•SANs fault Presidential directive•ARG: a blanket order is open to abuse
Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom and the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) have given full backing to the directive by President Muhammadu Buhari that bandits bearing AK-47 should be shot on sight.
The governor said the measure will reduce banditry, clashes between herders and farmers and other forms of criminality.
The Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) urged caution.
Senior lawyers contacted by our correspondents kicked against the order for being contrary to the law and might lead to unintended consequences.
All of them agree that it is illegal for anybody to carry an AK-47 rifle unless he is a security operative.
Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President Garba Shehu told the BBC Hausa Service in an interview aired on Wednesday that the order showed the seriousness with which the government was taking banditry, kidnapping and other acts of terror.
“What can be stronger than the fact that the President has directed the operatives to shoot anyone seen with dangerous weapons like AK-47, on sight, in as much as the person is not a security operative?
“Government is doing this with all seriousness. The President equally directed that the security (operatives) should go after them and kill them except they lay down their arms,” Shehu added.
Ortom, speaking yesterday at the Government House Makurdi when he hosted the Chairman Governing Board, Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Prof Adamu Kyuka, said: “I wish to commend Mr President for his recent order against those bearing AK-47 rifles. This I am sure will reduce the high rate of criminality, banditry and militia herdsmen attacks on our farming communities.
“I don’t only criticise, I also commend where necessary. And I want to say it is a shame on those psychopaths who were bashing me for writing to Mr President because he has finally heeded my advice.”
The ACF said the security situation required extreme measure to curb, pointing out that AK-47, being a dangerous assault rifle, should not be handled by unauthorised persons.
Its National Publicity Secretary Emmanuel Yawe said: “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 a need for the extreme measure to curb the spread of arms like AK-47.
“Some governors are even arguing that people should be allowed to carry AK-47 and that is not right. They want the country to dissolve into anarchy. It is not right for private individuals to carry AK-47, 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? Even Dane guns, you need a licence to own it. In Nigeria, people just carry AK-47 freely and they kill people and nothing happens to them.
“The ACF welcomes the President’s order.”
Lawyers who faulted the President’s directive include Chief Ifedayo Adedipe, Seyi Sowemimo, Jibrin Okutepa, Ahmed Raji and Mr Chino Obiagwu (SAN), all Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), as well as Jiti Ogunye.
Adedipe described the order as contrary to law.
He said: “Much as we are all concerned about insecurity in the country, I am afraid the President’s directive is wrong and frightening.
“This is because the directive to shoot presupposes that those allegedly bearing AK-47 have been found guilty of an offence whose penalty is death. I am afraid, that does not align with our legal system.
“You have to arrest and prosecute those bearing arms in a duly constituted court of law. To do otherwise is to follow the approach of President Rodrigo Dutrete of the Philippine in his fight against drug lords.
“Even without the presidential directive, our security agents are masters at shooting unarmed civilians. To be given Presidential order now will enable some of them to kill innocent people, and plant guns on them. That is scary.
“We need to do better than the bandits we are fighting. I sympathise with the President because his job is not easy in the present climate of insecurity.
“But those in charge of our security should develop a better solution, other than the one that can lead to the killing of innocent citizens.”
Okutepa advised those opposing the order to go to court.
Sowemimo said: “I think the President should not be speaking literarily. I don’t expect the President to say they should just be shot on sight.
“What he is suggesting is that the practice of carrying weapons without a license is unacceptable and that sanctions will be strictly meted out against those found with arms.”
He said he believed that the president was trying to tell bandits, kidnappers and other criminal elements that if they use weapons without a licence, they would be arrested and prosecuted.
Raji believes security operatives might find it difficult to identify the targets of the President’s order.
He said: “The question will be how to define a bandit. What are the characteristics of a bandit? How do you recognise one when you see him? What if he is carrying another variant of weapon as deadly as AK 47? Is it about the nature of particular arms or the person? These are some of the issues agitating the minds before there can be any meaningful contributions to the debate.
“If you shoot ‘bandits’ bearing AK-47, what do you do with those giving them the rifles? Should the effect be treated without attention to the cause?”
Okutepa, who declined to analyse the President’s order, referred anyone confused by or opposed to it to seek judicial relief.
“Only the court can say whether he is right or wrong,” Okutepa said.
Obiagwu, National Coordinator of Legal Defense Assistance Project (LEDAP), said: “For such an order to emanate from The Presidency, there should be an Executive Order that will dispel the Police Regulation. Remember the Police Regulation has a procedure for disarming an armed person.
“If the President wants to waive that provision of the Police Regulation which was made under Police Act, but which he can suspend, he has to issue an Executive Order saying for the issue of security, this is the position.”
According to him, the order “did not come directly from the President.”
He argued that if the person refuses to surrender the arms, the law does not automatically authorise security agents to kill that person.
Ogunye also disagreed with the shoot-on-sight order.
He said in a post on his Facebook wall, said: “Shoot AK-47 gun carriers on sight? No. Illegal possession of firearms does not attract a death penalty under our criminal law.
“Arrest AK-47 gun carriers and seize their weapons, and apply force, including lethal force, if they resist arrest or pose threat to lives of law enforcement agents? Big yes.”
National Chairman of Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), Mr Wale Oshun, described the order as “delicate.”
“Let it not be a blanket order” else the police will seize the opportunity to deal with anyone found with a gun. If you have a Presidential order to shoot-on-sight, they will kill anybody with a gun. I hope it won’t be another cover for police excesses?”
Oshun added: “Nobody has a right to carry AK-47; it is meant for security people; but ordering police to shoot anyone with it is not the solution. They will just be killing people. Let the police disarm anyone with AK-47 and charge him to court. You can’t give the police the powers of a prosecutor, a judge and an executioner.”
Ndudi Elumelu, minority leader of the House of Representatives, said: “The statement credited to the media aide to Mr President is a welcome development. I would have preferred Mr President by himself to have made that order”.
“I will like him to condemn outright the activities of the herdsmen. They are everywhere, messing up all the communities, attacking people, because some people are very fanatical and they will want to hear him speak.“