Distinguished guests, it gives me the highest pleasure to warmly welcome you all on behalf of the Board of Directors, Management and Staff of CLEEN Foundation to this event, organised by the CLEEN Foundation in collaboration with the National Human Rights Commission and the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR). I am honoured to have such distinguished guests with a broad range of experiences and expertise coming for this event. This Accountability Forum is a part of our project activities for the ‘Fostering Civil Military Relations’ Project funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) with the objective to strengthen civil-military relations through sustained dialogues and improved understanding between the military and civilians to improve accountability, security and respect for human rights in Nigeria. Accountability by security agencies is part of the cardinal principles of democracy within the framework of effective oversight of the security agencies. The military and other state security actor is expected to be competent and professional enough to defend the society and citizens as well as protect the interests, institutions and critical infrastructure of the country including respect for the fundamental human rights of the citizens.
There has been an increased focus by Nigerians and the international community on the response mechanisms set up by security agencies to address human rights violations and complaints from the public. In Nigeria, traditional platforms to address past rights violations have come in the form of panels of investigations and national conferences established by various successive governments in Nigeria. Again, recent efforts to set up accountability mechanisms by security agencies emerged against a backdrop of human rights abuses perpetrated by security officials leading to numerous complaints by members of the public. The relations between the security officials and civil society continues to be fraught with mistrust, characterized by limited interaction, intimidation etc. This is deeply rooted in histories around the long years of military rule in Nigeria and the perceived clampdown on the freedom of expression and the shrinking space for civil liberties.
As part of measures to instil public confidence and to position security institutions as rights respecting, accountability mechanisms are being established to address citizens’ complaints and concerns. These complaints ranging from human rights abuses by the various security personnel to professional misconduct on the line of duty are part of the human rights/professional concerns being addressed by these institutions. One of such recent efforts by the Nigeria Police Force is the recently established Public Complaints Rapid Response Unit set up in 2015 to address complaints from the public as it concerns Police Officers (this predates several other efforts by the Nigeria Police). The Nigerian Army equally has also established a Human Rights Desk within the Directorate of Civil Military Affairs in early 2016 and a Call Centre to receive complaints against the Army amongst other accountability units in other military and paramilitary agencies. One of the missing links in assessing the effectiveness and efficiency of these mechanisms is the voice of the public in strengthening the work of these units. This view is under-scored by the largely opaque feedback mechanisms to complainants to indicate what actions have been/are being taken to address their concerns.
It is against this background on the need to strengthen current accountability mechanisms of security institutions that the CLEEN Foundation has organised this forum. The forum is aimed at fostering constructive engagement and dialogue between civilians and the security agencies to build trust and collaboration and enhance their roles in nation building. With today´s meeting, we want to offer a platform to exchange information, experiences and good practices among participating agencies on civil military relations. We also want to look into issues of human rights violations, the role of security agencies in holding their personnel accountable and finding mutual solutions to these challenges.
I would like to extend a special appreciation to our collaborators-Interfaith Mediation Centre in Kaduna State, the National Human Rights Commission, Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR), the Kaduna State Peace Commission and the funding support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Special appreciation also goes to the participating security agencies, the media and other civil society organisations and technical experts who will provide important contributions to the discussion. Thank you all for coming to this occasion and I wish you successful and fruitful deliberations.
Benson Olugbuo PhD