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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 folderGeneva Conventions and limits in war
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View the documentPunishment


Support among those surveyed for punishing those who commit crimes during war is not clear. Forty-four per cent believe that there are rules so important that people who break them during war should be punished, while 24 per cent disagree and 31 per cent don't know or have no opinion. (See Figure 13.)

A majority of south-easterners (52 per cent) think such rules exist, compared with 39 per cent of those living in the rest of the country. Sixty-one per cent of combatants believe there are such rules (as opposed to 45 per cent of non-combatants), as do 56 per cent of those who lived in the area of conflict (as opposed to 38 per cent who lived somewhere else).

Nigerians also express a desire for closure once the war is over. Of those who think that there are punishable acts, 62 per cent believe that wrongdoers should be put on trial, while much smaller numbers believe that they should be given amnesty (16 per cent) or be forgiven outright (12 per cent). Yet while those who lived where the war took place are more likely to think there are laws preventing wartime abuses, those far away from the fighting tend to be even more judgmental of those whom they believe to have broken the law. Sixty-eight per cent of those living outside of the south-east (compared with 56 per cent of south-easterners) believe that wrongdoers should stand trial, as do 64 per cent of those who say the war took place elsewhere. Fifty-six per cent of those in the area of conflict opt for trials. Perhaps not surprisingly, of those who would vote for an amnesty, the highest percentage is among those who think it acceptable to attack both civilians and combatants equally (34 per cent), perhaps reflecting the attitude within this group that once war begins, to them at least, rules and laws have little meaning.

Nigerians solidly favour international involvement when it comes to the punishment of crimes and atrocities in wartime. Of the 44 per cent who think there are punishable offences, 63 per cent believe that the laws prohibiting them are based on international law, rather than Nigerian law (18 per cent). Further, a majority (52 per cent) believe that an international criminal court should be in charge of meting out punishment, compared with an aggregate of 41 per cent who believe it should be left to the Nigerian government (13 per cent), courts (9 per cent) or the military (19 per cent).

South-easterners in particular are strongly internationalist in their views. Sixty-six per cent support punishment by an international court, compared with 38 per cent of respondents in the rest of Nigeria. Similarly, Nigerians who lived through the war (those over 40) are more likely to look to an international criminal court (62 per cent - the next highest percentage is the 13 per cent who look to the military), as opposed to the 47 per cent of those between 18 and 39 years of age who would do so.

FIGURE 13 War crimes (per cent of total population responding)

FIGURE 13 War crimes (per cent of those responding "yes")

The survey appears to uncover a certain amount of uneasiness among those who lived in the area of conflict when it comes to trusting in the apparatus of the Nigerian State. Older respondents are equally lukewarm about turning to the Nigerian government - in any of its forms. While about half of Nigerians under 40 would turn to the government, courts or military (46 per cent), only one-third of those over 40 would do so.

In contrast, 62 per cent of those 40 and over would look to an international court - as opposed to 47 per cent of those younger than 40. Similarly, those 40 and over are more likely to think that punishable laws are based on international law than are younger Nigerians (69 per cent versus 59 per cent). This suggests that people who were traumatized by the Biafran war, no matter where their location, are less inclined to look to their government for order and stability, but would rather look for help from the outside. This could be an echo of the vast amount of aid and assistance poured into Nigeria during and after the conflict, leaving older Nigerians with an extra reserve of faith in the efficacy of the international community. Lastly, it may also reflect simply a more internationalist world view on the part of older Nigerians - citizens who have lived through war, a massive relief effort, military coups and the rise of their country as a West African regional power.13

13For more on Nigeria's involvement in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), see p. 26.