The Committee for Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) has said President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive to security agents to shot anyone illegally bearing an AK47 rifle is dangerous to all Nigerians.
The group in a statement by its National President, Dr Osagie Obayuwana urged the President to have a rethink, even while combating the insecurity challenge in the country.
Obayuwana argued that such order could lead to serial extrajudicial killings of innocent Nigerians, as overzealous security agents could take the law into their hands by shooting anyone they have issues with.
The statement read, “Not a few people have complained about what had become the silence of Mr. President for a long time especially over issues where his voice should be heard loudly. Over a long time, in matters of national concern, people of all categories have repeatedly called on Mr. President to speak; most of the time, he did not oblige the call. At a point, his handlers argued that Mr. President is entitled to his style, which left many people wondering whether what we have in Nigeria is a constitutional democracy, founded on the principle of accountability of public office holders to members of the public.
“Even the way the invitation of the President to address the House of Representatives on the security situation, which was once accepted, was shortly thereafter turned down, left more questions, than answers in the minds of many. To close observers of the media policy of the Buhari Regime, it seems like centuries ago that Mr. President had a media chat. This graveyard silence, that does beyond taciturnity give some credence to the speculation as to whether our President is alive or not.
“It is as if Mr. President felt compelled to speak out, when the security situation had clearly gotten out of hand, especially following the repeated nature of mass abduction of schoolchildren in different parts of the country. But what the nation heard was a reported speech, through Mallam Garba Shehu, the President’s Senior Special Adviser on Media that Mr. President had ordered that any person found with AK-47 rifle should be shot on sight.
“Trust the ever boisterous Nigerian media; many queries immediately surfaced; did the President actually say so, did he mean shoot to kill or shoot to maim and disable? Did he actually mean that a holder of an AK-47 wherever found should be shot dead? Must the holder of the AK47 rifle be alone or more than one?
“How do we distinguish policemen who adorn torn jeans and T-shirts while flaunting their AK-47 in the nooks and crannies of Nigeria’s inner cities and on highways or is the order intended only for those who wear turban? Is the order limited to AK-47? What about AK-49 and deadlier machine guns we have seen menacingly flaunted on numerous video clips on the internet? Finally, to whom is the President’s order directed? Only soldiers which include the Army, Navy and the Airforce, or the police? What about Customs, and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps?
“As if to clear all doubts, as to the source of the directive, on Thursday 11 March, 2021, the presidency released a 12-second video clip, where President Buhari at a meeting with the National Council of Traditional Rulers held at the State House, Abuja, personally reinforced the directive, that anyone carrying an AK-47 Rifle illegally, should be shot, because according to him, “AK-47 is supposed to be registered and only given to security officials’. The Oni of Ife and the Sultan of Sokoto were in attendance. Hurrah!!! was the expected response from the Nigeria People; our President has indeed woken up and risen to the occasion.
“The first point of call has to be the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) which is Section 33, protects the right to life. Subsection 2 of Section 33 provides that a person shall not be regarded as having being deprived of his right to life if he dies as a result of the use of such force as is reasonably necessary for the defence of any person from unlawful violence or for the defence of property.
Additionally, force that could lead to death has been justified to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person from lawful custody; and finally use of such force is also permissible under the Constitution for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny.
“This section of the Constitution has been criticised for not being in conformity with international standards, especially where it allows for the taking of life in defence of property. The exceptions created under Section 33 of the Constitution, it is argued, appear to trivialise the sanctity of life, whereby defence of property under circumstances where no threat is posed to the life of another, appears to be justified.
“Section 73 of the Criminal Code applies in matters of dispersal of unlawful assemblies. Under the section, any police officer may use such force as is reasonably necessary for dispersing or overcoming resistance to dispersal. But there are pre-conditions contained in the law, which require that there must have been a proclamation made for dispersal and the expiration of a reasonable period and the number of those assembled must be 12 or more persons, and there must have been resistance to being dispersed by those continuing in the assembly.
“It seems clear that the Shoot-on-Sight Order given by Mr. President has no bearing with Section 73 of the Criminal Code. Police Force Order No. 237 is the rule that guides the use of fire-arms by the Police, and stipulates the circumstances under which a Police Officer may use fire-arms.
The group said the directive failed to consider some important factors.
He said, “Again, there is no doubt that the shoot at sight order proclaimed by Mr. President did not take into consideration the Revised Force Order 237 on the use of firearms and lethal force by the police.
“The point to be made is that there is in existence Basic Principles on the use of force and fire arms by law enforcement officers, which emphasises proportionality and mandates that the use of lethal force should be as an absolute last resort and only when strictly unavoidable, in other to protect life.
“Placed by the above standards, President Buhari’s Shoot-on-sight order clearly has no basis in the law. The famous dictum is that even in times of war, the law is not silent as there are laws of wars.
“No doubt, the security situation Nigeria’s contend with at this time is grave, but the rational handling of the situation calls for circumspection and not knee jerk reactions. One would not want to believe that Mr. President in making his order is playing to the gallery of public expectations. No matter the gravity of the situation, the law is that a citizen is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of law and can only be punished and stipulated in law. All members of the society are exposed to danger in a situation where Mr. President by casual order confers powers of life and death to a policeman or soldier, who accuses, judges and executes punishment in spite of the standard set in the law.
“After all, Mr. President has not declared a state of emergency under Section 305 of the Constitution. Were Mr. President to have done so, a formal proclamation would be necessary and the stipulations and preconditions outlined in the Constitution would be complied with; the duration will be as spelt out in the law, and the National Assembly would have played its role in the process.
“Shoot-on-sight orders pose a danger to us all and Mr. President should have a rethink, even while combating the insecurity challenge frontally.”