On Sunday, 28 October 2018, Shiite youths in Abuja, in reaction to a rumor that their leader, El Zakzaky had died in prison custody, pelleted an Army convoy said to be carrying ammunition with stones. In a video circulating the internet, the Army can be seen reacting and opening fire on the miscreants and left in their wake, many dead bodies.
There are unconfirmed rumors saying that the President gave the order to execute. There is also an ongoing debate as to whether the Army was justified in their use of force- most persons think they were. The Military is required to use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.
I am a strong believer in using reasonable force in reaction to threats. For example, I cannot slap you and then you proceed to shoot me. At least, slap me back or have me arrested for assault. What the Nigerian Army did can be likened to killing a fly with a sledgehammer. What happened to rubber bullets, tear gas? Or we don’t possess that as part of ammunitions in our military? What happened to firing warning shots to scare people away? The Nigerian Army opened fire on a major road in Zuba without putting into consideration the other civilians that ply that road. No thought as to the numerous innocent lives they put at risk.
The Nigerian Military ranks low in the international community when it comes to Human Rights and they keep sinking.
In their actions on Sunday, the Nigerian Army violated a lot of treaties and international instruments. Some of them include
1. The United Nation Congress on Crime Prevention ad Criminal Justice
At the Eight United Nations congress on the Prevention of crime and treatment of offenders, the congress approved standards on the basic principles on the use of force and firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.
Principle 4 states clearly that in carrying out their duty, Law enforcement, shall as far as possible apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms. From this, it is clear that force must be resorted to only when the first means (non-violent) remains ineffective. So there should be basic questions at the back of any Army’s mind- is there a need for force? Can we achieve tranquility without pulling out our guns? Is it absolutely necessary to open fire?
Principle 5 states that whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials shall: exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence and the legitimate objective to be achieved. This means that the use of force must be proportional to the seriousness of the offence- that lethal force can and should only be used in order to protect lives. In the video footage being circulated, the Army did not stop even after the Shiites scampered for safety after hearing gunshots- they proceeded to target and kill them.
2. Article 2 and 3 of the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials. Article 2 provides that in performance of their duty, law enforcement officials shall respect and protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the human rights of all persons. The Army flagrantly disobeyed this Article when they disregarded and put the lives of other citizens in danger. In the video footage, some civilians can be seen ducking in an attempt to dodge bullets. What would have happened if an innocent person was hit by stray bullets? This question and many more doesn’t cross the mind of the military when they get into their murderous rage.
Article 3 provides that Law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.
3. Article 6 and 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Article 6 provides that every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law and no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.
Article 9 is to the effect that everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. This is probably the most disregarded article by law enforcement agents in Nigeria. The people put in place to protect lives are mostly power drunk (power gotten from the weapons in their possession) and trigger happy and will not hesitate in their wanton cruelty to civilians. There is an appetite in them that seems to be only quenched by the fear exhibited by civilians whenever they are face to face with a gun muzzle, an appetite that can only be quenched by a constant need to prove their superiority to civilians. Nigeria is standing a precipice and the actions of the military may be the spark plug that leads cataclysmic fall.
At the end of Sunday’s incident, close to a dozen Shiite members were killed but leave it to newsrooms to report that only 3 were killed, downplaying the inhumanity of our soldiers. In an attempt to justify the killings, the official handle of the Nigerian Army on Twitter published photos of the supposedly injured military men from the attacks and I daresay none of those injuries are life threatening.
The implication of the actions of the Nigerian Army is and will remain that the Nigerian Military has absolutely no regard for fundamental human rights or any of the international treaties guaranteeing right to life, liberty and security of persons which Nigeria is a signatory to. It is obvious that the Military and indeed the law enforcement agents in Nigeria need a refresher course in upholding the fundamental right to life.
P.S. I do not in any way support the actions of members of the Shiite group. What I am however against is the unreasonable force used by the Nigerian Army in reaction to the threat.