Year 2017 witnessed rights abuse and violent crimes against children. In many parts of the world, children were frontline targets recruited to fight and used as suicide bombers by extremist groups.
In many instances, children were used as human shields by terrorist groups, which often resulted in maiming and killing. In some instances, the children were raped and forced into early marriages.
Nigeria was not an exception. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), on Wednesday, December 27, 2017, declared that 135 children were forced to act as suicide bombers by Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria and neighbouring Cameroon in 2017.
“In North-East Nigeria and Cameroon, Boko Haram has forced at least 135 children to act as suicide bombers, almost five times the number in 2016,” UNICEF’s Communication Specialist, Eva Hind, said in Abuja.
Also, UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Programmes, Manuel Fontaine, lamented that parties involved in conflicts around the world had continuously disregarded international laws, which were set up to specifically protect the most vulnerable in societies.
According to Fontaine, “Children are being targeted and exposed to attacks and brutal violence in their homes, schools and playgrounds. As these attacks continue year after year, we cannot become numb. Such brutality cannot be the new normal.
“In conflicts around the world, children have become frontline targets, used as human shields, killed, maimed and recruited to fight. Rape, forced marriage, abduction and enslavement have become standard tactics in conflicts from Iraq, Syria and Yemen to Nigeria, South Sudan and Myanmar.”
The reality is that children have become vulnerable as they are no longer safe to play in public places. They have become targets of attacks and abuses as a result of increased violence.
According to UNICEF, in 2017, several abuses of children occurred across the world. In Afghanistan, almost 700 children were killed between January and September 2017. In the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, violence has driven 850,000 children from their homes. An estimated 350,000 children have suffered from severe acute malnutrition.
In South Sudan, over 19,000 children have been recruited into armed forces and armed groups. Consequently, over 2,300 children have been killed or injured since the conflict first erupted in December 2013.
No fewer than 1,740 cases of child recruitment were reported in the first 10 months of 2017 in Somalia.
The nearly three years of fighting in Yemen left at least 5,000 children dead or injured while over 11 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.
UNICEF stated that out of 1.8 million children suffering from malnutrition, 385,000 are severely malnourished and at risk of death if not urgently treated.
In Iraq and Syria, children were used as human shields, trapped under siege, targeted by snipers and lived through intense bombardment and violence.
In Myanmar, Rohingya children suffered and witnessed shocking and widespread violence as they were attacked and driven from their homes in Rakhine state; while children in remote border areas of Kachin, Shan and Kayin states continue to suffer the consequences of on-going tensions between the Myanmar Armed Forces and various ethnic armed groups.
In the Central African Republic, the renewed fighting has led to many children being killed, raped, abducted and some recruited by armed groups.
The entire scenario is pathetic. The vulnerable of the society are left without protection.
That 135 Nigerian children were used as suicide bombers in 2017 is worrisome. In most cases, the children were abducted by the terrorists and later used as human bombs. This is against international laws, that the vulnerable of the society should be protected.
The fact that Nigerian children have been repeatedly used as ‘human bombs’ in the last few years is a major concern. No sane government can keep quiet in the face of an appalling increase in the cruel use of children as ‘human bombs’ in North-East.
While the Federal Government intensify efforts to degrade and eliminate the Boko Haram terrorist group in the North-East, efforts should be intensified to secure the children in insurgency affected areas and particularly those in the internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp.
Parents must also take more than passing interest in their children. Parents, especially those in the North-East, must keep watch over their children so that they do not become handy tools for insurgents.
We appeal to governments at all levels to make it mandatory that children in IDPs camps are sent to school to engage them fully and reduce considerably their chances of falling prey to Boko Haram recruiters. Such schools can be brought close to the children in the camps to make access easy.
We call on the international community and political leaders to help millions of children who have been forced to pay direct and indirect price for violent conflicts. The children suffering from malnutrition, disease and trauma need help. Efforts should be made to address their basic needs, including access to food, water, sanitation and health.
