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Why Buhari must commit to protection of civilians –Musa

Mr. Auwal Ibrahim Musa is the Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC). In this chat with JULIANA FRANCIS, he talks about the importance of the Federal Government institutionalizing a policy that will protect civilians in armed conflicts

Why are you campaigning for the Federal Government’s institutionalsing of a policy that will protect civilians in armed conflicts?

Given the widespread violence and the way conflicts affect innocent Nigerians, especially women, disabled and aged people, you will understand why they need to be protected. There are many instances of how this violence affects civilians. Today, we look to those who have been peacemakers, to learn what we can each do individually to make the world more peaceful, with emphasis on ‘Nigeria.’

Do you think peace is possible in Nigeria?

Peace is possible where adequate protection from harm through deliberate political solution is institutionalised. We would like President Muhammadu Buhari to commit to the protection of civilians. It will be very significant and important that he shows this commitment in action and ensure that all necessary frameworks are put in place and operationalised to protect and save Nigerians from untimely deaths and violence going on in this country. In the North-East, thousands of people have been displaced and killed, while others have lost their means of livelihood as a result of unnecessary violence. These civilians are people that the government should have protected, but for some obvious reasons, the state is not able to provide that adequate safety and protection for the citizens.

At the time when conflicts and violence have monopolised our news, CISLAC and Centre for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) believe protection of civilians and civilian armed mitigation in armed conflict is absolutely necessary in terms of ensuring that we have peaceful coexistence, justice and fairness in our country. We must first seek to understand the real essence of why protection of civilians in armed conflict is fundamental.

Why don’t you tell us why it’s significant?

To be effective, security institutions must be politically accountable to the legitimate authorities of the state, and to the democratically-elected representatives of the people through external oversight. In formulating national security policies and priorities, the protection of civilian and civilian harm mitigation are also very fundamental. Protection of civilians allows for an adequate accountability mechanism that pushes external agencies to regulate the use of discretionary powers, such as whether the use of force is applied in compliance with national and international law. Ensure that the regime that promotes civilians is established. Respect for human rights is an integral part of protection, and you will agree with me that we desire this more than ever before. We also need to advocate for equality and promote human security over regime security. This is indeed at the heart of our draft national policy on the protection of civilians. Again, also ensure that we promote economic and social stability. Protection is not only from the physical harm, it has a rect effect on livelihood and access to social infrastructure, because when communities are destroyed, means of livelihood are also destroyed. Definitely, you have created pandemonium in that community and then civilians cannot be able to withstand and survive; therefore it is necessary we see civilian protection from different perspectives, including hidden psychological destructions, which we have witnessed in many instances. When we are talking about this protection, it is not to just seclude individuals; it’s for all of us.

Why should the government care about protection?

If the government neglects protection today because they are in government, tomorrow, they’ll be out of government and then they will not be able to enjoy the sort of protection they are enjoying today. If political leaders, lawmakers and policymakers in this country understand what we are pushing for, they’ll realise that it’s an attempt to actually save them too because when they have a policy that lives beyond just a particular time period, it is then for everybody. But if they decide because they have a ‘rented protection,’ they do not want to do anything to protect our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and friends, then there is a big challenge. We are hoping that vibrant media will push for this, and will influence political commitment towards national policy on the protection of civilians and civilian harm mitigations in armed conflicts. This national policy is very essential to the advocacy we are pushing, because we are at the level of civil society organisations that cannot do it alone. We need to collectively collaborate to ensure that we advocate for this policy to be imposed, so that all of us can be protected.

Tell us more about this policy…

The policy will ensure that even if there are armed conflicts, civilian harm will be mitigated. But if there is no legal framework in place that seeks to rehabilitate, compensate and to ensure that safety of every Nigerian is guaranteed, even as contained in our constitution, then there is a challenge. This is why we think it is absolutely necessary that the media join hands with civil society groups to demand that our government become more responsive in terms of issues that will protect the lives and safety of every Nigerian. When you look at the various communities in Nigeria today, there is no state in Nigeria that is out of these troubles, if you only understand the various conflicts, violence and the crisis that is going on in our country today, from the north to the south, no state is completely free. Therefore, there is a need to have in place a national robust policy that will respond to civilian protection.

