAS, Buratai charged the commanders to nip in the bud the trend at all costs.
The statement was titled, ‘Press briefing on the Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen. TY Buratai’s meeting with principal staff officers, general officers commanding and field commanders at the Army headquarters conference room, Abuja on October 26, 2020.’
In the statement, Buratai directed the commanders to warn their troops on internal security or guard duties outside the barracks to be at “maximum alert at all times and to also deal decisively with any attack on their duty locations.
“We will not allow any force, elements or destabilising agents in or outside our country to set our beloved country on fire. We remain resolute in doing everything possible to ensure that subversive elements, detractors and other enemies of this great nation do not achieve their aims and objectives of destabilisation,” he said.
The COAS said that the army was aware from the outset, the plan by the organisers of the protests to discredit the NA.
He stated, “The NA (Nigerian Army) has been aware of the grand design by the sponsors of the protests to draw it into the crisis.
“The plan was to embark on massive propaganda to discredit the military and the government so as to set the people against the NA once it is called out to aid the civil authorities. The NA being aware of the devilish plan was careful not to be dragged in and issued the initial warning through a press release on 14 October 2020 of our resolve to secure and safeguard a united Nigeria.
“Now the detractors alongside their local and international collaborators have mischievously and deliberately misrepresented troops’ efforts to ensure compliance with the curfew imposed by legitimate civil authorities in Lagos and other states.”
He accused unnamed individuals and groups of falsely accusing the army of being responsible for the activities of the miscreants “despite glaring evidence to the contrary.
“They have continually threatened to report the NA to the International Criminal Court and also threatened various forms of sanctions against personnel and their families.
“Thankfully, however, a large percentage of Nigerians and the international community have started seeing through the smokescreen of falsehood and deliberate misrepresentation of facts being orchestrated by enemies of Nigeria and have retracted their earlier false publications,” he added.
Tasking his men on their responsibility, Buratai admonished that none of the PSOs, GOCs, field commanders and other officers and soldiers of the NA should be afraid of the ICC for carrying out their legitimate duties.
He stated, “None of the PSOs, GOCs, field commanders and other officers and soldiers of the NA should be afraid of the ICC for carrying out their legitimate duties as stated in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and other extant laws, rules and regulations of Nigeria.”
According to him, the commanders have every right under the constitution to carry out assigned and legitimate roles of maintaining law and order in aid of civil authorities and other security agencies.
The statement said, “He (COAS) charged them to show the detractors and other elements of destabilization that they are neither part of them nor in any way supportive of their activities at all times. He directed that any act of arson or attempt to kill or maim any military or security personnel and other law-abiding civilians must be responded to quickly and decisively.
“In dealing with any security threat, troops must fully cooperate with personnel of the Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies and must ensure that everyone is in full compliance with imposed curfews and any other extant security instructions in force.”
Speaking shortly before the meeting went into a closed-door session, Buratai dismissed calls on the international community to impose a travel ban on top military officers over alleged violation of human rights of #EndSARS protesters.
He described as criminals those asking foreign governments to impose visa restrictions on him and the military commanders.
He said, “Criminal elements are threatening us with travel ban but we are not worried because we must remain in this country to make it better.
“The first time I travelled outside of this country, I was already 50 years and a general, so I don’t mind if I live the rest of my life here.”
But #EndSARS protesters, human rights groups and lawyers, in separate interviews with The PUNCH berated Buratai for alleging that the protests were organised to discredit the Army.
They also criticised his directive to the commanders that they should not be afraid of the ICC.
A leading member of the #EndSARS movement, Deji Adeyanju, said the COAS had escaped justice, insisting that he would not get away with soldiers’ killing of peaceful protesters at the Lekki tollgate.
He admitted that his group had been leading the campaign for visa restrictions on Buratai and those who undermined democracy in the country.
Adeyanju berated the Army chief over the killing of about 1,000 members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria popularly known as Shi’ites and hundreds of Indigenous People of Biafra members.
He stated, “We have been championing visa ban on him and others who continue to undermine democracy in the country and democratic tenets. How do you justify using bullets on unarmed protesters sitting down, holding the national flag and singing the national anthem?
“This is a chief of army staff who said his loyalty is not to the country but to (President) Buhari. You can imagine the level of disservice this particular COAS has done to the country.
“He will never get away with this one. We are assuring him that no matter how long it takes, he will never get away with this particular one.”
Another #EndSARS protests member, Uche Philip, also vowed that Buratai would not get away with soldiers’ killing of protesters.
On his part, a former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja branch, Mr Adesina Ogunlana, described Buratai’s claim that the protests were organised to discredit the army as baseless.
Ogunlana said, “It shows, with due respect, how myopic, how grossly lacking in understanding, how disconnected those who purport to lead us but are actually misleading themselves and the country are.
“Youths gathered all over to demand a system change, not a government change. Nobody is talking of overthrowing Buhari or chasing the APC (All Progressives Congress) from power. They are only saying this system is a system of brutality and impunity and that SARS is just one of the indices of brutalization.”
Faulting Buratai, a lawyer and rights activist, Mr Kunle Edun, said the protests were a mass agitation against hunger, mismanagement, abuse of power and nepotism.
Edun, who said there was too much of impunity in the country, added that the undue extension of the tenure of the Chief of Army Staff and other service chiefs was also part of the reasons for the protests.
Edun condemned the shooting of peaceful protesters at the Lekki Tollgate in Lagos by soldiers and urged the government to “stop living a lie and self deceit”.
On his part, another lawyer, Mr. Stanley Imhanruor, described the Chief of Army Staff’s claim as an attempt to discredit protests.
Imhanruor, who said Buratai’s statement was unpatriotic, recalled that the #EndSARS protests had long started on social media particularly Twitter, and spontaneously transformed into a physical agitation to make it more effective
The Executive Director Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Auwal Rafsanjani, stated, “If the Army didn’t get involved in the protest with even their threats, no one would have dragged them to this issue but because they were taking over the role of the Nigeria police it is easy for the general public to observe their actions against the peaceful protesters.”
Reacting, the Deputy Director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Kolawole Oluwadare, said, “It’s absolutely important for all security agencies and the military to operate within the parameters of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended) and the country’s international human rights obligations and commitments in carrying out their duties.
“We support Nigerian authorities’ initiatives to restore peace and security across the country but any such initiatives should not be used as a ploy to violate and abuse people’s human rights and freedoms.
“Criminal sanctions must be applied to any security agents or military that violate people’s human rights and freedoms to ensure accountability for any violations and abuses.”
Meanwhile, the Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 And Beyond led by a human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, on Monday said it had identified the barracks of the soldiers who opened fire on protesters at Lekki toll gate in Lagos.
In an interview with ARISE TV on Monday, Falana, who is the Chairman of ASCAB, said the group had been able to trace the barracks where the soldiers came from.
“We have already identified the barracks where the soldiers left for Lekki, we have already identified the barracks,” Falana said.