Saraki’s call, governance and the 2019 elections
In the past two weeks, preparations have gone into top gear by political actors towards the 2019 elections. With the release of the timetable for the elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), all political actors, both in the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and other political parties, have revved up their political engines, gearing towards the general elections.
While that is on-going, INEC, on its own, is also preparing for the elections, registering more political parties.
The result of all these is that the battle for who becomes the president of Nigeria and governors in most states of the federation has started. Add that to the national and state assemblies, Nigeria again is on the march for its four-yearly ritual that started in 1999.
Perhaps, that was what the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, saw last week when he warned that governance should not be ignored for electioneering this year.
Saraki said: “This is my appeal: It is too early for 2019 politicking to override the legislative agenda and the larger work of governance. We have begun a good thing with the recovery of the economy as the core of our agenda. Let us see it to its proper conclusion.”
Saraki’s words of caution could not have come at a better time. It is also very instructive.
Coming at a period the security agencies in the country have their hands full with the mass murders that have happened in Rivers, Benue, Taraba, Borno, Nasarawa and Adamawa states since January in the form of killer herdsmen, Boko Haram insurgents, kidnappers and other forms of crimes that have made the country a theatre of blood, nothing could be more apt.
Apart from the killings, there are also the issues of the lingering fuel scarcity and, of course, the economic downturn that is almost becoming a part of Nigerians.
These are issues that should occupy the minds of government at all levels, going into the elections.
This is even more for the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government. For a government that would be seeking a re-election from Nigerians next year, the task is ardours and daunting. Nigeria must be stable for the elections to hold next year.
We recall that events in the run-up to the 2015 general elections that ushered in Buhari necessitated a postponement of the elections for some weeks on the advice of the then National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki, just because of the menace of Boko Haram.
We also recall that the postponement of that election by the then Goodluck Jonathan administration was seen by the then opposition APC as a move to avert defeat. But when the election eventually held, Jonathan lost.
We regret to note that three years after that episode, going into the 2019 elections, the situation, unfortunately, has not changed much. The ominous signs that caused that postponement are still there, gaping at the nation. Although, the Federal Government wants Nigerians to believe that Boko Haram has been degraded and only attacking soft targets, the resurgence of terrorist herdsmen in parts of the country demands security agencies and governments to keep their eyes on the ball.
We insist that re-election for an incumbent government in a free and fair setting revolves around performance, delivery and the satisfaction of the people with what happened and would happen before the election.
Instructively, last week, two former governors alluded to the fact that elections would not be won merely by propaganda and mere promises.
The national leader of the ruling APC and former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, said: “Mr. President won the 2015 election on a platform that included economic recovery, job creation and improved welfare for workers.
“But we must insist on a better life for our people. As such, the electoral politics of 2019 cannot be played as if a game that has no end other than itself. Here again, we must insist on politics having a nobler and larger goal than just registering certain people into the fraternity of office holders.”
A former PDP Governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Sule Lamido, stated that the 2019 general elections would not be won on lies and propaganda from a political party.
Nigeria, he said, as a failed state, has been made more manifest in the APC’s three years government.
That is exactly the point Saraki made at the return of senators to the New Year plenary.
We maintain that governance and not elections and re-elections should be of prime importance now. Nigeria has not moved much in the last three years that the APC took over from PDP. The frenzy for the election must be subdued by visible performance by those currently saddled with the responsibility. As things stands currently, the elections, if it comes now, may be a disservice to the ruling party. That is not to say that the major opposition PDP would appeal to Nigerians more. The truth is that the two major parties need to convince Nigerians on their value for the 2019 elections.
Enough of these killer herdsmen
Each passing day, Nigeria has witnessed the killing of her citizens in cold blood. Hundreds of people have been killed, many others wounded and battling for their lives. Not even children and pregnant women are spared in this orgy of violence perpetrated by armed herdsmen across the country.
