A week after Nigeria’s military service chiefs were replaced, President Muhammadu Buhari has announced their nomination as ambassadors. The names of Gen. Abayomi G. Olonisakin (Rtd), Lt Gen Tukur Y. Buratai (Rtd), Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas (Rtd), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar (Rtd), and Air Vice Marshal Mohammed S. Usman (Rtd) were forwarded to the President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan, for confirmation.
This appointment, made barely four months after the Lekki Massacre, has been viewed as a tactic to secure immunity for the former Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Abayomi G. Olonisakin (Rtd) and the former Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Buratai, from facing prosecution from the International Criminal Court (ICC).
ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in October 2020 that her office had received reports of crimes against #EndSARS protesters. She said, “Any loss of life and injury is concerning. We have received information alleging crimes and are keeping a close eye on developments, in case violence escalates and any indications arise that Rome Statute crimes may have been committed.”
Lt Gen Buratai has been accused of his involvement in the Zaria massacre in 2015, in Kaduna State, where 348 civilians, mostly Shi’ia muslims who belong to the Islamic Movememnt of Nigeria (IMN) were killed and buried by the Nigerian Army. Hundreds more were arrested by the Nigerian Army.
According to Amnesty Nigeria, in April 2016 a Kaduna State government official admitted that 347 IMN members were dumped in a mass grave near Mando.
This massacre was repeated in Abuja on October 2018 when members of IMN gathered for a peaceful march. They were met with live bullets from soldiers from the Presidential Guards Brigade, an investigation by New York Times showed. The Guards Brigade, which is tasked with protecting Abuja and President Buhari, reports directly to the Guards Brigade Commander and the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Abayomi G. Olonisakin (Rtd). The Nigerian Army used high-calibre battlefield weapons to shoot into the crowd of civilians, committing a daylight massacre with the full knowledge of the former service chiefs.
On December 11, 2020, the ICC Prosecutor announced the completion of her preliminary examination of the situation in Nigeria, saying “there was reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed, which would lead to the request for authorisation from the Pre-Trial Chamber to open an investigation into the situation in Nigeria”.
According to Abimbola Ojenike, a Lagos-based lawyer and FIJ’s Legal Adviser, the appointment of former Service Chiefs as ambassadors technically creates a legal challenge for potential investigations or prosecution before the ICC.
“Although Article 27 of the Rome Statute makes official capacity as ‘Ambassador’ irrelevant and removes immunities that may otherwise exist under national or international laws, the practical problem is whether this removal of immunity applies regarding the ICC proceedings only or also permits foreign national authorities to disregard the diplomatic immunity while offering assistance to the ICC,” he said.
“These national governments may be required either to arrest or surrender the officials for prosecution. Consider a scenario where a national government relies on immunity as a ground for not acceding to a request for cooperation by the ICC? The jurisdiction of the ICC will be effectively stifled because ICC doesn’t have its own independent machinery for securing the attendance of the Accused Persons.”
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