You mentioned regime and human security…

Yes, I said human security is the most serious within the global community now, because nobody is talking about regime protection anymore. Globally, the conversation and debate is about human security, so we need to place emphasis on human security. Regime protection is just one thing, but the larger picture is actually protection of the people. You cannot be ruling when the people are not protected, when there is violence everywhere. I think we need to also emphasise and draw the attention of our leaders to issues of human security. Our belief is that a good protection regime within the security sector is a key enabler for wider progress. Accountability in security and justice provision is related to protection from abuses, the ability for citizens to seek redress and hold providers accountable, and to the responsiveness and accessibility of the provision itself. Accountability helps build the confidence and legitimacy needed to overcome societal mistrust. Let me also use this medium to emphasise that since the implementation of the project, CISLAC has worked closely with various ministries, departments and agencies of government as well as CSOs at state and national level. Defence agencies and media in delivering on the project outcomes. This has led to the formation of various policy shifts.

How is accountability in security related to protection?

Accountability helps to build confidence and legitimacy needed to overcome societal mistrust. Right now, there is too much mistrust. The security agents, communities and people are all not on good terms because there is too much mistrust. Many instances of bombing of innocent people have happened in this country and a lot of communities also suffer these brutal attacks by security agents.

What can be done to engender this trust?

We need to re-emphasise trust and confidence. Before, when there was trouble in the community, people ran to barracks, whether police or army barracks. Now, people no longer feel safe even if they enter those places, which was not so before. Before, if there is a crisis, people run to barracks because they know there will be protection. But now, they are not even able to do that because of this mistrust. It’s very important to deal with the security institutions, which must be accountable to political leadership under a democratically elected regime. Security institutions must submit, so that they can legitimately carry out effective and responsible oversight because the National Assembly, the state Assembly, is empowered by our constitution to have responsive, timely, credible, oversight on all the security institutions to ensure that their operation is going according to the law of the land. They are also to ensure that the spending in the security sector is done judiciously.

Will this policy protect civilians from security agents?

Protection of civilians allows for adequate accountability mechanisms, which pushes external agencies to regulate use of discretionary powers. There will be at least compliance with the national and international laws, so we don’t just use discretionary powers against Nigerians. When Nigerians embark on protest, security forces should not use weapons on them, which they are supposed to use on violent groups. It’s not right! Nigerians have a right to protest peacefully and to agitate. We have the right to demand for justice and accountability. If citizens’ safety cannot be guaranteed, protected or they can’t demand for their right, then there is a challenge. It’s important that our security agents understand that under the law and the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Nigerians have freedom of expression. They have the right to movement and protest. In fact, various courts have given injunctions in favour of Nigerians who choose to protest against corruption, impunity, injustice and human right abuses. Security forces should not use weapons of mass destruction to destroy those who are seeking to redress injustice in Nigeria.

What are the principles of protection of civilian and civilian harm mitigation?

It’s important to stress here that effective protection comes from a holistic balance with issues of governance, accountability and integrity. Protection within the security is key to generating a coherent force with the will to face major security challenges and to being able to deal with breaches of conduct at the point of breach. Focusing on security alone comes at the expense of the accountability that cannot keep up with the new systems and practices. To avoid civilian harm, there is an urgent need to adopt a policy regime that emphasizes trained and equipped measures.

A thorough and joint assessment of capacity and integrity of forces that can help manage any potential harm in any theatre of operation. We know that our security agents, when they go for international peacekeeping, comply with international laws and standards, so why not in our own country? In fact, because Nigeria has been performing very well, Nigerian security agents have been getting awards whenever they go out, but why is it that it is difficult to have that same respect for humanity, protection for civilians when they are carrying out their operations? It’s important that they have a change of mindset towards dealing with civilians, and ensure that during operation they consciously and deliberately ensure that they do not harm civilians, who are not involved in any violent activities in communities.

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