By Charles Ibekwe
Moreover, the interests of justice should not be confused with interests of peace. – Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.
Since publishing its “Situation in Nigeria Report: Article 5” in 2013, the International Criminal Court has received more complaints and petitions to act in Nigeria.
Citizens and interested parties have reported cases, mostly those that have drawn national and international outrage, to the court in the hope of getting justice.
If the demands of these petitioners are met, Nigeria could join the league of Georgia, Central African Republic, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Libya, Kenya, Darfur – Southern Sudan, DR Congo, Uganda where 23 cases in 10 situations have been brought before the International Criminal Court. Currently Nigeria’s status before the court is currently at the stage of the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) is “conducting preliminary examinations in a number of situations.”
These preliminary examinations are around the various crises that are Nigeria’s hidden war. There have been several ethno-religious crises in states in the north and north central, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) carried out an insurrection that required the military to put down. Currently, terrorist group, Boko Haram is waging an insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives.
In all these cases, the government through its security agencies stepped in and have cases against those arrested in connection with the crimes in court.
OTP already concluded that alleged crimes committed during inter-ethnic and ethno-religious crises in northern and north central states of Nigeria did not constitute crimes against humanity with proviso that the crimes could be revisited in the light of new information. It concluded that there also does not appear to be reasonable basis to believe that the alleged crimes committed in the Delta Region, where the military took on MEND militants, could constitute war crimes.
It is Boko Haram, the terrorist group that outdid the murderous so called Islamic State fanatics in perpetrating depravity that has earned itself indictment from the OTP. It said there is reasonable basis to believe that Boko Haram has continued to commit crimes against humanity since 2009.
Some of the new petitions emanating from Nigeria could be aimed at scaling up the OTP’s finding on how the military fought the terrorists. It had concluded in the 2013 report that “Although allegations against Nigerian security forces in the context of their operations against Boko Haram may constitute serious human rights violations, the information available as of December 2012 does not provide a reasonable basis to believe that the alleged crimes were committed pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organizational policy to attack the civilian population.
But even as the military continually make adjustments to conduct its operations within the confines of the Rome Statute from which ICC derives its powers, another group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a separatist group in the southeast of the country, risks joining Boko Haram on the list of the indicted.
The case against IPOB could be strengthened by the fact that five of the bodies found in the mass graves were those of persons from a different ethnicity from the group while it was also claimed that the other 50 bodies were also not of the same ethnicity as IPOB members.
According to security reports emanating from investigations by the Department of State Services (DSS), the 55 persons found in those mass graves were murdered by elements of IPOB that answer to its leadership.
What could compound things for IPOB is the very loophole its members have tried to exploit. The group has made it almost impossible for its leaders and members to be tried in Nigeria.
Even with its contradictions, the IPOB issue is a test case for other groups with suspected terrorist link that may try to cripple the abilities of the Nigerian state to check their extremism by using the ICC as an instrument for hamstringing security agencies.
Right from the way they quelled the Maitatsine violent uprising, MEND militancy, Boko Haram insurgency, MASSOB and IPOB separatist declaration and confrontation from the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) the facts after the events have tended to prove that the military responded threats that could jeopardise the future of Nigeria as a state.
Bensouda made it clear at the forum earlier mentioned that such crimes would not be tolerated. She had declared that “The Rome Statute endows my Office with the responsibility for independently determining whether or not to open an investigation in any given situation irrespective of how that situation is referred to the Office.
With Albert Ella petition against it at the ICC, the options before IPOB, IMN and others that hide under the cover of rights to commit crimes against humanity are thus very clear, to submit themselves to the jurisdiction of Nigerian courts or to have their day at the ICC.
BCharles Ibekwe, Public Affairs Analyst writes from Enugu, Enugu State.