By Sunday Ani
Last week’s directive to the security agents by President Muhammadu Buhari to shoot on sight anybody bearing an AK-47 rifle found in the forests and bushes across the country has been generating mixed reactions from Nigerians. During the official decoration of the newly promoted Service Chiefs at the State House in Abuja on March 5, the President was reported to have given the military chiefs a marching order to shoot on sight anybody bearing AK-47 rifles without a license. The directive was applauded in some quarters, while it received knocks as well as suspicion and insinuations in some other areas.
Those who commended the president believe that with such order, the security agents would have nothing to fear as they would now confront, head on, the bandits and other criminal elements holding parts of the country to ransom. They equally believe that the order has also extricated the president from the widespread belief and insinuations that he was giving cover to the Fulani herdsmen who use AK-47 to terrorise Nigerians under the guise of protecting their flock of cattle.
But, there are other Nigerians who took the president’s order with a pinch of salt, insisting that the order was vague. They argued that the order would not have any positive effect on the spate of insecurity since the president did not come clean on the directive. They believe that the president should have been specific by directing the Service chiefs to move into the bushes and forests where the AK-47 bearing bandits kill, maim, kidnap and rape without let or hindrance.
One of the proponents of this view is the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR). The orgnisation called for elaboration on the order, since in many parts of the country, the armed herdsman/farmer face-off continues to rage. “How does the marching order fit into the existing deadlock? One would have expected a general call for the armed bandits posing as herdsmen, to be given an ultimatum, from the Presidency or Military Headquarters, to surrender their arms within a given period or face extinction.”
The CDHR insisted that the order would only be meaningful when soldiers march into the bushes and forests since those bearing AK-47 operate in the forests and bushes.
“Mr. President needs to be reminded that it is not only farmers who are at risk; travellers on most highways in Nigeria are at the mercy of AK-47 rifle wielders, who have made a sport out of pouncing on vehicles in between cities and towns,” CDHR noted.
There is also a strong belief in the legal circle that the president’s order does not speak of a country under democracy, where there is rule of law. They insisted that the Firearm Act does not prescribe death as punishment for being in possession of firearms, particularly assault weapons of the calibre of AK-47. They described the president’s order as the rule of men and not rule of law, asking whether Nigeria was being governed by the rule of law or the rule of men. “At all times, the rule of law is preferable to the rule of men,” they submitted.
Again, insinuations are also rife in some quarters that the order was a subtle way of protecting those who supply the arms to the bandits. “The right thing to do in order to get to the roots of the problem is to arrest them, and make enquiry as to how they secured the AK 47. We have heard of helicopters supplying arms to the bandits and all of that. When you kill anybody with an AK-47, how can you know where he got the weapons from? But, when you find out how the person got the weapon, you would have dealt with the root cause of the problem. Just shooting anybody on sight, particularly the Fulani, who have been reputed to be carrying AK 47 around, is another way of making sure that Nigerians don’t know how the criminals got their weapons. You don’t want people to know and that is why you want to kill them. And in any case, it is against the law; shoot on sight is not punishment for possession of firearms. So, it is shocking to take that approach,” they argued.
There are others who insinuate that the security agents always receive a counter-order behind the scene. To underscore their argument that there is always a counter order, bandits have kept striking, kidnapping, killing and wreaking havoc in some communities even after the presidential order, using the same AK-47 and other heavy duty weapons to advance their evil cause.
However, having felt the impulse of Nigerians on the issue, the President, last week, at a meeting with the Council of Traditional Rulers of Nigeria, on the security situation in the country, restated his earlier directive to the security agents to shoot on sight anybody bearing AK-47 rifles, without license, describing such persons as criminals that must be dealt.
“One thing that got to the press, which I read myself, was that anyone with an AK-47 will be shot. This is because AK-47 is supposed to be registered and it is only given to security officials.
“We closed the borders for some time, but the intelligence report I’m getting on a daily basis is that those who are conducting the abductions, the killings and so on, are still not short of arms and ammunition.’’
Debunking the insinuation that the directive was merely to placate Nigerians, rather than decimate the ranks of bandits, the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President, Mallam Garba Shehu, had also wondered what could have been stronger than the fact that the President had ordered the security operatives to shoot on sight anyone seen with dangerous weapons like AK-47, so long as the person is not a security agent.
