Chief of Army Staff Tukur Buratai has rallied Nigerian soldiers not to be intimidated by threats of war crime charges at the International Criminal Court.
Mr. Buratai, at a meeting of military brass-hats on Monday, said Nigerian soldiers should be aware that their activities were carried out in line with the Nigerian Constitution.
Nigerian soldiers have “every right under the Constitution to carry out assigned and legitimate roles of maintaining law and order in aid of civil authorities and other security agencies,” Mr. Buratai said according to transcripts of the meeting circulated by Army spokesman Sagir Musa.
Mr. Buratai’s comments came a week after Nigerian soldiers opened fire at unarmed protesters in Lagos, killing at least nine. The attack has been widely condemned around the world, with top voices like Bill Clinton and Donald Trump demanding immediate investigations.
President Muhammadu Buhari has yet to hold anyone accountable for the massacre, fuelling speculation that he ordered it as the commander in chief. In 2015, the Nigerian president justified the massacre of over 1,000 Shiites in Zaria, saying they were wrong to have tapped military generals in the chest at a checkpoint.
The Nigerian Army has been under pressure to come clean on its decision and release bodies that are suspected to be in its custody for proper burial.
Some Nigerians at home and abroad also filed complaints to the Netherlands-based ICC, receiving an acknowledgement from its top prosecutor Fatou Bensouda last week.
Mr. Buratai was also the military chief at the heart of the Shiite massacre of December 2015, which analysts said had set him up for potential trial at the Hague when added to civilians killed as they sang the national anthem in Lagos on October 20.
The military action in Lagos sparked thug violence across the capital, which saw valuable assets looted or set on fire. At least 27 police stations were also burnt during the rage.
But Mr. Buratai, who repeatedly lobbied Mr. Buhari to quell protests against police brutality with the military, remained defiant on Monday and urged his subordinates not to be afraid of defending the country at all cost.
Mr. Buratai said anyone who doubts their commitment to their constitutional responsibilities must be made to know that they remain committed, loyal and unwavering in ensuring the unity, stability and security of our dear country Nigeria, Mr. Sagir reported.
The Army chief urged soldiers to dismiss critics of their activities as agents of destabilisation who care little about the country’s overall interest.