Minister says human rights protection vital in Buhari’s administration … FG to adopt policy on protection of civilians in conflict situation

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Minister says human rights protection vital in Buhari’s administration

. FG to adopt policy on protection of civilians in conflict situation

By Joel ThankGod

The ‘High-Level Roundtable’ addressed by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, at the US think-tank Atlantic Council in Washington, DC, US:

 The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has said that protection of human rights is a cardinal objective of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration,  that violation of rights is not a government policy.

The Minister said this while addressing a ‘High-Level Roundtable’ organised by the Atlantic Council, an American think-tank on international affairs, in Washington, DC.

According to him,  “The picture of impunity and complete disregard for extant laws and international obligations painted by Amnesty International, in a recent report, is not true reflection of the character and ethics of Nigerian government, or any of its agencies.”

From left: Nigeria’s Ambassador to US, Sylvanus Nsofor; Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, Dr. Peter Pham, Vice President for Research and Regional Initiatives; Director, Africa Centre, Atlantic Council, at the ‘High-Level Roundtable’ convened by the Council in Washington, DC, US:

He explained,  “Since the counter-insurgency war started in 2009, Amnesty International has issued periodic reports on alleged human rights violations by the Nigerian military, with the latest of such reports bordering on violations of human rights and International Humanitarian Law by the Nigerian Armed Forces and other government agencies”.

Alhaji Mohammed told the participants,  “Government has taken several measures to address human rights violation in the course of counter-insurgency operations.  These include establishment of Human Rights Desks in all military formations,  quarterly Human Rights/Military Dialogue, Training on Mainstreaming Human Rights into Counter-Insurgency Operations and Court Martials of officers indicted for human rights violations”.

He said, ”Very soon, the Federal Government would adopt a National Policy on Protection of Civilians in conflict situations to further strengthen and entrench its constitutional practice of Protection of Civilians.”

The Minister spoke further on counter-insurgency operations, insisting that Boko Haram has been degraded hence it is incapable of carrying out organised massive attacks beyond using women and children to carry out suicide bombings against soft targets.

His words, ”Many have queried how we could say Nigeria is winning the battle against Boko Haram when the insurgents have continued to carry out deadly attacks.   To understand this, it is necessary to put things in context.

“When President Buhari was sworn into office by May 29, 2015, 24 Local Governments making up a territory, three times the size of Lebanon were firmly in the hands of Boko Haram.  They hoisted their flag, collected taxes, installed their own Emirs and administered a large swath of territory. That is history now, as not an inch of Nigeria’s territory is being administered or controlled by Boko Haram.

“Also, before the advent of this Administration, Boko Haram could carry out attacks anywhere in the North East and beyond, at a time of their own choosing. They attacked the UN Complex, the police headquarters, motor parks and a military barrack in the capital city of Abuja. That is now history.

“The incessant farmers-herders clashes are neither religious nor ethnic in nature, as they have been portrayed in some circles.

”There is no question that this (conflict) is driven mostly by an increased contest for dwindling natural resources like land and water. This has been worsened by demographic pressure and climate change.

Nigeria’s population in 1960 was 45 million, and this has ballooned to about 200 million in 2018, but the available resources have not grown at all. If anything, they have shrunk.

”As desertification continues to encroach and the Lake Chad that provided a livelihood for over 35 million in several countries shrank from 25,000 to 2,500 square kilometers, herders in particular are forced to move south in search of grazing land and water for their cattle”.

The Minister went on, “The Northern State of Kebbi is predominantly Muslim and Fulani. Yet, 70 percent of those in jail, in the State, are there over farmers-herders clashes. Yet, the herders are Muslim and Fulani.   The farmers are also Muslim and Fulani. There can therefore be no ethnic-religious basis for these clashes.

”Also, the Northern State of Zamfara is the hot-bed of cattle rustling, which perhaps has claimed more lives than the farmers-herders clashes in the entire middle belt. Yet, those rustling cows are Muslim and Fulani, and those whose cows are rustled are Muslim and Fulani. Therefore, to impugn ethnicity and religion into these clashes is mischievous”.

The ‘High-Level Roundtable’ convened by Africa Centre of the 57-year-old think-tank, was attended by about 30 current and former senior US government officials, as well as other stakeholders in the US Policy on Africa.

The participants included retired Gen. William E. Ward, former Commander, US Africa Command; former US Ambassador to Nigeria, Robin Sanders; Ms Florizelle Liser, President and CEO, Corporate Council on Africa; Mr. Thierry Dongala, Senior Advisor, House Foreign Affairs Committee; Mr. Trevor Keck, Deputy Head of Policy, International Committee of the Red Cross and Dr. EJ Hogendoorn of the International Crisis Group’s Africa Programme.

The Nigerian Ambassador to US, Ambassador Sylvanus Nsofor, led a team of the Nigerian Embassy officials to the one-day event.

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