Shoot-on-Sight Order: Extrajudicial Killing by Another Name?

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No one can safely say when Nigeria’s battle against insurgency, banditry and kidnapping will end. So far, every measure that this administration has applied to curb the menace of arm bearing murdering criminals (which hitherto, many adjudged to be half-hearted), have proven to be largely unsuccessful. As AK-47 bearing criminals and insurgents become more brazen with their dastardly attacks by the day, President Muhammadu Buhari in what many see as a desperate knee-jerk move, recently issued a shoot on-sight order on anyone caught carrying an AK-47 weapon in the forests. While this may sound cheering to a few, many human rights activists strongly believe that it amounts to sanctioning extra-judicial killing, and an outright violation of the constitutionally guaranteed right to life. Monday Onyekachi Ubani, Dr Osaghie Obayuwana, and Chukwu Emeka Eze weigh in on this Presidential Order

Legality or Otherwise of President Buharis’s Shoot on Sight Order

Monday Onyekachi Ubani

Many may erroneously applaud President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent order to the military, to shoot on sight anyone seen with an AK-47 rifle in the forests. To them, that may be what the country needs to bring the worsening security situation in the country under control. According to Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, “the President has ordered security forces to go into the bushes and shoot whoever they see with sophisticated weapons like AK-47”.

This order on AK-47 assault rifles, seems to signal a new resolve by the Buhari administration to deal with the said criminals who have stretched their luck over the years, due to the gross negligence of the government at all levels to deal decisively with their brazen criminality.

Hailing the President’s Order

President Buhari has naturally received hailing for this directive, even from strange quarters. For instance, Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, whose relationship with the President has remained that of cat and mouse, was quick to commend the President on the order, expressing confidence that it would “make the communities safer for displaced farmers to return to their ancestral homes”, and “reduce the high rate of criminality, banditry and militia herdsmen attacks on our farming communities”.

In the same vein, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) has welcomed the order. Speaking through its National Publicity Secretary, Emmanuel Yawe, the Forum contended that only Lawyers though, can interpret the legality of the President’s order.

My View

I am of the firm view that, no matter how altruistic the order appears to be in the light of the worsening security situation in the country, the recent Presidential order that directed security agencies to shoot on sight anyone caught carrying AK-47 guns in the forests, is pregnant with ominous danger. In saying this, I am not ignorant of the fact that, recently the Jangebe schoolgirls, Kagara schoolboys, and many travellers were kidnapped in Nigeria. Farmers and herdsmen clashes are also on the rise, which is almost tending to ethnic conflicts in States across the Federation. This has also resulted in the just-suspended food blockade, from the North to the Southern part of the country.

Yet, in spite of these obvious challenges, it is my submission that giving such a directive, will be counterproductive to the rule of law in the country. In any civilised clime, irrespective of the gravity of an offence, the offender must be allowed to undergo what we call judicial process, that is trial, and then pronounced guilty, before the issue of punishment can be meted upon that individual. I have never seen anywhere in the world in this 21st century, where you will give an order to security agents to shoot on sight anyone that is carrying AK-47 or committing a crime.

I am clearly in agreement, that those who are brandishing AK-47 without licence are criminals; despite that, I will still demand that they undergo judicial process when they are caught. No matter how grievous the terror of these bandits or criminals are, I insist that anyone caught committing a crime must still be allowed to undergo a judicial process, before any punishment is meted out. They must have their day in court, be given fair hearing, and that right to fair hearing should not be violated. The moment you shoot someone with an AK-47, you have played the role of the accuser, prosecutor and the judge. It is not done in any country that is said to be in a democracy, like our country.

While security of lives and properties is important, I reiterate that we cannot under the guise of trying to secure the lives and properties of our citizens, begin to break our laws. This is my take on this issue. I refuse to clap for Mr President for giving this directive. What we should do, is to beef up our security architecture all over the country, and re-strategise on a better approach to deal with the security challenges facing us as a country.

What Nigerians want from President Buhari is a detailed, well thought through plan to combat the festering insecurity in the country, and not a knee-jerk reaction that is capable of exacerbating tension, and creating more crisis in the long run.

The truth of the matter is that President Buhari is yet to do certain things expected of him as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, which obviously does not include the shoot on sight order. If the criminals who brandish sophisticated weapons had been arrested, investigated and if indicted, prosecuted at the initial stage when this criminality was rearing its ugly head, perhaps, by now, the security situation in the country would have been improved. What we witnessed and are still witnessing, is a President who was missing in action, leaving his aides to voice out most often, contradictory policy statements that left everyone in a state of confusion all the time.

It can be recalled at a time when the state of insecurity got everyone terribly scared, the National Assembly comprising the House of Representatives and Senate passed several resolutions, one of which was that the President should spare his time to have a closed-door meeting with them to brainstorm on the best practical way to tackle the menace. The President who showed enthusiasm initially at the prospect of a meeting, did a volte face to the chagrin of Nigerians, when his political associates and the Attorney-General of the Federation for reasons yet unclear, advised him to shun such a brainstorming session, the purpose of which was to find a common solution to the hydra headed monster.

The President’s foot dragging in condemning in clear terms the very dangerous killings and destructions of peoples’ farms produce, the raping of women and killings of those that resisted their impunity, was seen as a tacit support of the criminals. There was no serious pronouncement on the issue of arrest and prosecution of the criminals, who were testing the waters at the initial stage. It was obvious to them that perhaps, they are untouchable, leading to their constancy in raising the tempo of their various criminal acts which extended to the recent massive kidnappings for ransom. The rough estimate of money involved in the kidnapping “industry” , can now be quantified in billions of Naira.

Something more proactive, scientific and comprehensive should be done and done fast to stem the tide, and reduce, if not eliminate insecurity in the land. To achieve that, shoot on sight and other knee-jerk prescriptions, are not the way to go as a nation.

Suggestions

The President is better advised to address the root cause of the insecurity in the land, which will start by addressing the basic fundamentals of the causative factors that gave rise to this menace.

The first issues to address, are the economic and educational transformation of the country holistically. Indices like poverty, lack of education, unemployment and absence of basic infrastructure are some of the root causes of insecurity in Nigeria. Without addressing these root causes, measures like the shoot on sight directive which ordinarily appear barbaric and unconstitutional, will be the factor that will rather exacerbate insecurity in the land, rather than reducing it.

It is important that well meaning Nigerians should speak out, and advice the President on the proper path and procedure to pursue, in order to reduce insecurity rather than the measure that will rather escalate and exacerbate it. A word is enough for the wise.

Monday Onyekachi Ubani, former 2nd Vice President, Nigerian Bar Association