Yet, there are other Nigerians who have argued that in an attempt to stamp out a security threat, President Buhari seemed to have provided ample opportunity for the military to settle scores. This, they argued, is because a shoot-on-sight order is a subtle way of giving a green light to state-sanctioned extra-judicial killing, because all a military commander or any security agent now has to do to get rid of his enemy is to say that such a person was caught with an AK-47.
They, therefore, insisted that with the order, the president has just heightened the skepticism of those who have long argued that the current administration has no credible plans to rein in insecurity in the country.
Analysing the order, the former governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, described it as a wrong move, saying, “For me what is wrong is wrong. It is wrong for people to carry AK47; it is also wrong to order anybody to shoot on sight any person bearing an AK-47. And nobody will shoot on sight. How many people have been shot on sight? People are still carrying AK-47.”
He cautioned those celebrating the order, insisting that the president was not serious. “If you are carrying an AK-47, how do I know, as a security man, that what you are carrying is an AK-47 and not just another gun? I think we should take the security of our people seriously. This order is not taking security seriously.”
He called on Nigerians to go on their knees and pray to God to change the minds of the leaders, so that they could begin to seriously pursue the welfare of the people.
But, the president of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Alhaji Yerima Shettima commended the president for issuing such an order. “In the first place, if you are not permitted to carry a gun, why are you carrying an AK-47 if you don’t have any bad intent? So, such a person should be killed because we already have a lot of problems at hand. There is no reason for anybody to go about in the bush bearing illegal arms. So, we agree with the president on this directive,” he said.
Although Shettima, like many other Nigerians, had expected the President to have taken such measures earlier than now, he commended him that at last, he took the bold step.
“Let us agree that there was a delay, but at last he has taken a decision that this is what needs to be done because we don’t know what will happen tomorrow again. So, let us commend him for having made the statement, though belated, instead of just keeping silent.
For the President of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), and presidential aspirant in the forthcoming 2023 election, Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, the order was a sign that the president might have suddenly come to a greater level of consciousness and understanding of what Nigerians have been going through, which is what Nigerians have been clamouring for. “So, it is something to applaud. He has been humbled by circumstances of insecurity that have gone above his expectation and above his current capacity because he said he has tried his best, and when a man said he has done his best, I don’t know what else you want him to do. And he admitted that his best is not good enough. You know, when you wake up to a certain consciousness, you want to do things to indicate that you have arisen to that level. So, there is always a point where you draw the line,” he said.
He also expressed fear that the directive was open to abuse, but argued that the matter in the country now required such level of desperation. “I know it will be abused but it is a major departure from the original situation where we were denying the situation and hoping it will disappear. So, that is a very strong sign of a new awakening of leadership. I think the president is trying to show that, at last, he is feeling our pains. I think he is trying to use this order to show that he means well and that he is not protecting anybody. For me, a bad situation demands some difficult, and sometimes, unsavoury responses. This is much better than just keeping quiet,” he submitted.
In his contribution, a human rights lawyer and former National President of CDHR, Malachy Ugwummadu, said the president’s order was borne out of desperation to reverse the ugly security trend in the country.
He expressed concerns that such orders as witnessed in the past never produced any positive outcome, rather, they resulted to monumental extra judicial killings and abuse of human rights that attracted international reprehensions.
“So, it may sound gratifying that he has eventually risen up to the occasion but in doing that, he has set in motion, a very serious mechanism that has the implication of creating more havoc than the one he is trying to solve,”.
He is also worried that the security agents would cash in on the orders to deal with their enemies. He said: “The implication is even simpler to appreciate when you consider the overzealousness of law enforcement agencies in this country. There were no such orders when the anti-robbery squad of the Nigeria Police ran amok in this country. There were no such clear directives by the Commander-in-Chief when we saw extrajudicial killings by soldiers and other law enforcement agents. Now that they have a seeming justification, you are bound to witness massive extrajudicial killing.
“Our position is that the president would have charged the leadership of all the security agencies to ensure that anybody found with a lethal weapon, including broken bottles, without justification, should be arrested and profiled for the purpose of prosecution.”
On the legality of the order, he said: “The president is looking for a desperate solution to a desperate situation, but as a nation regulated by law, the president can’t set aside the law because that will be an invitation to chaos. The security agents could exercise wrong discretion; judgment and profiling, at any material time and wipe out the people who are otherwise not as guilty as they have seen them.