Just on Tuesday, February 13, 30 herdsmen, wielding dangerous weapons, invaded Akure South Local Government Secretariat in Akure, the Ondo State capital, chased away the workers and paralysed activities at the council. The attack in Akure came a few days after the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin, Prof. Sulyman Abdulkareem, accused herdsmen of poisoning the university’s dam with chemicals.
The herdsmen also destroyed the varsity’s multi-million naira research and training farms by illegally grazing on the campus. The university has given the herdsmen notice to quit its campus. The violent herdsmen have not spared security operatives. SARS commander, policemen, and Civil Defence officers have been killed in Benue, Nasarawa, Oyo and other states.
On January 1st, 73 people were brutally murdered and their homes razed in Benue State as Nigerians were ushering in the New Year. The violence had all the telltale signs of a band of terrorists, but the attacks have been linked to some marauding herdsmen who were apparently resisting the Open Grazing Prohibition Law, which was enacted in Benue State recently. Prior to the enactment of the law, the people of Benue State have been under constant siege of the herdsmen for several years.
The massacre in Agatu, Benue State, is still fresh in our memories. The herdsmen have tactically seized Benue State and several other states in the Middle Belt as grazing reserve for their cattle. These herdsmen, many of who bear arms, operate with impunity and have shown neither regard for the rights of farmers nor remorse for the pains that they usually inflict on these agrarian communities.
These herders and their cattle have become harbingers of violence, misfortune, bloodletting, sorrows and tears wherever they set their feet, because their quest for pasture and water for their animals have often brought them in collision with the locals. For nearly a decade, the contest for land by herdsmen seeking control of cattle routes and grazing reserves has pitched them against crop farmers, not just in the Middle Belt, but across the country.
A good number of herdsmen have relocated to the Southern Nigeria in the same search of water and green pasture for their cows. Here, the conflict has even been fierce because of urbanisation and socio-cultural differences.
These herdsmen have been linked to several bloody attacks on local communities in Enugu, Abia, Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Ondo and Oyo states. They have been accused of leading their cattle to graze on farmlands, thereby trampling upon the crops and destroying valuable farm produce. It is regrettable that each time the herdsmen strike on communities and lives are lost, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MCBAN) has always risen to their defence by describing these acts of violence as reprisals. In some instances, Miyetti wants us to believe that the itinerant armed herdsmen must have been victims of cattle rustlers and have no other option than to seek revenge. In many instances, we have been told that the average Fulani herder holds his cows so dearly that they could raze a whole community and kill as many people as possible just to avenge the loss of a cow.
At other times, we have been told that the killer herdsmen are not part of the indigenous Fulani population, but must have been herders from other West African countries. It is also very embarrassing that the Federal Government has continued to handle these incidents with kid gloves.
The Police have treated the bloody attacks of the herdsmen as petty crimes, which do not deserve much attention beyond advocacy for peaceful coexistence among the populace. Also, the Nigeria Armed Forces and the intelligence community have simply looked the other way while Nigerian citizens are mowed down by a visibly armed group. The deployment of troops to the affected states is a welcome development.
We also commend the initiative of National Economic Council (NEC) in the setting up of Yemi Osinbajo-led committee peopled by governors to find a solution to this national crisis. We are of firm belief that this challenge requires a holistic solution now or anarchy will be let loose upon the land.
It is not enough for the Federal Government to commiserate with victims and order the deployment of the military or police to a village attacked by the herdsmen to restore law and order. Government must identify the root cause(s) of the problem and summon the courage to confront them. We strongly believe that the best way to prevent these clashes is to develop ranches where the herdsmen could breed and raise their cattle.
Abia and the sack of Chief Judge
The recurrent spectacle of assault on the judiciary, in recent time, is not only an embarrassment to administration of justice in the country, but a cause to worry, especially not only at a time a series of reforms introduced by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, are beginning to yield result.
