Former Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Prof Bola Akinterinwa, says the appointment of ex-service chiefs as non-career ambassadors may not necessarily grant them diplomatic immunity or protect them from being probed by the International Criminal Court.
Akinterinwa also doubted that the ex-service chiefs who were believed not to have performed at home would perform outside the country.
ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, 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.
In a move many believed was to shield the former commanders from the ICC prosecution, President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday, appointed 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), as non-career ambassadors.
But the ex-NIIA Director General, said some powerful countries would declare the ex-service chiefs as persona non grata over alleged human rights violations.
Speaking with newsmen, 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 ambassador 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.”
Akinterinwa, however, said since the crimes allegedly committed by the former service chiefs were done before they were appointed as ambassadors and for this reason, they might be liable to prosecution.
“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”, he added.