The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, says the court has found a reasonable basis to begin investigating members of the Nigerian Security Forces for crimes against humanity, which they allegedly committed in the course of prosecuting the counter-insurgency war in the North-East.
Bensouda said the ICC was probing the Nigerian Armed Forces for conscripting children below the age of 15 into the military and “using them to participate actively in hostilities; persecution on gender and political grounds; and other inhumane acts.”
Bensouda said just like the Boko Haram insurgents, members of the Nigerian Security Forces were facing allegations of war crimes like murder, rape, torture and cruel treatment, are being probed by the ICC.
Apart from these, Bensouda said the ICC was probing members of the Nigerian Security Forces for “enforced disappearance; forcible transfer of population; outrages upon personal dignity; intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such and against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities; unlawful imprisonment.”
This was contained in a press release on Saturday titled, ‘Statement of the Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, on the conclusion of the preliminary examination of the situation in Nigeria’.
The press release quoted Bensouda to have said, “These allegations are also sufficiently grave to warrant investigation by my office, both in quantitative and qualitative terms.”
Explaining that decision of the ICC to launch a full-blown probe, Bensouda said, “Today, I announce the conclusion of the preliminary examination of the situation in Nigeria.
“As I stated last year at the annual Assembly of States Parties, before I end my term as Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, I intend to reach determinations on all files that have been under preliminary examination under my tenure, as far as I am able. In that statement, I also indicated the high likelihood that several preliminary examinations would progress to the investigative stage. Following a thorough process, I can announce today that the statutory criteria for opening an investigation into the situation in Nigeria have been met.”
Bensouda said while her office recognised that the vast majority of criminality within the Nigeria situation was attributable to non-state actors, the ICC also found a reasonable basis to believe that members of the Nigerian Security Forces had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The ICC Prosecutor said she had repeatedly stressed her aspiration for the Nigerian judiciary to address the alleged crimes against humanity, in line with her conviction that the goals of the Rome Statute were best served when states execute their own primary responsibility to ensure accountability.
But she said the reaction of the military was that allegations of crimes against humanity against troops had been looked into and dismissed.
However, she said the ICC had seen some efforts made by the prosecuting authorities in Nigeria to hold members of Boko Haram to account in recent years.
She said, “However, our assessment is that none of these proceedings relate, even indirectly, to the forms of conduct or categories of persons that would likely form the focus of my investigations. And while this does not foreclose the possibility for the authorities to conduct relevant and genuine proceedings, it does mean that, as things stand, the requirements under the Statute are met for my Office to proceed.
“Moving forward, the next step will be to request authorisation from the Judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the Court to open investigations.”
Bensouda vowed that as she prepares to leave office, she would continue to take necessary measures to ensure the integrity of future investigations in relation to the situation in Nigeria.
She said, “As we move towards the next steps concerning the situation in Nigeria, I count on the full support of the Nigerian authorities, as well as of the Assembly of States Parties more generally, on whose support the court ultimately depends. And as we look ahead to future investigations in the independent and impartial exercise of our mandate, I also look forward to a constructive and collaborative exchange with the government of Nigeria to determine how justice may best be served under the shared framework of complementary domestic and international action.”
The Defence headquarters could not be reached for comment on Friday, as calls to the Coordinator, Defence Media Operations, Maj. Gen. John Enenche, rang out.
He had yet to respond to an SMS seeking his reaction to the ICC statement as of the time of filing this report.
Amnesty International hails ICC decision
Global rights group, Amnesty International, described the ICC probe of the Nigerian Armed Forces as a welcome development.
In a statement titled, ‘ICC: Milestone decision paves the way for full investigation into atrocities in Nigeria’, AI’s Director of Research and Advocacy, Netsanet Belay, said, “The ICC must immediately open a full investigation into atrocities committed during the conflict in North-East Nigeria.”
Belay said, “After years of calling on the ICC Prosecutor to open a full investigation, this is the first meaningful step towards justice that we have seen for victims of atrocious crimes committed by all parties to the conflict in North-East Nigeria.
“This is an important milestone, but it must be followed with immediate action to open a full investigation. For the victims of war crimes and potential crimes against humanity to see justice, it’s crucial for the prosecutor to swiftly begin an effective and well-resourced investigation.”
Belay said victims had been waiting for justice for over a decade.
“The Office of the Prosecutor must now move swiftly to seek the judicial authority needed to initiate the full investigation; further delays will only serve to frustrate victims and run the risk of evidence and witness testimony being lost forever,” said Belay.
ICC’s decision sends right signal – A2Justice
Similarly, Nigerian judicial watchdog, Access to Justice, said it was excited about the ICC decision, saying it sent the right signal that there would be consequences for crimes against humanity.
The Director, A2Justice, Joseph Otteh, said,
“Access to Justice is excited about this news; we had been looking forward to this for a very long time now; we had been very concerned that the ICC had not been able to reach that determination sooner. But with the news today, we are very happy. This will send the right signal to those who have been prospering in impunity, those who have been killing people arbitrarily without a feeling that they would be called to account.”
