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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 folderThe role of the ICRC/Red Cross
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View the documentBiggest role


A large percentage of Nigerians are familiar with the Red Cross, its emblem and its mission. When shown the emblem, 84 per cent of respondents reply that it stands for the Red Cross (2 per cent say the Red Cross and the Red Crescent), while only 8 per cent think it represents hospitals or medical facilities. Ninety-three per cent of south-easterners correctly identify the emblem, with that figure falling to 77 per cent for the rest of the country (12 per cent of those outside the south-east think it represents hospitals and medical facilities, compared with only 2 per cent of south-easterners).

Nigerians give generally accurate responses as to what the emblem protects. A total of 29 per cent mention protecting medical vehicles, facilities and personnel in times of conflict: 13 per cent think it protects medical buildings and vehicles, while 12 per cent think it protects Red Cross personnel and 4 per cent say medical personnel. An even half (50 per cent) believe the emblem protects the wounded or sick. (See Figure 14.)

FIGURE 14 Red cross and protection (per cent of total population responding)

Combatants were twice as likely to accurately assess the function of the red cross emblem; a solid majority, 50 per cent, think the emblem protects medical buildings and vehicles or Red Cross personnel.

Biggest role

When asked to choose two organizations they believe played the biggest role in protecting civilians during the Biafran war, 60 per cent mention the ICRC/Red Cross. Thirty-six per cent give a less specific answer of "international humanitarian organizations", while 31 per cent mention the UN. (See Figure 15.)

FIGURE 15 Biggest role (per cent of total population responding) (top two responses)

Those in the area of conflict felt the impact of the ICRC/Red Cross to an even greater degree. Almost three-quarters of south-easterners (73 per cent) - as opposed to about half of the rest of the country (51 per cent) - say the ICRC/Red Cross played the biggest role in helping civilians. Similarly, those able to remember the war (Nigerians over 40) are also more likely to cite the ICRC/Red Cross as playing the biggest role - 64 per cent mention the ICRC/Red Cross, while a distant 39 per cent cite international humanitarian organizations in general.

Participants in the focus groups and in-depth interviews also saw the ICRC/Red Cross as protecting civilians, although its specific mission was sometimes lost on those who lumped it in with other NGOs and aid organizations.

[Moderator: Why should combatants not do what you have just told me?]
It is against the rules. Everything has rules...
[Who gives those rules?]
Red Cross.
It was the convention of 1949, the Geneva Convention. (FG, journalists, Lagos)

In short, all the villages, they gave Red Cross office. If they entered there, soldiers can't shoot inside Red Cross office and they can't harm Red Cross people because they are peace maker of the war. So, if you run to Red Cross office or you and your family or as many as you can or if there is a place for them to keep you, there must be a place they use to keep people if they run to Red Cross office, they will be saved. (FG, medical workers, Port Harcourt)

The combatant should respect the Red Cross as much as possible once they're in uniform moving about to salvage the victims. (IDI, community leader, Ikoyi)

Because in [a] war situation, everybody is looking for [a] strategy to overcome his enemy and UN allows it anyway, that is why the International Red Cross is there, other voluntary organizations are there to assist as much as possible... (ID), former journalist, Lagos)

Even though Nigerians had generally positive things to say about international aid and assistance, it appears they are ambivalent as to its efficacy in stemming a conflict. Respondents in the former Federal commander focus group in Kaduna expressed the widely held belief that during the Biafran conflict certain aid organizations, in addition to flying in food and medical supplies, were also smuggling material for the embattled Biafran army. This ambivalence is also evident in their views on whether humanitarian aid shortened or prolonged the war. Scepticism regarding the effectiveness of aid organizations is also evident in the survey. While 38 per cent of those surveyed think that receiving no humanitarian assistance would have helped make the war shorter, a similar number, 34 per cent, say they think humanitarian assistance prolonged the war. (See Figure 16.)

FIGURE 16 Humanitarian assistance (per cent of total population responding)

Those who lived through the war itself and its aftermath are more positive about the effects of humanitarian assistance. Forty-four per cent of south-easterners think no humanitarian assistance would have made the war shorter; 34 per cent of those in the rest of the country agree. The converse of this question reveals an even larger gap. While only 25 per cent of south-easterners think humanitarian assistance made the war longer, 40 per cent of those surveyed in the rest of Nigeria think the same. Similarly, younger Nigerians are more likely to think humanitarian assistance lengthened the Biafran conflict. Those under 40 are almost one-third more likely (37 per cent versus 29 per cent) to say that humanitarian assistance prolonged the Biafran war than are those over 40. In fact, an equal number of those under 40 think humanitarian assistance prolonged the war rather than shortened it.

Echoing their preference for international institutions to judge those who have broken the rules of war, the vast majority of Nigerians - 82 per cent - would like to see more intervention on the part of the international community when it comes to the issue of protecting civilians during wartime (only 13 per cent would like to see less intervention or none at all). All Nigerians are of the same mind in this regard - about eight in ten from every group (84 per cent of those who lived in the area of conflict, as opposed to 82 per cent outside it; 81 per cent of south-easterners and 84 per cent in the rest of the country) would like to see more intervention of this kind. Although older Nigerians are more internationalist when it comes to the source of laws and the bodies that enforce laws, they are not so when addressing the topic of intervention. While 81 per cent of Nigerians over 40 want more intervention, an almost identical number of those between 18 and 40 (83 per cent) agree.

This kind of widespread consensus, rare in other parts of the survey, may be due to the fact that international interaction has been woven into Nigerian political discourse in a different manner from that in most developing nations. Instead of seeing itself as a nation subject to the whims of other countries and international forces, Nigeria views itself as a power - militarily and economically - and as a leader in the arts, science and sport. As Nigeria is one of the primary members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and its attendant peacekeeping organization, ECOMOG, Nigerians are used to seeing their country take a proactive role in foreign affairs. Focus group and in-depth interview participants repeatedly mentioned ECOMOG and its activities throughout the region, both in reference to the notion of rules and laws and as an international organization, and it is likely that Nigeria's proactive approach to international relations - evidenced by its role in ECOMOG - in essence serves as a model for Nigerians' opinions on international intervention in general.