EXCLUSIVE: Army Chief Buratai orders soldiers to treat all Nigerians as Boko Haram suspects
Chief of Army Staff Tukur Buratai has ordered troops involved in counter-insurgency operations in the Northeast to swiftly attune themselves to war mode, Peoples Gazette can report, lamenting a slack in personnel performance that has prolonged the war.
An internal army correspondence seen by the Gazette, titled: “COAS Special Order-01 Change to War Mode,” also directed soldiers deployed in ‘Operation Lafiya Dole — a special anti-terrorism combat squad — to treat all individuals in the troubled region as Boko Haram suspects until properly identified.
“All persons must be treated as suspects unless fully identified and cleared especially in isolated, high threat areas, when on clearance operations and check point duties,” the November 20, 2020, directive said.
“We are not in peacekeeping operations, internal security operations or deterrence actions,” the memo added. “This is real war fighting.”
OPLD theatre commander Farouq Yahaya also conveyed a follow-up from Mr. Buratai to the soldiers, directing them to “quickly identify” and “immediately neutralise” all confirmed terrorist elements.
Rights activist Emeka Umeagbalasi worries that the new methodology deployed by the chief of army staff portends grave consequences for human rights.
“If that directive is implemented, we are going to witness human rights abuses on an industrial scale,” Mr. Umeagbalasi told the Gazette Saturday afternoon.
“The Nigerian Army’s counterinsurgency operations should be done within the confines of international best practices. Superior intelligence and crime detection must be applied considering Boko Haram’s asymmetrical style of operations. Everyone in the Northeast can’t be labeled as terrorists,” he added.
A spokesman for the Nigerian Army did not return a request seeking comments about the human rights implications of the fresh directive.
Military authorities had repeatedly assured since 2015 that the decade-long war against insurgency had been won, and the Nigerian Army was merely executing a mop up operation to extinguish remnants of Boko Haram in the Northeast.
Weighing in on the purported degradation of the terrorist sect, which has killed thousands of citizens and displaced millions from their homes, President Muhammadu Buhari told the BBC in 2015: “I think technically we have won the war (against Boko Haram).
“Boko Haram as an organised fighting force, I assure you, that we have dealt with them,” Mr. Buhari said, while the sect has nonetheless remained a major threat to Nigeria’s national security, having tweaked its strategies and stayed on the offensive.
The insurgents also still control vast swathes of Nigerian territories, prompting the military to initiate a fresh campaign to reclaim the lands last month.
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