Amnesty International Versus the Nigerian Military
For the umpteenth time, Amnesty International and the Nigerian military are crossing words in very antagonistic terms. Is this a case of a failure to engage with each other or something more than meets the eye?
War is such a horrible reality that its prevalence up to this moment in human history tends to repudiate all claims to civilisation. Terrible things happen when human beings go to war. It has been such that the world has kept refining efforts at humanising war, an effort that has recorded successes but many failures too, leaving so much work still left to be done. In the post Cold War, one set of players that found its way into the realm of humanising violence or global security, in short, has been International Non – Governmental Organisations, (INGOs). Though unarmed actors except if one over privilege the paradox of the National Rifle Association in the United States being a registered NGO at the United Nations, NGOs have been so successful in their collective intervention in global security, what with the most dramatic two of such: the ban on land mines and the coming into being of the International Criminal Court. Some of these have been accomplished to the chagrin of even great powers. Students of global governance who quickly went to work came to the broad conclusion that their power is not in the force of arms but the management of meaning. In other words, with argumentation, they have earned the moral authority to poke nose to the professional homeland of admirals, air marshals and theatre commanders, any and everywhere in the world.
So, Amnesty International, (AI), for instance, would not accept it as intrusion or poking of nose into a local matter when it reports on how well or how badly the Nigerian military is carrying on in its counter-insurgency operations around Nigeria. In the aftermath of the Cold War, the armed forces, national intelligence agencies and homeland outfits have been on the hot seat over how they conduct wars. Books, academic essays and popular campaigns against actions perceived as inhuman treatment of victims of war have dominated the space. Even embedded journalists have revolted against the military in certain cases. The American and British militaries have had to be investigated by their national parliaments over Iraq. This trend has been complicated by what one might call the ‘INGO turn’ in the politics of global security, with particular reference to the degree to which there has been invasion of the ‘privacy’ of security agencies in relation to the management of wars.
When, therefore, the Nigerian military issues dead serious counters to reports and claims of human rights violations by AI, it tends to suggest an unusual situation in which the two players could not go together in a field in which they are all licensed, so to say. What might be going on? Is this anything bordering on an AI hidden agenda in Nigeria? Or, could this have to do with inability of the Nigerian military to appreciate the ‘INGO turn’ in that realm? Or, is it just the failure to engage on the part of the two?
Some people might say that there are inherent grounds of conflict between AI and a national army such as the Nigerian military. Ultimately, AI is a British INGO. As such, it could be said to be involved in geopolitics in terms of, consciously or otherwise, contributing to constructing a British cultural view of the world. The temptation for elements in the Nigerian military to see dictation in these reports exist. Second, AI is a product of the neoliberal temperament, a world view beyond the commoner understanding of it as just an economic doctrine. Without imagining the AI establishment as a homogeneous basement, it is safe to argue this point. Not only that many in the Nigerian military would find the neoliberal autonomisation of the individual strange, the professional priority on undoing the enemy, whoever is so defined, is a baggage. Thirdly, the dangers of war, the threats inherent in such a diffuse operation as in the north east counter-insurgency could all have combined to make the military irritable and impatient with judgments that are critical and finger-pointing. A fourth point may have to do with sensitivity to the image of a primitive military that AI’s indictments are capable of painting of the Nigerian armed forces. Nobody likes to be painted in negative colors. Lastly, the temptation for sections of the Nigerian military to say, “So what?, After all, we learnt our counter-insurgency tactics from the British military” may not be dismissed. Conflict may, therefore, be said to be inherent in the relationship of the two.
But peace practitioners have taken the point ever since that it is not conflict per see that is the problem as much as failing to manage it wherever it has occurred. That makes the crucial issue in this relationship to be why the twosome are always quarreling openly in the past few years but rarely seen to be engaging. Is it good for the Nigerian military and even Nigeria itself? Many would say it is not. With a record of consistent participation in international peace keeping historically and the record of bursting ethnic guerrillas in Liberia and Sierra Leone, the Nigerian armed forces and, by implication, Nigeria itself have a name to protect and even to build upon. In the world today, it is not a good practice for a military that needs to consolidate such an image to be engaging an organisation as AI. This piece started by making reference to where international non-governmental organisations such as AI derive their powers. Engaging in open quarrels with it thus tend to be a self-advertisement of lack of capacity to operate on the same wavelength in terms of the deployment of that power resource. Showing such weakness is not good for the military when it can easily use the same power resource to pinpoint plausible gaps in Amnesty’s methodology and even some of its claims. This is more so that even where some of those claims are empirically correct, AI’s appreciation of the context could be overboard.
Second, engaging with Amnesty on a conflictual basis has implications beyond the military because its moral authority is not only global, the key players in that space listen to the organisation. Of course, Nigeria is under obligation to observe international norms and convention to which it has committed itself. If and when there are evident violation of the terms of such norms and conventions, it would not do to say AI is a foreign NGO.
But, in all these, the point is to engage. To engage would require the Nigerian military and AI to close the inter-subjective space and understand their differences. Certainly, the differences cannot be said to be beyond negotiation if there is nothing else beyond what meets the eye about the shouting match. The Nigeria Police would appear to have followed this path and gotten out of AI’s regular clobbering. It did this by integrating the human rights community into its operations where applicable. It is probably much easier for the police to do this because theirs is not a complicated and energy sapping task as fighting an insurgency. Nevertheless, there is still no reason why the military may not do same, perhaps with some modifications. The point is that the world has refused to leave the conduct of war and the search for peace exclusively in the hands of men under arms. International norms and the monitoring of such is one such way. One with this process is an organisation such as AI. In the politics of global security, there is room for both such organisations as AI as well as the Nigerian military. The world cannot be secured without any of them and the world in this sense is not there at the UN Headquarters but in the small corners of the world where human imperfections still lure human beings into the animalism of war.
The challenge in all these is that of internal reconciliation in Nigeria. Make jaw-jawing the article of faith so that war-warring is out of it. And there will be no open quarrels with AIs of this world.