Dr Anthony Ojukwu, SAN, the executive secretary (ES) of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), has urged the Nigerian Army to include human rights education in its training and operations.
Mr Ojukwu made the call at a forum on civil-military human rights in Abuja organised by the NHRC as part of events to mark its human rights week.
He said the Nigerian army should understand that respect for human rights is not antithetical to military objectives but is fundamental to achieving lasting peace and security.
He insisted that allegations of human rights abuses must be investigated promptly, impartially, and transparently, adding that the rule of law must prevail and those responsible for violations must be held accountable.
“It is not just about defending territorial integrity but also about upholding the values of justice, equality, and respect for human rights upon which our nation is built.
“The NHRC, as a custodian of these sacred values, acknowledges the challenges faced by the armed forces and recognises their sacrifices.
“The role of the military in a democratic society is pivotal.
“However, amidst the complexities of modern warfare and internal security operations, the significance of human rights cannot be overstressed.
”Incidents of human rights violations, however isolated, cast a long shadow on the noble service of our military and the trust placed in them by the citizens they are sworn to protect,” he said.
In light of this, Mr Ojukwu urged incorporating comprehensive human rights training into the military curriculum.
Such training, he said, should encompass both the legal aspects and the moral and ethical imperatives of human rights.
”Every soldier needs to understand that respect for human rights is not antithetical to military objectives but is fundamental to achieving lasting peace and security.
”Moreover, establishing clear channels of accountability and transparency within the military structure is crucial.
Mr Ojukwu further said that collaboration between civil society and the military is also vital.
”Civilian oversight mechanisms involving independent human rights bodies and NGOs can provide constructive feedback and oversight.
”Such partnerships can foster trust and understanding between the military and the communities they serve, thus enhancing the effectiveness of their operations.
”The NHRC is committed to working closely with the military to promote and protect human rights,” he promised.
He emphasised that the Commission is ready to provide training, resources, and support to ensure that human rights are respected in all military operations.
In conclusion, he called on everyone to remember that the strength of a nation lies not just in the might of its military but in its unwavering commitment to human rights.
”As we move forward, let us work together to build a military that is not only respected for its strength but also admired for its adherence to human rights.
“Let us pave the way for a future where human rights and security are not competing values but complementary pillars of a stable, prosperous, and just society.
Similarly, Dr Salamatu Suleiman, chairperson of the governing council of the NHRC, said the partnership between the Commission and the military has been instrumental in cultivating a culture of human rights within the military.
She added, however, that the journey towards a more humane and rights-respecting military does not conclude here.
”The landscape of warfare and defence is in a perpetual state of evolution, presenting ever-evolving challenges to human rights.
”Thus, our endeavours to infuse human rights into military operations must evolve in tandem. We urge the Nigerian military to continue expanding their human rights training programmes, ensuring they permeate every facet of military life.
”We also encourage you to fortify mechanisms of accountability within your ranks. Transparency and accountability in addressing human rights violations are paramount to maintaining the trust and respect of the citizens you are entrusted to protect,” she said.
Speaking at the event, Maj. A.A. Goni, a lawyer serving in the Defence Headquarters’ Legal Services department, said military officers should be protected from human rights abuses, too.
“Once civilians see an officer in uniform seeking to enforce their fundamental rights, they immediately reach for their phones and claim the officer is assaulting people,” Mr Goni explained.
He expressed concerns that such accusations often overshadow the facts of the situation.
The challenges of civil-military relations, he said, are not one-sided.
He shared his personal experience of attempting to recover a land purchase through legal means, ultimately proving unsuccessful.
International Human Rights Day, which will be marked on December 10, has the theme ‘Freedom, Equality and Justice for all.’