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close this bookCountry Report Nigeria - ICRC Worldwide Consultation on the Rules of War (International Committee of the Red Cross , 1999, 56 p.)
close this folderProtection of civilians
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View the documentLimits and dissonance
View the documentAn array of norms

An array of norms

The vast majority of Nigerians offer normative reasons for opposing certain actions during wartime. The great majority of respondents (69 per cent) believe there are certain things combatants should not be allowed to do in fighting the enemy.10 Among these, 65 per cent choose a normative reason, "it's wrong", rather than a more pragmatic one, "it just causes too may problems" (32 per cent) to defend that position. South-easterners respond similarly, with 68 per cent saying "it's wrong" and 30 per cent saying "it causes too may problems".

10Thirty-seven per cent don't know or refused to volunteer an answer and 9 per cent say "everything is allowed".

When asked to choose from a list of reasons why some things are wrong, respondents point first to the protection of human rights (51 per cent) and second to religious principles (42 per cent).11 Comparable numbers of those who lived in the area of conflict and those who didn't choose "human rights" as a justification for why certain actions are wrong (50 per cent versus 52 per cent). Yet, there are marked differences between the two categories when it comes to religion (52 per cent in the area of conflict who say certain things are against their religion versus 31 per cent elsewhere) or the law (24 per cent in the area of conflict who say certain things are against the law versus 37 per cent elsewhere). (See Figure 6.)

11Respondents were allowed multiple responses.


FIGURE 6 Basis for the norm (per cent of total population responding "it's wrong") (top two choices)

South-easterners primarily base their objections to atrocities on their religious beliefs, with more than half of them (53 per cent) choosing religion as a basis for the norm. Although the vast majority of those living in the south-east are Roman Catholic, there is no specific evidence that points to religion as a more important aspect of society in the region, so this preference for religious norms may be yet another echo of the war. As the war left Biafra devastated and stripped of the bare necessities, those who survived may have turned to the Church for both spiritual comfort and material aid to a greater degree than did the rest of their compatriots. South-easterners may also feel frustrated about being denied independence and perhaps not fully allowed back into Nigerian society, thus requiring them to turn to institutions within their own community.

Similar findings were also uncovered in the focus groups and in-depth interviews, in which participants were able to present more detailed responses and offer their own array of choices, rather than picking from a list.

There is divine rule. There is an order in the Bible that thou shalt not kill. (FG, journalists, Lagos)

There is law... I think it is international human right law. (FG, teachers, Port Harcourt)

[Killing civilians] is against the rules. Everything has rules. (FG, former Biafran field commanders, Enugu)

[Moderator: Where did the law come from that instructed you not to kill civilians?] From the headquarter. [Who?] The commandant. (FG, former captured Biafran combatants, Port Harcourt)

As shall be seen, the variety of responses as to why Nigerians think certain actions are wrong carry over into the way in which they view the Geneva Conventions and the rules of war in general.