Former Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Prof Bola Akinterinwa, says that the apparent move my President Muhammadu Buhari to shield the newly replaced service chiefs from prosecution for possible crimes against humanity, by appointing them non-career ambassadors, may be futile.
Akinterinwa, expressed the view in an interview on Thursday with the Punch, saying being non-career ambassadors does not necessarily grant them diplomatic immunity or protect them from being probed by the International Criminal Court.
He also doubted that the ex-service chiefs, who were believed not to have performed at home, would do well outside the country.
Recall that ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, had said the court had found a reasonable basis to begin investigating members of the Nigerian Security Forces for crimes against humanity, committed especially in Nigeria’s North-East under the watch of the now-former service chiefs. There are also those who believe that such crimes were also committed in the South-East during the Python Dance operations.
Last week, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and some civil society organisations had also asked the ICC to probe Olonisakin, Buratai and others for human rights violation.
However, in a typical chessboard move, believed my a cross section, is to protect the former military chiefs from the ICC prosecution, President Buhari on Thursday, appointed them as non-career ambassadors.
The nominees are: Gen Abayomi G. Olonisakin (rtd), Lt Gen Tukur Y. Buratai (rtd), Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas (rtd), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar (rtd), and Air Vice Marshal Mohammed S. Usman (rtd). Their names were said to have been sent to the Nigerian Senate for confirmation, a statement by the presidency said.
However, the former NIIA director general said some powerful countries could declare the ex-service chiefs as persona non grata over alleged human rights violation.
Akinterinwa said, “First of all, we need to get the concept of diplomatic immunity right. Diplomatic immunity as derived from public international law is different from diplomatic immunity as derived from private international law. The one derived from public international law refers to the Vienna Convention of 1961 on Diplomatic Relations in addition to subsequent protocols in which case as an ambassadors right from articles 27, 31 of the convention, they cannot be violated, they cannot be prosecuted.
“If for instance, the country they will be posted is any of these powerful countries, certainly, they will declare them persona non grata. So that what they are running away from which is to take advantage of diplomatic immunity, they will deny them that in advance and give different excuses.
“So, it is quite right for people who said it may be because of the fear of being arrested and tried that is why they want to call and name them as ambassadors.
“Well, if they are appointed as ambassador extraordinaire and of the first class, they can lay claim to such diplomatic immunity. It is a function of the level and type of the relationship between Nigeria and the country to which they are going to be posted but I quite agree to those who thought that it might be because of the need to prevent them from being probed.”
He added, “If you go to section 304 to 308 of our constitution, you will discover that we abuse immunity. Immunity, for anybody who is serving is only for acts or crimes committed on behalf of the state. It doesn’t cover anything that is private. If you don’t pay your social charges all along, you will be liable.
“The crimes they (former service chiefs) committed were not committed when they were ambassadors and so when they come back, they will still be liable. They can’t run away from that. Nigeria is a signatory to the ICC status. So, Nigeria is required to facilitate the prosecution of anyone including its won citizen.”