The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has reassured Nigerians of its commitment to continue to conduct its operations in adherence to the Rules of Engagement (ROEs) as enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the International Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC). This was revealed yesterday, 26 March 2019, by the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, during the Opening Ceremony of a 3-day 2019 Law of Armed Conflict Retreat for NAF Field Commanders and Legal Officers holding at the Air Marshal MD Umar Blue Room Headquarters NAF, Abuja. The Retreat, which has the theme “The Law, the Courts vis-a-vis the Military Commander in Counter Insurgency and Counter Terrorism Operations”, is aimed at equipping participants with requisite knowledge on current and emerging legal trends as well as issues associated with human rights in the conduct of internal security operations. It would also provide an avenue for NAF Legal Officers to meet and interact with their colleagues from within and outside the Service.
Day One of the Retreat had the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Mohammed, as the Special Guest of Honour for the Opening Ceremony and featured the presentation of 3 papers. The first paper titled “Command and Individual Responsibility in Counter Terrorism and Counter Insurgency Operations” was delivered by Professor Dakas CJ Dakas (SAN), the second paper on the topic “Human Rights in Counter Terrorism and Counter Insurgency Operations” was delivered by Mr Femi Falana (SAN) while the third on “Rules of Engagement in Counter Terrorism and Counter Insurgency Operations” was presented by Group Captain Sadeeq Shehu (retired). Other guests at the event included the representatives of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and President Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) as well as members of local and international Non-Governmental Organizations. Also present were distinguished legal practitioners and scholars such as Mr Robert Clarke (SAN) and Professor Usman Tar, amongst many other eminent personalities and senior military officers, both serving and retired.
While welcoming dignitaries to the Retreat, the CAS assured all that the actions of the Service would continue to be guided by the principles of the LOAC which form part of both domestic and international humanitarian laws that regulate the conduct of armed hostilities. Air Marshal Abubakar explained that the operations of the Service are always guided by these principles including; the justification for involvement, the use of minimum force, protection of lives and property, recording and keeping of evidence, timely intervention, domination of Area of Responsibility and cooperation. According to him, “these principles require that before the NAF is involved in any operation, it must be sanctioned by appropriate superior authority and, when deployed, it only applies the use of force when necessary in the circumstance to ensure safety of lives and property”. He added that the NAF has continued to work with the civil authorities and other security agencies to build public confidence and quicken the restoration of normalcy in conflict situations. “We do all these in conformity with applicable Rules of Engagement which are in line with international best practice”, he explained. Air Marshal Abubakar also noted that the NAF had ensured that its field/operations commanders keep records of actions taken and ensure timely intervention to prevent unnecessary loss of lives and destruction of property. He remarked that the NAF had taken proactive steps by establishing secured areas/bases to operate from in order to enable freedom of action while denying same to the enemy. The CAS further noted that the NAF, in its non-kinetic role, had carried out medical outreach programmes in 40 different locations in the country, including the North East, treating a total of 303,305 patients in the last three and a half years. He said the Service had also established Level 1 hospitals at Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) Camps at Dalori and Bama in Borno State.
Speaking further, Air Marshal Abubakar reiterated that Legal Retreats have become recurring activities in NAF’s annual Calendar of Events because of the Service’s realisation that the success of any institution depends largely on the understanding and application of the laws under which it is established. To this end, the NAF, he said, has, since 2016, organized annual legal retreats for its legal officers, fighter pilots and field commanders. According to him, this year’s edition was particularly unique because the Service had not only brought together its own legal officers and field commanders as well as academicians, the diplomatic community and the judiciary under the same roof, but also had the honour of having the Acting CJN as the Special Guest of Honour. The CAS maintained that such Retreats were very essential for the Service given the fast-changing Twenty First Century environment and NAF’s increasing involvement in quelling one form of crisis or the other. He further noted that the demand for probity and accountability for military actions or inactions was on the rise. As a result, “in line with LOAC protocols, we always ensure that our commanders respect and honour natives, their families, faith as well as customs. Our field commanders also ensure adequate coordination of movement of persons to avoid making them casualties in theatres of operation, while also protecting private property from arson, looting and theft. In addition, we ensure that commanders and troops do not partake in illegalities when deployed on operations. As a Service, we know that the violation of LOAC is a breach of both international laws and the laws of Nigeria; as such we always endeavour to operate within the confines of LOAC”, he emphasised.
In his remarks, the acting CJN expressed delight to be invited to the event and commended the CAS for introducing and consistently organizing the LOAC Retreat since assuming office. He noted that nothing was more important than acting within the ambits of the laws in whichever role one finds himself. He added that the NAF and indeed the entire Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN), which were established to serve and be accountable to the Nigerian people, have the responsibility of adhering to their ROEs in line with the laws as well as international best practices. He noted that the AFN must accordingly continue to adhere to the LOACs during military operations. The CJN could not hide his admiration for the spread of professionals present at the event as the Retreat brought together distinguished legal luminaries from all over the Country under a single roof. He noted that this kind of encompassing Retreat would drive home the point that it is only through cross-agency collaboration that the collective objective of protecting and defending the populace within the ambits of the law could be achieved. Justice Tanko added that the military was very critical to the success of any democracy in the world noting that Nigerians were indeed appreciative of the sacrifices that the Nigerian Military was making to keep the Country united. “Our thoughts are with our Servicemen who have paid the ultimate price in this process. Their sacrifices will never be in vain”, he said. Accordingly, before departing HQ NAF, the acting CJN in company of the CAS and other dignitaries visited the NAF Memorial Arcade, mounted in honour of all aircrew who had made the supreme sacrifice in the course of duty, to pay their respects.
In his remarks, the representative of the AGF, the Deputy Director Public Prosecution, Ministry of Justice, Mr Nadi Barkun, while noting that terrorism is one of the worst armed conflicts Nigeria had encountered after the Civil War, commended the NAF for showing exceptional commitment and professionalism in the protection of Nigeria’s territorial integrity. The second and third days of the 2019 NAF LOAC Retreat are to feature brainstorming sessions and interactions between NAF legal officers and the leadership of the Directorate of Legal Services.
Director of Public Relations and Information
Nigerian Air Force