Otteh noted that the ICC had shown that it could step in to seek redress for Nigerians where the Federal Government had failed.
Also, Executive Director, United Global Resolve for Peace, Mr Shalom Olaseni, said the ICC probe would give a robust shape to the search for the truth not only in the North-East but also regarding the alleged killing of #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki tollgate in Lagos.
Describing it as a welcome development, the activist said Nigerians deserve to know the truth.
Olaseni said, “The International Criminal Court’s investigation of the Nigerian Army for human rights violations in its prosecution of the insurgency war against Boko Haram and its handling of the #EndSARS protest is a welcome development.”
Borno governor reveals three terrorists’ hideouts
Meanwhile, the Borno State Governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum, on Friday named three major locations where Boko Haram insurgents were hiding in the state.
Zulum revealed that the locations were the shores of the Lake Chad, Mandara Hills (mountains located along the Nigerian-Cameroon border), and the Sambisa Game Reserve.
The governor spoke during a Channels Television programme titled, ‘Politics Today.’
During the programme monitored by one of our correspondents, Zulum said although peace was gradually returning to many parts of the state, there were still some challenges, including the occupation of three named locations by the insurgents.
The governor also called on the military to “take the war” to the insurgents’ hideouts, while establishing stabilisation mechanisms to get rid of Boko Haram remnants after any aerial bombardment by the Air Force.
He said, “In terms of the military, their number is lean. We need more military personnel in Borno State. They are overwhelmed. For them to defeat the insurgents, the Nigerian Army needs to recruit more into the system because we have 27 local government areas, and then how many soldiers do we have? Honestly, there is a need for the Federal Government to recruit more youths into the army and police to bridge the gap.
“The second thing is the presence of the insurgents on the shores of the Lake Chad, Sambisa Game Reserve and Mandara Hills. They leave these places and come to attack the people and then go back to the hideouts. We want the military to take the war to these three critical areas with a view to eliminating them.
“The military needs to do more because I don’t think they have access to these areas. The only solution for us to defeat the insurgents is to take the war to the shores of the Lake Chad, Mandara Hills and the Sambisa Game Reserve. All they (military) are doing now is a temporary solution. The permanent solution is to ensure the remnants of the insurgents are cleared from these three territories.”
Asked about the current security situation in the state, Zulum said between 2011 and 2015, 22 out of 27 local government areas were completely under the control of the insurgents, adding that about 5,000 classrooms, 800 municipal buildings and 736 energy distribution lines were destroyed.
“We had over 53,000 orphans and 54,000 widows during the period. (But) honestly speaking, we have started witnessing the gradual return of peace to Borno State from 2015 till date.”
He lamented that most of the local government areas were not accessible and that the government wanted to ensure that people have access to their means of livelihood.
Zulum commended the Nigerian Air Force, which he said had been doing “a very great job” in ensuring the elimination of the insurgents with their helicopters and others, adding however that military operations have to be followed by some stabilisation mechanisms to prevent the insurgents from returning to the areas.
…insists mercenaries needed to defeat insurgents
The governor also insisted on his recommendation that the government should engage mercenaries to fight the insurgents.
The governor had while receiving a Federal Government delegation that visited him on November 30 to condole with the people of the state over Boko Haram’s killing of 43 farmers in the Zabarmari area of the state, made six recommendations on how the insurgents could be defeated.
When asked to react to the comment by the Minister of Defence, Bashir Magashi, that the country had what it needed to fight the war, Zulum said, “The recommendations I made are very valid. For anybody who wants to say the right thing, there is a need for us to follow these six recommendations.
“One of such recommendations is for the Nigerian government to look into the possibility of a coalition with its neighbours, especially the Republic of Chad to deplete the insurgents on the shores of the Lake Chad; coalition with the Cameroonians to defeat the insurgents in the Mandara Hills and I think for now we need the mercenaries to clear the Sambisa and defeat the insurgents in Sambisa Game Reserve. This is very important.”
When asked to clarify if the mercenaries he mentioned implied engaging soldiers from neighbouring countries, he said, “No, we have three areas in Borno State where the insurgents are right now living. One of these areas is the shores of Lake Chad. The other one is Mandara Hills and the third one is the Sambisa Game Reserve.
“The Lake Chad shores share boundary with the Republic of Chad; that is why I’m advocating for a collaboration between the Chadian soldiers and the Nigerian army under the auspices of the Multinational Joint Task Force to form a coalition with a bid to defeating the insurgents on the shores of the Lake Chad.
“In the Mandara Hills, we are neighbours with Cameroon and Cameroonians will also partner with the Nigerian Army to clear the insurgents in the Mandra Hills, while the Sambisa Game Reserve is a very large area.”
He said while trying to give kudos to the Nigerian army, there was the need for the country to look into the possibility of ending the insurgency.
Speaking on the calls for the sacking of the service chiefs, Zulum said that remained the prerogative of the President and that his main concern was peace and an end to the insurgency.