Situating Buhari’s Shoot-on-Sight Order

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Seen as foggy, unconscionably belated but welcome, the recent shoot-on-sight order by President Muhammadu Buhari on AK-47 wielding bandits has spawned a divided reception, notes Louis Achi

In an interview with the BBC early last week, presidential spokesman Garba Shehu disclosed that President Muhammadu Buhari had directed security agencies to shoot-on-sight anyone seen with AK-47 or other deadly weapons.
“The president has ordered security forces to go into the bushes and shoot whoever they see with sophisticated weapons like AK-47. He ordered that whoever is seen with terrible weapons at all should be shot immediately,” he said in the interview monitored by THISDAY.

Given AK-47’s bloody centrality as the tool of choice in the raging criminal infamy in the Nigerian story, it was a welcome development. But still, many feel such a weighty presidential pronouncement ought not to be within the remit of a second-tier presidential spokesperson – disclosed in a BBC interview.

Many believe that given the immensity of the issue on hand, a direct presidential proclamation or at the least, a directive from the National Security Adviser (NSA) addressing the extant matter would’ve been a more appropriate messaging channel.
More, many still believe that the lack of specific implementation strategy and template as well as input by the national parliament throws up more posers as to the constitutional appropriateness of the presidential directive – notwithstanding the fact that such a course was very long overdue.

In the Nigerian constitutional context, a presidential executive order presumably equates a United States presidential proclamation. But unless authorised by the US Congress, a presidential proclamation does not have the force of law.
Presidential proclamations are often seen as a practical tool for policy making, because they are considered to be largely symbolic. The administrative weight of these proclamations is upheld, because they are often specifically authorised by congressional statute, making them “delegated unilateral powers.”

Their issuances have occasionally led to important political and historical consequences in the development of the United States.
George Washington’s Proclamation of Neutrality in 1793 and Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 were some of America’s most famous presidential proclamations in that regard. The legal weight of presidential proclamations suggests their importance to presidential governance.

But according to an Abuja-based legal practitioner, Barrister Alozie Mmerengwa, notwithstanding that a much higher executive-level pronouncement was desirable in delivering such a directive, so far no authority from the executive has countered Garba Shehu, then it must be assumed it is in reality the presidential position.

According to military.com, the Russian-made AK-47 assault rifle (Avtomat Kalashnikova) is perhaps the most widespread firearm in the world. It is the standard infantry weapon for 106 countries. There are an estimated 100 million AK-47s of a number of variations round the world.

A study on transnational crime in the developing world revealed that the cost of a black market AK-47 can run as little as $150 in Pakistan. The price of an AK family firearm in Africa is an exception to that general rule. It’s usually much cheaper in many African countries, because the demand is so high that markets are usually flooded.
Not unexpectedly, the presidential shoot-on-sight order has spawned different reactions from diverse stakeholders.
Mouthpiece of Northern Nigeria, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), has backed the order holding that the security situation requires such extreme measure.

According to the National Publicity Secretary of ACF, Emmanuel Yawe, “Though only lawyers can interpret the legality of the President’s order, that the President ordered people to be shot without trial is a legal issue but we agree that, there is need for extreme measure to stop the experience of this weapon, which has not helped the security of this nation. So, there is need for extreme measures to curb the spread of small arms like AK47.
“It is not right for private individuals to carry AK47, which is known all over the world as a very dangerous assault rifle. Nigeria is not at war, so why should people carry AK47 freely?”

For Ndudi Elumelu, minority leader of the House of Representatives, President Buhari ought to have personally issued the directive to shoot persons bearing arms illegally.
Elumelu, member representing Aniocha/Oshimili Federal Constituency in Delta, stated this last week, on ‘Politics Today’, a Channels Television programme.
Taking a different tack, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) urged President Buhari to rescind his “shoot-on-sight” order.

According to SERAP, the most effective way to address the killings, abductions and violence is to ensure full compliance with the Nigerian Constitution and human rights law.
“If the authorities are truly committed to ending the killings and abductions, they should take meaningful measures to protect Nigerians; immediately identify, arrest, probe and prosecute suspected perpetrators; and provide victims access to justice and effective remedies.

“The shoot-on-sight policy is a threat to human rights-based law-enforcement approaches; may be abused and (may) exacerbate the impunity by law enforcement officials. Non-violent means should as far as possible be applied before resorting to the use of force and firearms.”

Under the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency, he gave a shoot-on-sight order to rein in the excesses of the Yoruba Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC).
His words on live television: “The police have instructions that any criminal should be shot on sight. Anyone, who calls himself OPC should be arrested and if he doesn’t agree he will be shot on sight.

“We cannot allow this country to be overtaken by hoodlums and criminals. When people decide to behave like animals then they must be treated like animals.”
Many had expected a similar direct order, not one seen as indirect and veiled. Since the order had been issued, there have been pretty little reports of the body count of Ak-47 bearing bandits mounting. Nigerians watch.
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