Gbenro Adeoye and Jesusegun Alagbe
The International Criminal Court in the Hague, the Netherlands, said it had received 131 petitions from Nigeria based on killings and general insecurity in the country.
The ICC stated this in its latest Preliminary Examination Activities Report on Nigeria.
The court stated that the petitions received were in respect of crimes allegedly committed by the Nigerian security forces against civilians during its war against Boko Haram; against members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria; and against members of the Indigenous People of Biafra in the course of their 2017 protests.
The court also stated that some of the petitions received were in relation to crimes committed against humanity in the Middle Belt and Niger Delta areas of the country.
Several Nigerian groups and persons – including the Christian Association of Nigeria – had in recent times said they would drag the Federal Government before the ICC due to persistent killings carried out by armed bandits in the Middle Belt and alleged military attacks against pro-Biafra protesters among others.
The report was made available in response to Saturday Punch’s request on the number of petitions from the country based on the persistent killings, particularly in the Middle Belt.
Saturday Punch had also asked whether the petitions were being worked on and if anyone was indicted in its findings.
Responding in an email, the court stated that under Article 15 of the Rome Statute, individuals or groups from anywhere in the world might send information (also referred to as ‘communications’) on alleged crimes to the ICC Prosecutor (Mrs. Fatou Bensouda), who was duty bound to protect the confidentiality of the information received.
It said, “As we do with all such communications, we will analyse the materials submitted, as appropriate, in accordance with the Rome Statute and with full independence and impartiality.
“As soon as we reach a decision on the appropriate next step, we will inform the sender and provide reasons for our decision.
“In case of interest, I refer you to the latest Report on Preliminary Examinations Activities, the Policy Paper on Preliminary Examination of the Office of the Prosecutor as well as the link to the Nigeria situation.”
Meanwhile, in the stated Report on Preliminary Examinations Activities on Nigeria, which was published on December 4, 2017, the court said, “The Office (of the Prosecutor) has received a total of 131 communications pursuant to article 15 in relation to the situation in Nigeria.
“The preliminary examination focusses on alleged Rome Statute crimes committed in the Middle Belt, the Niger Delta, and in the context of armed conflict between Boko Haram and Nigerian security forces, including the crimes against humanity of murder and persecution, and multiple war crimes.
“The preliminary examination also focusses on the existence and genuineness of national proceedings in relation to these crimes.”
According to the ICC, in accordance with the Rome Statute, which Nigeria is a signatory to, the Office of the Prosecutor is responsible for determining whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into a situation pursuant to the criteria established by the Statute, subject to judicial authorisation as appropriate.
It stated that as reflected in the principle of ‘complementarity’, national jurisdictions had the primary responsibility to end impunity for the crimes listed under the Rome Statute, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
However, in the absence of genuine national proceedings, the court said the Office of the Prosecutor would seek to ensure that justice was delivered for crimes within the jurisdiction of the court. The court added that the goal of the Rome Statute was to put an end to impunity for the most serious crimes of international concern and thus to contribute to their prevention.
The ICC said as of December 2017, the Office of the Prosecutor carefully examined the events of December 2015 in Zaria, Kaduna State, involving clashes between members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria and the Nigerian security forces.
It said, “It is alleged that members of the IMN, armed with batons, knives, and machetes, stopped the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff on a principal road in Zaria on December 12, 2015 and that in subsequent security operations, the Nigerian military killed at least 349 persons (men, women and children), while at least 66 others were injured.
“On the basis of information available, including the report of a Judicial Commission of Inquiry established by the Kaduna State Government to investigate the events, the Office has reached preliminary findings and will seek further clarifications from the Nigerian authorities.
“The Office has furthermore received information alleging crimes committed by the Nigerian security forces against pro-Biafra protesters in the course of 2017. The examination of this information is ongoing.”
In the meantime, groups across the country, especially in the Middle Belt, have recently threatened to drag the Federal Government to the ICC based on persistent killings by armed Fulani herdsmen.
For instance, in June 2018, the Maize Farmers’ Association of Nigeria, Adamawa State Chapter, said it was in the process of dragging President Muhammadu Buhari before the ICC to draw the attention of the international community to the plight of farmers in the Middle Belt.
He said the persistent herdsmen killings had sacked most farmers from their farms and there was no guarantee they would ever return to avoid being killed.
In the same month, the Farmers’ Protection Council in Taraba State also said it was working with other groups in the Middle Belt to drag the President to the ICC because of the killings.
In July 2018, a coalition of ethnic groups in the Middle Belt had vowed to drag the Federal Government to the ICC to protest against the killings in the state by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
Similarly, organisations including the Plateau Initiative for Development and Advancement of the Native, Middle Belt Youth Assembly and the Christian Lawyers Fellowship Organisation of Nigeria had vowed to drag the Federal Government and Buhari before the ICC over killings.
In May 2018, a coalition of sociocultural groups in Benue State, comprising the Mdgzou U Tiv, Idoma National Forum and Omi’Ngede, said they were set to drag the Federal Government before the ICC over the persistent killing of citizens of the state by suspected herdsmen.
A lawyer in the state, Prof. Agbo Madaki, had also vowed to single-handedly drag Buhari before the international court.
In June 2018, a civil rights organisation, the Centre for Human Rights and Social Justice had also resolved to drag President Buhari to the ICC over worsening security in the country.
But on other matters relating to insecurity in the country, in September 2017, an Igbo group, Alaigbo Development Foundation, said it had concluded plans to drag President Buhari, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, and other persons involved in Operation Python Dance II in the South East, to the ICC because of the actions of the military in the South-East.
The ADF had alleged that the military exercise was ethnic cleansing, saying that many IPOB members were gruesomely killed in Aba and Umuahia, Abia State.
In October 2017, United States-based law firm, Fein & DelValle PLLC, announced that it was drafting a criminal indictment against Buhari and Buratai, for genocide and crimes against IPOB members under the Rome Statute of the ICC.
The firm, in a statement by lawyers Mr. Bruce Fein and his partner, Mr. W. Bruce DelValle, said, “Buhari and Buratai are criminally culpable because of their command responsibility over security forces operating under their direction or control and who are terrorising tens of millions of Biafrans, specifically because of their Christianity and ethnicity.”
In November 2017, the Islamic Movement in Nigeria also petitioned the ICC to prevail on President Buhari to release their leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, and his wife, Zeenah, who had been in detention for almost two years as of then.
However, the ICC added that the Office would continue its analysis of all new crimes allegedly committed in Nigeria.
It said, “The Office will continue to pay special attention to allegations of Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes and crimes committed against children.
“While the Office requires further information on relevant domestic proceedings, it will continue to hold consultations with the Nigerian authorities and with intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations to assist relevant stakeholders in identifying pending impunity gaps and the scope for possible remedial measures.”