First, like never before in history has agents of government intruded into the privacy of judicial officers in the dead of the night in the name of fighting corruption as witnessed on October 8 and 9, 2016 when no fewer than eight judges, including two Justices of the Supreme Court, were hauled into detention over allegations of bribery and corruption.
With the raid on the judges’ homes by government’s agents in 2016 and the subsequent detention of the judges under whatever guise brought the hallowed temple into disrepute.
The law is supreme and no one should be seen as above the law including its interpreter – the judiciary and, by extension, its officers. But due process under a transparent procedure must be followed.
As the judiciary is yet to recover from this onslaught by the executive, the worse has again happened in Abia State, where a group of lawmakers in tandem with the state executive, arrogated powers they do not possess and removed a sitting Chief Judge.
It is still ridiculous to again hear the lawmakers boasting that their decision to sack the Chief Judge is irreversible as if they have enormous power under the Constitution to wield such big stick on the Chief Judge or any judge without recourse to the judiciary’s highest hierarchy – the National Judicial Council (NJC), especially when its officers are involved.
NJC is the only body saddled with the responsibility of disciplining judicial officers found culpable of any misconduct.
For the lawmakers to sack the Chief Judge, Justice Theresa Nzokwe, while acting on a petition accusing her of misconduct, smacks of executive lawlessness and legislative recklessness.
The Abia State House of Assembly had, on January 26, passed a resolution suspending Justice Uzokwe following a petition allegedly submitted by a group, the Global Centre for Peace and Justice.
In the petition, the group accused Justice Uzokwe of tyranny and obstruction of administration of justice, gross misconduct, denigration of the Office of the Chief Judge and embezzlement, amongst others.
These, however, snowballed into the removal of the Chief Judge without any input from the NJC.
The removal of the Chief Judge has, again, raised the dust on how not to remove a Chief Judge. The Supreme Court had, in a unanimous judgement in 2012, ordered Kwara State to reinstate the Chief Judge, Justice Raliat Elelu-Habeeb, who was sacked in 2009 by former Governor Bukola Saraki.
The apex court said no governor was empowered under the 1999 Constitution to sack any judge, including Chief Judges, without the approval of the NJC.
Sections 292(1)(a)(ii) of the 1999 Constitution as amended explains how a judge of the state High Court or the Chief Judge can be removed from office.
It is unfortunate that the lawmakers who are supposed to know the nitty-gritty of the law are the ones breaking the law and that is why it looked bizarre for the Abia State House of Assembly to still declare that its decision to remove Chief Judge Uzokwe remains sacrosanct.
Its deputy speaker, Cosmos Ndukwe, said the decision was “in line with the constitutional responsibility bestowed on them by the 1999 Constitution,” even when the National Judicial Council had declared the Chief Judge’s removal unconstitutional.
We believe that rather than using their executive and legislative powers to promote good governance and abolish laws granting double emoluments and large severance benefits to former governors, the Abia State government is still boasting on its illegal act, denigrating the judiciary and displaying contempt for the rule of law.
We say that the National Judicial Council’s recommendations and verdict in the instance case must be complied with as its decision on the Chief Judge was a clear violation of Sections 292(1)(a)(ii) and 21(d) Part 11 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended), and a blatant attack on the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
It is crystal clear that no judge anywhere in the country can be removed without the involvement of the NJC regardless of the level of allegations of misconduct against the judge.
We believe that the House’s decision had infringed on the constitutional principle of separation of powers as constitutional provisions are to protect the judiciary from the political intrigues which such removal power often engenders.
The benefits of the integrity of the judiciary should never be supplanted by the temerity and excessiveness which political powers often breed.
And now that Governor Okezie Ikpeazu had complied partially with the National Judicial Council’s directive by swearing-in the second most senior judge in acting capacity, sanity should return to the state’s judiciary while we insist that a transparent mechanism also must be put in place to get to the root of the allegations against Justice Theresa Uzokwe.
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