Amnesty International’s Strange Mission in Nigeria
By Karen Goulding
_“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
What is the best approach to lulling one’s quarry into letting down their guard? It is to appear conciliatory, pit up a pacifist front, appear to be interested in a common good, empathize, show kindness, offer useful suggestion and of course strike when it is least expected. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, quoted above, summed the strategy up as “mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy”.
It appears that this is the strategy that international human rights non-governmental organization, Amnesty International, has adopted in dealing with Nigeria. The NGO that has been in the business of hounding the federal government and its institutions recently launched “Nigeria: Human Rights Agenda”, comprising an Eight-Point Agenda it wants to saddle the government of President Muhammadu Buhari with.
It is fair to point out that the eight points contained in the document are innocuous on their own if they were presented by an organization that has been less partial and milder in its belligerence towards the Nigerian state, especially at a trying time of fighting terrorism and insurgency. No one should have anything against an agenda that wants the government to end all forms of violence against women and girls; Protect the rights of children; Ensure accountability for the Niger Delta clean-up; Guarantee freedom of expression; End torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions; Secure Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Protect the civic space and improve the operating environment for human rights defenders and activists; and Abolish the death penalty and commute all death sentences.
But given its sometimes criminal interpretation of laws, even international protocols and conventions, it is necessary to ask for the fine prints of Amnesty International’s agenda. It might not have been taken to task over such matters in other countries, but its record in Nigeria requires that the NGO is asked to specify what its intended end point is. What does it seek to achieve with the demands it is making? The query becomes necessary since it admitted in the document that there are existing legal frameworks that have already captured this demand. Could it, for instance, be attempting to interpret these laws and international instruments to suit its own end? Like demanding for the implementation of these demands in a way that cripples the government’s ability to respond to threats, which Amnesty International has been repeatedly accused of without satisfactorily disabusing the minds of the public that those are not its intentions.
Those points on the agenda sound good on paper. But translated into real terms they could produce nightmarish scenarios. For example, “Guarantee freedom of expression” is innuendo for allowing people to make whatever utterances they feel like making irrespective of whether those same expressions would be termed hate speech in other jurisdiction. Even if certain expressions, in other countries, would have attracted judicial censure for being homophobic, inciting, encouraging violence against a particular group amongst other possibilities, Amnesty International wants Nigeria to guarantee that people are free to say whatever they like and retire same under freedom of expression. Common! People are jailed for their tweets in the United Kingdom if the courts find them offensive and harmful.
Add this previous demand to the request to “Protect the civic space and improve the operating environment for human rights defenders and activists”, which is the same as giving a blank cheque to those that are interested in shutting down cities, denying other citizens of their freedom of movement and believe in committing arson in the name of protests. The deception entailed in this demand extends to not taking actions against terrorist sympathizers and collaborators once they brand themselves as civil society or activists. This demand is being made in the same country where activists, aid workers and erstwhile journalists have been found to be passing information to Boko Haram terrorists or helping them amplify their propaganda. What else will Amnesty International ask for?
Human life is precious, should not be taken under any circumstances, arbitrarily or via state sponsored processes. But the request to “Abolish the death penalty and commute all death sentences” exposes Amnesty International as a scam that is operating under a respectable label. It should first actualize this demand in the United States, notorious for executing convicts with cocktails of lethal injections, before marketing same to Nigeria. The NGO must then secure similar understanding from Boko Haram, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPoB), Niger Delta militants, bandits and kidnappers, who are apparently oblivious of the fact that other humans have a right to life. This request and the bit about “extrajudicial executions” is the NGO’s way of asking that law enforcement and military personnel do nothing and allow themselves to be slaughtered during encounters with the aforementioned groups. What country does that?
The poison-laced Eight-Point agenda notwithstanding, the good points in the document should not be ignored, especially when they are issues that other sensible groups other than Amnesty International have been championing. Awareness about gender issues and the rights of children is on the increase and the lesson learnt is that eventually citizen participation and not just the hype by NGOs is what will bring about the required changes. Military and law enforcement agencies have set up human rights desks where citizens can lay complaints, most of which are being addressed. With the benefit of social media, Nigerians are also beginning to hold institutions that wield power to account and higher standard, which makes Amnesty International’s colonial and imperialist intervention of little use.
Even at that questions must be asked. What is Amnesty International’s mission in Nigeria, because the mission appears strange, whatever it is? It did not make such input at the start of President Buhari’s first term in office yet it acted as an opposition party for the entire duration of that tenure. Now that it has presented an Eight-Point Agenda at the start of his second tenure, decision makers in the Federal Government and the agencies in Amnesty International’s crosshair should smell deception. Deception that will be followed by a brief period of the NGO’s inactivity ahead of its attack as propounded in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.
The government must also ask what its response should be since the group has made the first move. There are no hard and fast rules when dealing with a guerrilla organization of this nature. But a first step is not to reject or accept the presented agenda. The government should then continue to reform the system along the path that conforms with internationally acceptable benchmarks without compromising its ability to respond to the myriad of security breaches confronting the nation. Above all, the federal government must enlighten Nigerians to the insidious mission of the NGO in the country and how its activities put the lives of citizens at risk. This preparation for the attack that must certainly come from Amnesty International for “The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.”
Goulding, a security expert wrote this piece from the United Kingdom.