Information about crimes perpetrated by Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria or Fulani herdsmen in the Middle Belt have been circulating the media for years. Some of the atrocities, for example, the abduction of schoolgirls from Chibok, have triggered international outcry. While the Nigerian Government continues to address the threat posed by Boko Haram, it is clear that the terror group is far from being defeated. More worryingly, the Nigerian Government’s response to the atrocities perpetrated by the Fulani herdsmen in the Middle Belt is disparate.
Released Nigerian school girls who were kidnapped from their school in Dapchi, in the northeastern state of Yobe, wait to meet the Nigerian president at the Presidential Villa in Abuja on March 23, 2018. The Nigerian president promised on March 23, 2018 to free the remaining Christian schoolgirl still held by the Islamist militants Boko Haram, as he prepared to meet the other released Dapchi students. A total of 104 of the 110 students seized from the school in Dapchi on February 19 were released on March 21, 2018.
Nigeria has ratified the Rome Statute giving the International Criminal Court (the ICC) jurisdiction to investigate alleged crimes amounting to genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. The ICC has indeed been considering the atrocities in Nigeria. On November 18, 2010, the Prosecutor of the ICC opened a preliminary examination of the situation in Nigeria. This followed several communications received by the Office of the Prosecutor (the OTP) to the ICC in as early as 2005. Preliminary examination is stage where the OTP determines whether a situation meets the legal criteria established by the Rome Statute and which warrants investigation by the OTP. The preliminary examination must be successfully completed before a formal investigation is opened.
Today, over seven years later, this determination has not yet been finalised. The preliminary examination has focused on the crimes committed in the regions of central and northern Nigeria and the Niger Delta, and the crimes committed by Boko Haram across Nigeria. It has examined political and sectarian violence since approximately 1999, including clashes between Berom groups and Hausa-Fulani, Gamai and Jarawa, and between Hausa-Fulani Muslims and Igbo.
Despite the multiple issues which face scrutiny, in its 2015 report on the progress of the preliminary examination, the OTP identified six potential cases of Boko Haram committing crimes against humanity and two cases of such crimes being committed by the Nigerian Security Forces. The six cases include Boko Haram 1) targeting non-believers which resulted in death of over 8,000 people; 2) kidnappings, abductions, and imprisonment of civilians, as associated with murder, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment; 3) attacks on schools, other buildings designated for education and attacks against students and teachers; 4) recruitment and use of child soldiers; 5) attacks on women and girls; 6) intentional targeting of buildings designated for religious practices, including churches and mosques. The two cases against the Nigerian Security Forces include the counter-terrorist operations against Boko Haram and the recruitment of child soldiers.
The ICC has been in communication with the Nigerian government to inquire about the Nigerian Government’s response to the atrocities. In early 2015, the Nigerian government informed the ICC that 150 cases against Boko Haram have been submitted to the Attorney General of Nigeria for approval. Nonetheless, there has been little significant progress in this regard and hence the ICC continues to be engaged in the cases. The ICC continues to consider new communications in relation to the atrocities, especially in relation to the armed conflict between Boko Haram and the Nigerian Security Forces. This includes new information that Boko Haram committed sexual and gender based crimes and crimes against children.
The unreasonably long time taken to deliberate the situation in Nigeria is discouraging and does not give hope that justice is being secured for the victims. However, what is even more concerning is the fact that other atrocities perpetrated within Nigeria are not being considered in the preliminary examination (or even if they were considered, they have not been identified as a potential case to proceed to trial). This is a particularly glaring omission in relation to the Fulani herdsmen in the Middle Belt. The attacks by the Fulani herdsmen are prominent especially in Kaduna, Plateau, Nasarawa, Benue, and Taraba. However, some reports suggest that the Fulani herdsmen are expanding the regions in which they operate and have already reached southern states, including Oyo and Enugu, and northern states like Zamfara and Gombe. The clashes are often presented as political or ethnic in nature. However, there are reasons to believe that the conflict is religious in nature. Independent from the nature of the conflict, if not addressed adequately, the impunity will only beget further crime. Indeed, it has been reported that local police have not taken steps to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators. A lack of adequate response from the Nigeria Government suggests that the OTP should investigate the cases and the failings of the Nigerian Government in responding to them. According to the 2017 report on the progress of the preliminary examination, this is not happening. Attention from the ICC could not only ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice, it could also apply greater pressure on the Nigerian Government to provide an adequate response to the situation in the Middle Belt.
To ensure justice for the victims, it is essential that the OTP preliminary examination proceeds expeditiously to a formal investigation. Furthermore, justice must be achieved for all victims of the atrocities in Nigeria. Justice will not be achieved if the victims of the atrocities in the Middle Belt continue to be neglected and forgotten in this process.
Ewelina U. Ochab is a human rights advocate and author of the book “Never Again: Legal Responses to a Broken Promise in the Middle East.”