By Samuel Malik, Maiduguri
The Nigeria army has warned troops involved in the fight against terrorism in the North east that it would be firm and swift in dealing with any of its men involved in human rights abuses.
General Officer Commanding, GOC, 7 Division Nigerian Army, Victor Ezugwu, a Brigadier General, gave the warning when he paid a four-day operational visit to troops under his command in the frontline to assess their performance and boost their morale.
He said that soldiers should treat civilians they deal with in the region with respect, reasoning that residents have to have confidence in them to help in the fight against terrorists.
“We have to treat them with respect, as that is the only way to differentiate us from Boko Haram. You cannot afford to make them go through the horrible abuses they suffered in the hands of the terrorists. You must focus on what brought you here, which is the fight against insurgency.
He also admonished the troops to stay away from civilians as much as possible and particularly warned about dire consequences if any of them is caught in any irresponsible acts with women in the locations where they serve.
“Do everything you can to stay away from civilians. If someone is hungry and you have food, share with them. If someone asks you for money and you have, share with them. However, you must not because of the compassion you show take advantage of them. I don’t want to hear that my soldier is involved in anything untoward with a woman,” Ezugwu said.
The Nigerian army has come under sever criticisms following accusations of serious human rights violations, the latest of which is Amnesty International’s report of deaths of babies and children in Giwa detention centre in Maiduguri.
It said that the death in the detention facility, particularly of women and children, were harrowing, adding that it was a place of death.
“The discovery that babies and young children have died in appalling conditions in military detention is both harrowing and horrifying. We have repeatedly sounded the alarm over the high death rate of detainees in Giwa barracks but these findings show that, for both adults and children, it remains a place of death,” Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for Africa, said during the launch of the report titled “If you see it, you will cry” in last month.
With President Muhammadu Buhari repeatedly assuring that his administration would respect human rights abuses, the army, it seems, wants to work hard to redeem its image.
During the four days visit, which saw the GOC visit troops in Bama, Banki Junction, Pulka, Gwoza, Bita, Chibok, Damboa, and Bulabulin in Borno State and Michika, Madagali, Gulak, and Mubi in Adamawa State, he warned that any soldier found to be involved in maltreating civilians not only jeopardises his/her career but also risks going to jail.
In each of the locations visited, the army chief used two on-going cases to remind troops what would befall any culprit. According to him, two soldiers are currently in detention, one for beating a civilian to death and the other for tying an 11 year-old boy’s hands so tight that he had to be amputated due to resulting injury he sustained.
“How could a soldier that has successfully fought Boko Haram and when it was time for him to rest go to town and beat a civilian to death? Another one accused an 11 year-old boy of stealing his money and tied the boy’s hand so hard that blood stopped flowing and leading to injuries, which led to hands being cut off. How can you do that to a child?” he said.
“I can assure you that their careers are over; aside their prosecution and punishment. I’m begging you men to be careful and remember your loved ones back home before doing what bring shame both to them and the army.”