Monday, August 17, 2015

Not so long ago, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria made an all important foreign trip to the USA. Amidst all the pomp and pageantry surrounding the trip, and the President’s eventual arrival when he was received with honors and accommodated in the very prestigious Blair House, a number of important events stood out during that trip; one of which was the brouhaha about the Leahy Law. During a speech at the United States Institute for Peace, the President had stated that the guidelines of this particular law was hindering efforts in the fight against Boko Haram and by so doing, contributing in no small measure to the continued perpetuation of heinous acts, by this terrorist group! That particular remark immediately drew reactions from so many, amongst whom, was the originator of the law itself, US Senator Patrick Leahy. Like so many curious observers, I myself was eager to find out what all the “excitement” was for, so I set out to understand this piece of legislation known as the Leahy Law.
To summarize, the Leahy Law (or Leahy Amendment) is a 1997 amendment to a US foreign aid bill, which bars the US from providing training or equipment to foreign troops or units who commit gross human rights violations. The law was spearheaded by the man whose name it now bears- Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont. The law actually covers foreign military aid provided via 2 United States departments i.e., the Department of State and the Department of Defense, and has been in effect for 18 years now. Now, though the spirit of the law is noble and commendable, the letter of the law itself has drawn criticism from many quarters, even within the hierarchy of the US military command, as it has been said to impede military efforts in the war against terrorism especially as US President Barack Obama has pulled out military personnel from war-torn countries like Afghanistan. Military commanders’ have voiced frustration over the fact that training cannot be adequately provided to certain foreign military units who are supposed to step in and fill the void left by the exit of US troops, and this is due to the strict wording and enforcement of the Leahy Law. And as they have correctly noted, the irony of the entire situation is the fact that most of the foreign militaries implicated in human rights violations, are those who need military aid the most!
Every year, the US State Department vets military personnel and units from all over the world who are in line for US military assistance, and the number runs into hundreds of thousands. If “credible” evidence is found showing that individuals or units have committed human rights violations, aid is immediately denied; and it is resumed only when the government of the indicted personnel(s) has taken effective steps and dealt with the culprit(s), and this has been ascertained by the United States. To be fair, the law has not only barred US military assistance to countries like Nigeria, but also to US allies like Pakistan and Indonesia.
Now, while I also commend the spirit of the law, as I do believe that no nation’s military force should be allowed to disobey the laws of war and inflict abuses on non-combatants all in the name of fighting guerrilla wars against modern day insurgents, I must also note that the collateral damage due to the strict enforcement of the law, does more harm to the non-combatants themselves, who the government is trying to protect in the first place, as I will explain shortly. According to the Leahy Law, if a unit which has been earmarked for US military aid is suddenly found to harbor even one or two military personnel implicated in human rights violations, the aid to the “entire” unit is immediately suspended pending an investigation, and when the culprits are dealt with. This could take weeks or months, depending on the movement of bureaucratic red tape! Now apply this in a country like Nigeria. Let us say unit XYZ of the Nigerian Army’s fifth battalion is locked in a fight against Boko Haram, deep in the wastelands of Borno…the army is gaining ground, and re-enforcements are expected i.e., supplies from the US to aid the efforts of the troops, when all of a sudden, the troops are told that there would be none such forthcoming because a certain Sergeant Ndubuisi Olawale Danjuma has been implicated by the US Department of State or Defense, of having committed gross human rights violations against the civilian population in a previous combat (N/B: do indulge my vivid imagination)! Now, what do you expect would happen? Do you imagine that the insurgents are honorable members of the human community who would suddenly understand the plight of XYZ unit and put the battle on hold until all is sorted out and the re-enforcements (eventually) arrive? I dare say that in a country where the military has previously been found to be considerably less equipped than the insurgents they fight- the Nigerian military is said to still employ obsolete equipments while Boko Haram boasts of modern day hardware- XYZ unit is as good as doomed, except there is supernatural intervention! Okay, maybe the scenario is not so dramatic and the finding is made before the unit is actually engaged in the theatre of battle; still, you get my point.
Now, in defense of this law, Senator Leahy in responding to President Buhari did state (rightly), that the law has done a lot to protect human rights around the world, and then went further to state (maybe a little bit derogatorily) that the President should rather concern himself with cleaning up the army and punishing those military personnel implicated in human rights violations. As I would repeat again at this juncture, while I commend the spirit of the law, I do have a problem with the enactment in reality. And this is because of time…time spent investigating culprits while insurgents who commit even more heinous crimes are allowed to continue their rampage with impunity! Now, do you begin to see the danger this poses to the civilians caught up in vicinities harboring extremist elements? The way I see it, if the culprit(s) is identified, why can’t conditionality for receiving aid be hinged on immediate withdrawal of that person(s), and aid resume while an investigation is conducted? Will that be so bad? Why will an entire unit have to pay for the sins of a few- or even just one- and languish without adequate support for weeks or months until the issue is resolved? Some years ago, Nigerian troops in Mali were even prevented from receiving “non-lethal” military aid such as helmets, because of the indictment of some military personnel by the US.
Thank goodness, the multilateral effort to tackle this 21st century evil known as Boko Haram is recording significant progress. God bless and protect our new military chiefs and every military personnel risking their lives daily in defense of the motherland. In conclusion, I may not be a military personnel, but I am a concerned citizen; and I sure am glad that the President has given an order for the Nigerian Army to begin to take steps to produce its own weapons. This will no doubt be a long process, but it is a step in the right direction. At least this way, if XYZ unit is caught up in the snares of the Leahy Law while in the theatre of battle, they would not be so helpless!
N/B: it has come to my attention that some people are having problems leaving comments here. Please, if you can upload your comments here, do so...but if you can't, kindly visit my facebook profile page via this link and drop a comment-
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Anonymous said...

well done

Buchi Obichie said...

thank you

Andrew Offem said...


Buchi Obichie said...

Andrew @ "Rabbit"

debby omo said...

Well done for this wonderful analysis.

Buchi Obichie said...

@ debby omo, thank you.