Amid the perpetual clamour by the global human rights organisation, against the efforts of the Nigerian military at combating insurgency and the accusations that the Armed Forces are doing little or nothing to protect the rights of citizens, a Nigerian Army lawyer, Major Ajibade Azeez Atobatele, of the Directorate of Army Legal Services, studying in the United Kingdom (UK), has made the country proud.
He distinguished himself by finishing with a distinction in International Human Rights and Terrorism Law, coming top in his class.
The Nigerian Army officer also bagged the Best Dissertation Award of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Lancaster, one of the 10 top universities in the United Kingdom.
He was honoured at the convocation ceremony of the University, which was held in the UK. Attesting further to Atobatele’s brilliant academic performance, the Director of Postgraduate Programmes in the Lancaster University Law School, Prof. Sigrun Skogly, confirmed, in a letter written to the Nigerian Embassy in London, that the Army officer performed exceptionally well and achieved the highest mark of his cohort – a mark she described as rarely awarded by the university.
The Law School further confirmed that Atobatele had been offered a doctoral degree admission in order to further his research on legal issues surrounding the war against insurgency in Nigeria.
This remarkable feat by the Nigerian Army officer is coming on the heels of the scathing criticisms by Amnesty International, which has always been at loggerheads with the Nigerian government over alleged poor human rights records of the country, especially with regard to the perennial fight against Boko Haram insurgents in the North Eastern part of the country.
Indeed, this development has been described as a confirmation of the efforts of the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari and those of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, who believes that the war against Boko Haram is not only to be fought in the battle trenches, but also on the intellectual sphere.
Not only that, this development has also substantiated the recent claims by the Defence Headquarters that serious steps were being taken by the military and other security agencies to ensure that in any operation, human rights issues must be held sacrosanct and that in all her institutions in the country, from the lowest to the highest, the importance and essence of human rights laws during armed conflicts are taught.
The need to combat the seeming international antagonism championed by the AI against the Nigerian government and the Army compelled the top brass of the Nigerian Army, led by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, to restrategise and take certain concrete steps to reposition the Army in its fight against terrorism and insurgency with a view to improving the human rights record of the force.
The Federal Government recognised that a way to achieve this was through the provision of higher education opportunities in human rights for Army officers.
Therefore, in line with his vision “to have a professionally responsive Nigerian Army in the discharge of its constitutional roles,” as well as prove Amnesty International, which is always accusing the military of gross human rights violation, wrong, Buratai deemed it fit to allow officers to undertake special courses focusing on human rights protection in the fight against terrorism and insurgency.
The Nigerian military and the country are now set to reap the fruits of this ingenuity and investment by the chief of Army staff.
Buoyed by Atobatele’s brilliant and excellent performance in its LLM course in International Human Rights and Terrorism Law, the university has also immediately offered him a place in its Doctor of Philosophy programme for the 2019 academic session.
Documented testimonials obtained by our correspondent from the UK-based university attest to Ajibade’s “exceptional brilliance” throughout his course of study at the Lancaster University Law School.
The General Secretary of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Comrade Olayinka Folarin, expressed confidence that allowing military officers to go for such courses in human rights and returning to apply the knowledge acquired, regarding the observance of the rules of engagement, would ultimately help to regulate the conduct of troops during operations.
Folarin added that the efforts by the Army to improve respect for human rights of persons during their operations would also result in raising the rating of the country’s human rights record in the global arena.
The CDHR general secretary said: “I believe it will regulate their conduct as far as human rights is concerned in the fight against terrorism. It is a welcome development. It will enhance their performance; it will enhance their conduct.
“We just believe that by having their men studying such courses and coming back to apply it, it would go a long way in building confidence in the Nigerian military because everyone should be accorded his or her human rights. We must know that human right is the cornerstone of any professional practice.
“We just hope that the Nigerian military will see reason why they should be humane in their conduct and also take time to listen accordingly to the voice of the people.
“And the mentality that they are trained to kill can easily be addressed when the respect for human rights is there. When they are acquainted with what human rights entail and when they also understand that Nigeria is also party to several international treaties on human and people’s rights; it will assist them in their performance, in their operations.
“It will make them to be more professional and it will put our country in tune with the rest of the world.”
Speaking in the same vein, a defence analyst and strategist, Mr. Adesola Olatunji, said allowing military officers to undergo such courses would go a long way in checking the alleged violation of human rights of citizens by military personnel involved in combating terrorism and insurgency across the country.
The military expert added that the development would also improve the poor rating of the human rights record of both the military and the Nigerian nation by international human rights bodies.
“This development has brought to the fore, the commitment of the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari and the vision of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Tukur Buratai, in having a professionally responsive Army discharging its constitutional role in strict compliance with the various international conventions on human rights, especially in its war against terrorism,” he said.
Military authorities have declined to comment. However, efforts by our correspondent to reach the Chief of Training and Operations, Nigerian Army, Major Gen. L.O. Adeosun, for an update on the outstanding performance of the brilliant officer proved abortive.
Adeosun did not take calls made to his phone and also did not reply text messages sent to him as at the time of filing this report.