The Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) has warned that the latest Nigerian military exercise in the South-East, codenamed Operation Python Dance, and the attack on the Abia State Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) represent threats to democracy.
In a statement signed by the president of the organization, Malachy Ugwummadu, CDHR stated that it was concerned that the deployment of troops to the South-East in response to pro-Biafran agitation would heighten separatist tensions in the region.
The group warned that the government’s militaristic reaction to the secessionist agitation could potentially lead to “a full-blown siege” capable of destabilizing the country.
CDHR emphasized that it supports the freedoms of expression and association, as these liberties must be protected in order for a democratic society to thrive. The group stated that although the issue of Biafran secession is sensitive, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) has the right to political expression. According to CDHR, IPOB has practiced non-violent political activism and its campaign therefore did not require a military response by the Nigerian government.
“It stands against the logic of civility in a supposed free society to deploy overwhelming weapons and personnel of warfare against a group of individual pursuing agitations within the ambit of non-violence,” CDHR said.
The human rights organization similarly condemned the military’s assault on the Abia State office of NUJ.
The group said the invasion was an affront to the freedom of speech and democracy in general.
“There could be no justifiable excuses why soldiers would invade the NUJ office in Umuahia and willfully destroy office gadgets, including personal phones and valuable office documents of the union,” CDHR stated.
“The military must desist from further attempts at muzzling the media through acts of premeditated assault or intimidation of journalists and their unions,” the group said.
CDHR therefore called on the military to investigate the incident and compensate the victims for their medical expenses and for the destruction of their personal property.
Both incidents, the group said, “further debase the human rights record of the Nigerian military” and challenge the country’s status as a truly democratic and free society. It stressed that President Muhammadu Buhari, as commander-in-chief of the military, must be held accountable for the military’s actions.
The group concluded that the international community should hold the military responsible if there is a breakdown of law and order in the country due to the military’s activities in the South-East.