One More Item For Buhari’s ‘Wish List’ - Tunji Ajibade

First, I will like President Muhammadu Buhari to substitute one of the words he uses in his public address for another. He uses the word “help” whenever he refers to Western powers assisting Nigeria to overcome insurgency in the North-East zone of the country. 

Several times, he had used the word in the same vein before his inauguration. He also did while addressing the press at the end of the meeting of the Lake Chad Basin Development Commission in Abuja days after he returned from the G-7 Summit in Germany. “All of them from President Barack Obama are willing to help us”, he had said, referring to the G-7 member states. For the sake of the pride of this nation, and for the fact that our boys do the fighting while outsiders support, I prefer that the President uses words such as “assist”, “partner”, or “collaborate”. They are better, diplomatically speaking.

Now, to the matter at hand. The other week, the President attended a summit in Germany, organised by the group of seven most industrialised democracies otherwise called the G-7. Canada, France, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Germany were in attendance. Buhari was one of the few African leaders invited. Russia was a member of the club too (making it G-8), but Vladimir Putin was not invited. Everyone knew it was because of the renewed clash between the West and Russia over Ukraine. Interesting comments had been made about the wisdom of not engaging the Russians on that occasion. Some reasons given were factual, others were amusing. One was that Russia was not behaving responsibly on the international stage, annexing the territory of Ukraine as it did. It was also said that Russia didn’t deserve to belong to the club in the first place because it was not a liberal democracy in that strict sense of the word and, in any case, there are other platforms where Russia could sit at the same table with the G-7 members. The accused didn’t fail to respond, of course. It didn’t really need the G-7, Russia had said, and the club wasn’t as important as the G-20 anyway, it had added.

Alright, the point that Russia wasn’t in Germany had been established. But Nigeria was, and it’s worth noting because the nation’s new leader was there for the first time. Diplomatically, it means much. Nigeria can meet these leaders on another platform if it so chooses. But meeting all of them in a remote Bavarian village in Germany saves time, resources and energy. There are other things being at the summit says for Nigeria apart from the “wish list” the President was able to deliver, a thing widely reported in the Nigerian media, but referred to as “shopping list” by the foreign media.

It’s good to dwell a little on this, because it shows part of what’s in the summit for Nigeria. Note that there’s something in it for the organisers, too. A safe haven for terrorists in a part of Nigeria is an incubator for acts of terrorism in western countries. So, in the course of the inauguration ceremony on May 29 in Abuja, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, had urged Buhari to come before the G-7 industrialised nations with a “wish list”. That time, Cameron had sent a message, asking for a list of what Nigeria needed in order to overcome its current challenges. “We are waiting for your own list,” Cameron had said. But there was more that western nations wanted, because that message was a follow-up. Days before he was sworn into office, the then President-elect had been at 10 Downing Street. Then, the British PM had made commitments and they had been about what the British were prepared to do for Nigeria, including the fight against terrorism, power and energy and such matters of common concern as well as what he called “intelligence fusion” to secure Africa from global terror. He had also raised the issue of “free trade” between the European Union and Africa; this was encapsulated in an Agreement which Cameron said enjoyed the support of several countries on the continent, and for which he sought to enlist the support of Nigeria’s new leader. That angle is understandable because after the EU rounded off negotiations with ECOWAS, Nigeria refused to sign, raising objections to some of the provisions.

As for Buhari’s presence in Germany, it had since transpired that he didn’t go with every item on his wish list. In any case, the organisers had other problems apart from Nigeria’s. There was that push by the French and the Germans to get their fellows to reach consensus on climate change ahead of the UN summit in Paris later in the year. There was the other problem of debt-ridden Greece too, raised on this page several times, but which has remained a recurring headache for the industrialised nations. As noted, it has since become clear that all needed items were not on the list Nigeria’s leader supposedly went to Germany with. That was not known at the time because the media had been awash with news of a “wish list” that the President travelled with.

As it turned out, it was the President who made it known that not all requests had been tendered in Germany. This was because days after he returned from the G-7 Summit, and after he had had a meeting with members of the Lake Chad River Basin Development Commission in Abuja, Buhari said he had ordered the nation’s service chiefs to produce a list of the logistics needed by the military to successfully execute the war against the Boko Haram sect, adding that the leaders of the G-7 requested for the list during his recent meeting with them. He added that based on the request, he had informed his colleagues in the Lake Chad River Basin Development Commission to also prepare their countries’ lists for the same purpose. Buhari further pointed out that members of the G-7 were anxious to render assistance especially when the Boko Haram sect declared its loyalty to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. He also explained that the rules of engagement among the troops of the member-states had been clearly spelt out.

That last part is the item this piece is adding to the President’s ‘wish list’ – rules of engagement. It’s the rule that ensures no one engages in extrajudicial killings, no matter the kind of battle involved. Since the battle against terrorists began in the North-East of Nigeria, allegations had been made against the nation’s security forces prosecuting it. I had watched a video showing extra-judicial killing of unarmed civilians in Borno State, and I had been struck by the cold heartlessness with which it was done. Who had carried it out was not in doubt, so there is no argument to be made along that line. Lately, Amnesty International, a human rights watchdog, categorically accused known names in the Nigerian armed forces. This matter will be returned to on another occasion, and it should be noted that the intent here is not to fail to appreciate the work Nigerian men in uniform put into the combat to give the nation its deserved peace. For now, I state that far more than the allegations made about the situation in the North-East, a mentality that makes any person in uniform treat civilians with impunity needs to be curtailed. This is not just about the army, not just the navy or air force, it’s about every Nigerian officer in uniform. No doubt, for any Nigerian who has witnessed brutality being meted out to unarmed civilians by men in uniform, human rights abuse is a matter that must be confronted with all the political will the President can muster.

Raising this point is crucial because as the leaders of G-7 asked for a wish list, they, without saying it, have asked to be included on the list the President’s guarantee that incidence of human rights abuses would not be tolerated under his administration. Unchecked abuses even in the theatre of war were one of the reasons most western nations had been cold about rendering some form of assistance under the immediate past administration. Now that they have shown renewed interest, Buhari should ensure that their hope of a better time on human rights matters is not dashed.