by Omozuwa Gabriel Osamwonyi
Whose responsibility is it to maintain civil order and public peace when students are rioting? What is the rule of engagement governing the use of force in domestic operations? Should security operatives be allowed to use firearms on anyone who appears unarmed?
The recent brutal extrajudicial murder of four students of Nasarawa State University who were protesting the acute lack of water and power outage in the university is condemnable. It is reported that the restive students were killed by military personnel on routine duties in the state. They intervened to ensure the protest did not impede free vehicular movement and thwart whatever may lead to disturbance of public peace.
This sad incident questions the desirability of using the military for policing. It does not suggest progress in our collective quest for an egalitarian society, where human rights are not whimsically violated. Rather it reinforces the impression that inch by inch, Nigeria is sliding into a state of lawlessness.
In fact, it raises many questions. What is the value of human life in our society? Whose responsibility is it to maintain civil order and public peace when students are rioting? What is the rule of engagement governing the use of force in domestic operations? Should security operatives be allowed to use firearms on anyone who appears unarmed?
Historically, universities are revered havens of solace and bacons of illumination in landscapes enshrouded in disillusion and popular apathy. When political actors by their lacklustre performances plunge nations to the pit of odium and lawlessness, the strategic interventions of universities lift such nations to realms of civil order and economic progress. Also, universities help to cultivate and elevate the spirit of eternal vigilance, rational dissent, lawful protest and popular agitation for policy measures that best guarantee the good life. They ingrain the principles of civilised mode of life in students and strengthen the ethical framework of state-citizen interactions.
Hence, it is popularly assumed that university students have attained an enviable degree of intellectual and ethical sophistication that would make them the envy of Aristotle. Their words and deeds have lent credence to this assumption. Indeed, over the years, Nigerian students have played leading roles in the crusade for a better society where the rule of law prevails and the ammenities for a civilised life are commonplace.
In playing this role, they have suffered many vicious assaults from law enforcement agents, particularly during the authoritarian era of military goof-offs. It is antithetic to democratic ethos that the spirit of lawful protest should be repressed with brute force. It is irrational to fight students with bullets. For their weapons of contestations are mainly ideological and aim at securing the universal common good.
Fighting for a principled course does not in any way justify hooliganism. There are good reasons to assume that we have failed to learn from the tragic errors of the past. So we unforgivably repeat them. Violence triggers violence. With the benefit of hindsight, the military should not be involved in any operation mandated to nib student rampage in the bud.
Even when circumstances conspire to make their intervention inevitable, as it is alleged that the military personnel were not deployed to foil the unrest, but were on routine duties in the state, it is expected that they evince an exemplary degree of civility. The seemingly unguided exuberance of the restive students does not justify this criminal wastage of lives.
It is fair to deduce from this ugly trend that human life in Nigeria is no longer sacrosanct, particularly, in the eyes of security operatives. It suggests they have no modicum of fellow feelings. Did they think about the untold sufferings their murderous acts will inflict on the parents of the students, their siblings, friends, fellow students and on our national psyche?
The popular impression that the military is robotised to wreck violence on civilians in times of social unrest does not augur well for democracy and state building. They stand to gain nothing by conveying the notion that the Nigerian state sanctions violence against her citizenry. There is a saying in local parlance that best captures this notion: “Soja no dey hear go come, na only go e dey hear.” This is an auspicious moment for them to make the logic of this saying outmoded, by principled conducts and housecleaning. Professionalism must be their watchword. Misguided elements among them should be brought to book.
Nigeria is scandalised in the comity of nations. No thanks to our long track record of extrajudicial murders. Tragic incidents like this tend to validate John Campbell’s much-canvassed pessimistic perspectives about Nigeria. John Campbell, a former American Ambassador to Nigeria in his seminal book “Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink” argues that Nigeria’s strategic importance in the sub-region and her capacity to partner with the United States is overstated and should be reviewed.
Campbell’s claim is largely premised on the fact that political misrule fuels escalating internal violence. It is also hinged on the pervasive disrespect and devaluation of human life. To buttress his claim, he noted that Mike Okiro, as acting Inspector General of Police in mid-November 2007, joyfully announced to the world that 785 “suspected armed robbers” have been killed by the police within three months.
The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke highlighted the scale of the problem when in mid-December 2012; he disclosed that 7,198 extrajudicial killings occurred in the past four years. This figure translates to about five persons killed daily by policemen across the nation.
Killings of this nature have many implications on our national life. It has clearly eroded the confidence of citizenry in the security agencies. They are seen more as instruments of repression and less as state agents devoted to the protection of our territorial integrity, lives and properties. This ebbing confidence has triggered a general sense of insecurity in Nigeria. It puts a clog on the wheels of democratic consolidation and economic progress. Doesn’t it, in part, explain why industries are relocating to neighbouring nations?
Again, killing of this nature highlights the weakness and near-collapse of our public institutions. Weak government institutions are synonymous with anti-people policies and practices. The extrajudicial murder of the four students is a consequence of poor governance. Nothing practically and vehemently questions the acclaimed merits of democracy as a system of popular participation in government like when its institutional drivers are not well-oriented toward securing the common good. It breeds a sense of alienation and frosty state-citizen relations.
In this era of global capitalism, we risk harnessing its potential to transform Nigeria from a socio-economic basket case to a prosperous egalitarian society, where human rights are accorded the importance they deserve. No savvy foreign investor is likely to invest where extrajudicial killings are norm. Stated pointedly, our business environment is becoming less attractive to global investors, because we brazenly violate fundamental human rights and the perpetrators are not held accountable.
It seems extrajudicial executions and tortures to extract confession from suspects are commonplace because, the Nigerian Police is under-resourced, under-staffed and under-trained. These impede their capacity to satisfactorily investigate cases. Therefore, to end these atrocious acts of police brutality their capacity for criminal investigation should be enhanced through robust funding and capacity development. These measures will make systematic forensic investigation a norm in Nigeria.
Furthermore, the flawed “rules for guidance in use of firearms by the police” should be amended to reflect the humane spirit of the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.
The timeworn Police Order No. 237, which permits the usage of firearms when a policeman cannot “by any other means” arrest or re-arrest a suspect or convict of an offence punishable by death or at least seven years’ imprisonment should be done away with as it provides justification for atrocious extrajudicial murders. In addition, torture and extrajudicial killings must be criminalised.
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