By Helen Johnson
Nigeria has been down the rough road in the past ten years; It has seen the worst of conflicts, especially in the North-eastern region. Insecurity has been a significant dare to the Nigerian government in recent times. The actions and activities of the Islamic sect known as Boko Haram has led to enormous loss of lives and properties in the country. Some of these activities include intimidation, bombings, suicide attacks, sporadic shooting of unarmed, blameless and innocent Nigerian citizens, burning of police stations and churches, kidnapping, raping of school girls and women. Nigeria has also been, in recent times, included amongst the terrorist countries of the world. This is worrisome.
The activities of Boko Haram and other armed groups such as Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Niger Delta Avengers have greatly affected the economy and the people and this is of great concern to the government of Nigeria as well as the international community. I will say holistically, that the efforts of the Nigerian government so far have been quite commendable. However, more is still required, even from the international community and other such agencies like the International Criminal Court.
To get the import or the gravity of the situation at hand, it would suffice to highlight some of the facts on the atrocities of the armed groups in Nigeria and how they have led to the death of innocent people. According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), with about one million people displaced9 from their homes, Nigeria has the third highest number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), in the world, coming behind war-torn Syria and Iraq. He quoted the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) Global Overview of 2014, which said that “Boko Haram’s ruthless campaign to establish an independent Islamic state in North-eastern Nigeria also drove new significant displacements.”
The report said, “Never in 9the last ten years of IDMC’s global reporting, from the peak of the Darfur crisis in 2004, have we reported such a high estimate for the number of people newly displaced in a year. Today, there are almost twice as many IDPs as there are refugees worldwide.”
In my opinion, the time to act is now. The relevant international agencies should come to the rescue of Nigeria. Top amongst these organizations is the International Criminal Court (ICC). And you might want to ask what the ICC is. The ICC is an independent judicial institution with the mandate to investigate and prosecute the most serious crimes under international law – genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes – when national jurisdictions are unable or unwilling to do so. As a permanent court of last resort, the ICC plays a crucial role to end impunity for the perpetrators of these atrocious crimes, ensure justice to victims and contribute to the prevention of such crimes.
The ICC was created by a multilateral treaty, the Rome Statute, in 1998. Today, the Rome Statute has 124 States Parties, including 8 Member State of the Pacific Islands Forum. Nigeria deposited its instrument of ratification of the Rome Statute on 27 September 2001. The ICC may, therefore, exercise its jurisdiction over Rome Statute crimes committed on the territory of Nigeria or by its nationals, from 1 July 2002 onwards.
As a flashback, sometime in 2013, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Monday reported that, there was a reason to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed in Nigeria by Boko Haram. A report issued by the office of ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda identified the atrocities committed by the group as murder and persecution. It found that the group had, since July 2009, “launched widespread and systematic attacks that have resulted in the killing of more than 1,200 Christians and Muslim civilians in different locations throughout Nigeria.”
The scale and intensity of the attacks have increased over time, according to the report I had, based on preliminary information through December 2012. And true to it, the casualties of the deadly attacks increased until the advent of the current administration.
The threats posed by armed groups in Nigeria are undermining the existence of Nigeria as one political territory. It needs to be sufficiently stated, that Boko Haram and other militant groups in Nigeria have maimed and destroyed. They have committed mass murder; they have infringed on people’s right to a peaceful life and destroyed their human rights in every possible manner. The United Nations along with other international rights groups have demonstrated that the respect for human rights and protection of civilians is the most important thing for any country. The United Nations also now, wonders why organizations like the International Criminal Court (ICC) have kept mum.
It is instructive to state that the ICC needs to consider the petitions of agencies and organizations against the act of Boko Haram, IPOB, and IMN along with ascertaining the number of civilians affected by the military intervention. As stated earlier, they have been known to mete out indiscriminate torture and have carried out horrifying executions. Boko Haram is enlisting young men and women into its violent doctrines at very high speed. Behavioral scientists have found out that instead of delivering justice, revenge often creates only a cycle of retaliation, in part because one person’s moral balance rarely aligns with that of another.
According to a report published by one of Nigeria’s popular news medium, TheCable, it stated that a total number of 4,780 people got killed in 2015 alone. The number of casualties is depressing. Other news mediums in Nigeria have also questioned the lack of support for Nigeria in ending terrorism in Nigeria. We are all aware of the external support these that groups have received and are still receiving. The pertinent question is who are the people/countries supplying these arms and ammunitions, including military hardware. They are not faceless – they are not ghosts, they are human beings and organizations and nations.
As simple as it sounds, if Nigeria is unsettled, sub-Saharan Africa will remain unstable. If acts of terrorism are not abated, we might be dealing with a more significant problem in the future, humanitarian crisis that the world might not be able to handle.
What are my suggestions?
Acts of genocide should be treated as one. And perpetrators brought to book. The Rwandan genocide of 1994 is still fresh in our minds. The time for the ICC to act is now. The sponsors of these heinous crimes must be made to face the law for their atrocities. The case of Nigeria is peculiar because of its heterogeneous composition.
The ICC cannot feign ignorance on these crimes. Boko Haram insurgency has taken its toll on Nigeria as a nation. The effect was much; there is a high number of victims, mostly civilians. Some were killed, others displaced, while women and children were raped and forced to marry against their will. There was also the wanton destruction of property and pillage. There is no doubt that with all these atrocities committed by Boko Haram, the only thing that can justify resort to force by an armed group as rightly pointed out, is the legitimacy of their goals, the decency of their means and their ability to respect IHL of which I can unequivocally state are lacking in the case of Boko Haram and other armed groups in Nigeria and their sponsors. History is waiting to judge us. It’s high time the ICC began to take a different approach to sanction criminal elements, who take humanity for granted.
Johnson is a human rights lawyer working across Africa to achieve peace for humanity.