The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has urged relevant stakeholders to provide needed support to the Special Independent Investigative Panel on Human Rights Violations in the Counter Insurgency Operations in the North East, to enable it to determine the veracity or otherwise of Reuters’ report of human rights infractions against the military.
The international news agency, had in 2022 published a three-part report alleging abortion of 10,000 pregnancies, infanticide and other forms of Sexual and Gender Based Violence against the Nigeria military.
The Executive Secretary of the Commission, Chief Tony Ojukwu who made this call during his opening statement at the Stakeholders briefing on the activities of the panel noted that the investigative panel and the commission needed the support of all relevant stakeholders at all levels including national and international.
“All arms of the UN Systems, International NGOS, Civil society Organizations, and interest groups such as Nigerian Bar Associations, FIDA, NMA and others are needed to enable this panel to record huge success in its investigation and fact finding. And we are calling on all the stakeholders to avail the panel of this much needed support”, Ojukwu said.
According to the Chief Human Rights Officer of Nigeria, the inquiry into the alleged human rights violations was critical despite denial by the Nigerian military which has openly submitted to an independent investigation of the report amidst increasing concerns raised by the international community.
Ojukwu said that the gravity of the allegation necessitated the NHRC to established and inaugurated the panel in line with her mandate under the Commission’s Act, 1995(As amended).
“We can all recall that the Commission had previously setup various investigative panels such as the panel of enquiry on the Apo killings, the Baga killings, the first and second independent investigative panels on human rights violations by SARS and other arms of the Nigeria Police Force, the Special Investigative panel on SGBV, Investigative panel on oil spillage in the Niger Delta, just to mention a few”, he stated..
These panels, the NHRC Boss said, executed their mandate without bias by carrying out investigations into all the allegations that were brought before them.
“They came up with their findings and made recommendations which were forwarded to the Federal Government on various punishments to be meted out on those violators who were found culpable, recommendations for compensation from the Government and in some cases paid compensations Suo motto to victims who had legitimate cases. This panel will not be any different from that”, he stated.
In his speech at the occasion, the Chairman of the Panel, Justice Abdu Aboki (rtd) said the consultation will afford the panel an opportunity to brief stakeholders on the progress of the investigation so far as well as the challenges the panel has experienced while embarking on this important fact-finding mission.
According to the former Justice of the Supreme Court this consultation is also an occasion to give a progress report on the investigation to our partners in the media, who are no doubt very eager to get to the bottom of the allegations made by Reuters.
The eminent Jurist said the panel would need the support and cooperation of the stakeholders gathered, “Especially those of you who have been extensively involved in humanitarian efforts in the North-East part of Nigeria”.
“It is well known that the success or otherwise of similar fact-finding undertakings in other parts of the World are hugely determinant on the co-operation received by relevant stakeholders, parties and partners. It is our sincere hope that your attendance at this briefing is evidence of your desire to support the important work of this panel”, he added.
Thereafter, the Secretary of the Panel, Mr Hilary Ogbonna in his “general briefing note”, listed the various military formations and Borno state government institutions already visited by the panel, which include 7 Division of the Nigeria Army Hospital, Maimalari Barracks, Medical Centres of the Joint Investigation Centre (JIC), Giwa Barracks, State Specialist Hospital and Umaru Shehu Hospital.
Besides, he mentioned some of the challenges of the panel which included finance, need for extensive investigations, operational logistics, security situation and travel restrictions, availability of military witnesses considering the length and coverage of Reuters’ report, access to direct victims and non-cooperation by some international agencies etc.
On the next step, he revealed that there will be holding public hearing in Yobe and Adamawa states, and continuation of public hearing in Maiduguri for field offices of UN Agencies and International organisations and visits to civilian camps among others.