The unseemly drama of the suspension by the Nigerian Army of the operations of UNICEF in Borno State and their reinstatement within 48 hours speaks to the uncoordinated and reflexive nature of the military’s response to international agencies in the operational area of the Boko Haram fight. The Armed Forces are striking out, in concern and panic, against the possible collaboration of the agencies with enemy forces. In doing so, they have acted in manners that suggest inordinate haste and lack of diligence.
Current concerns focus on the engagement of the Nigerian Army with UNICEF and their running battle with the international NGO Amnesty International over its statements and critique of the human rights record of the Nigerian Army. Then there is overt interference of the Federal Government in dictating to publishers who and what to allow space in their media platforms. Moreover, there are the matters of the squelching of the non-violent IPOB, andthe Muslim sect in Kaduna. Nigeria is increasingly adorning itself in the toga of an intolerant government and one prone to dictatorship.
The Nigerian Army declared a three-month ban on the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund on December 14 alleging that its staff were spies for enemies of the nation. The Army statement asserted that “UNICEF stafftrain and deploy spies who support the insurgents and their sympathisers.” It added that such actions amounted to “unwholesome practices that could further jeopardise the fight against terrorism and insurgency.”
By the very next working day, the Army lifted the ban following a meeting with representatives of UNICEF. The Army spoke through Colonel Onyema Nwachukwu, spokesman of the Operation Lafiya Dole: “Sequel to intervention by well-meaning and concerned Nigerians over the recent suspension of UNICEF operations in the North East theatre of operations, the Theatre Command Operation LAFIYA DOLE convened and held an emergency meeting with representatives of UNICEF this evening.
“During the meeting, the Theatre Command admonished the representatives of the organisation to desist from activities inimical to Nigeria’s national security and capable of undermining the ongoing fight against terrorism and insurgency. The Command also urged UNICEF representatives to ensure they share information with relevant authorities whenever induction or training of new staff is being conducted in the theatre.
“Consequently, after extensive deliberations on the need to seek modalities to work harmoniously with the security agencies in the theatre of operation, the Theatre Command has henceforth lifted the three months suspension earlier imposed on UNICEF activities in North Eastern Nigeria.”
The lifting of the ban left many wondering if the Army did not interact with UNICEF and carry out proper diligence before its slammer. Were they not supposed to be even sensitive to the international relations significance and implications of any action against a UN agency? How strategic was the move in the overall context of the war and managing the challenges of the North East?
In the North East, the Army continued its long-running battle with Amnesty International. The Army wants to force the closure of the Nigerian operations of the human rights watchdog. It claimed Amnesty International seeks to destabilise Nigeria simply because its latest report indicts the Army and the Government for failing to act decisively to stop the herder-farmer clashes. The AI report, Harvest of Death: Three Years of Bloody Clashes Between Farmers and Herders, puts the body count at 3641 deaths. It monitored clashes from 2016 to 2018 and found that 57 per cent of the deaths occurred in 2018.
Popular columnist and blogger, Prof Farooq Kperogi unveiled the secret pressure the Federal Government applies to publishers and editors of public information platforms to prevent any dissenting views of its officials and their performance. Kperogi is based in the United States of America and writes an influential column in Daily Trust. Analysts and the trade regard Daily Trust as the most authoritative platform in Northern Nigeria and one of Nigeria’s best.
Kperogi was one of the fervent supporters of President Muhammadu Buhari in the run-up to the 2015 elections. He became a highly vocal critic because of disappointment with the performance of the government. He reported that the Presidency pressured the management of the newspaper to stop his “Notes from Atlanta” column for consistent criticism of the government. He has run the column for 13 and claims that it was even more critical of former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan. None of those took extra steps to stop his expression of his views.
Kperogi has rightly blown the whistle on the creeping intolerance of dissent and arm-twisting of the media. It is a bad omen that would not do the Government any good. Driving dissent underground has never favoured any government.
Nigerian authorities must eschew intolerance. We are in a democracy. Divergent views are a pillar of democracy. We need collaboration in the matter of the NorthEast. On the performance of government, citizens and journalists must be free to express their opinions within the bounds of the canons of practice. No to intolerance and actions that promote it.