32 arguments against Buhari’s shoot-on-sight order

IN addition to all of President Muhammadu Buhari’s gaffes during the 2015 electioneering campaign must now be his shoot-on-sight order against election offenders or, specifically, against ballot-box snatchers during the rescheduled elections! Some have said the order was borne out of the president’s love for democracy and his resolve to ensure credible, free, and fair elections. Others have searched our law books inside out, stretching this or that provision to its elasticity level and looking for all manner of justifications to tidy Buhari over. Yet, others have counselled that clear conscience fears no foe. Plausible as these defences are, there are, nonetheless, 32 very clear and unambiguous arguments against the shoot-on-sight order. I set them out here but not in any order in particular.

1:  It runs counter to extant laws or the punishments already established in our statute books e.g. the Electoral laws, for such offence. In civilised societies, which I believe Nigeria is, punishments may not be at the whims and caprices of an individual, no matter how highly-placed, but are products of law and due process. 2: The order purports to invest in Buhari absolute powers of the Sovereign whose word, in the fashion of the French monarchical despots, the Bourbons, is law. Buhari once asked for such absolute powers from the National Assembly ostensibly to deal with the economy but was refused, being mindful of Lord Acton’s immortal words that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” 3:  The order is dictatorial and tyrannical and runs afoul of the tenets of representative democracy which we operate. 4: It reminds Nigerians of Buhari’s antecedents and hideous past as military Head of State (1983 – 1985) when he rode roughshod over the polity, made retroactive laws with which he sentenced three Nigerian youths – Ojuolape, Ogbeh and Bathlomew Owoh – to death through public execution by firing squad when the offence they committed did not carry the death sentence at the time it was committed. Buhari, who shunned the Oputa Truth Commission set up by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, was nonetheless pointedly indicted by Justice Oputa for that crime. Nigerians fear that Buhari is set for a repeat of that unconscionable extra-judicial killing of innocent Nigerians.

5: The order seeks to deck the military in borrowed robes. Safe only the police and possibly also Civil Defence, the military has no front office role in electoral matters. Our laws are emphatic that the military must be so insulated. Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), waved this law in the face of former President Goodluck Jonathan and his then ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in the rundown to the 2015 elections. Have they forgotten? 6: By his shoot-on-sight order, Buhari is unwittingly dragging the military into politics and immersing it in murky waters which will not augur well for its professionalism and non-partisanship as the last national institution standing. 7: The order confers on the military powers they do not possess. Only after due process of law, which encompasses fair trial, the right to appeal, and judicial pronouncement by court of competent jurisdiction may the life of a citizen be taken. Any military man who acts counter to this commits a crime and may, upon conviction, pay with his or her own life. 8: The military may only take life in a war situation, which an election is not, and this, following clearly-stated rules of engagement which are incumbent on the military to scrupulously observe. Failure, such military men are liable to be tried for crimes against humanity and be appropriately sentenced by the International Criminal Court (ICC). 9: With the spate of extra-judicial killings in the land and the ocean of blood milling everywhere, Nigerians are alarmed that Buhari’s shoot-on-sight order will make an already bad situation worse. 10: Before now, we have had cases of trigger-happy military men in our midst, who kill for all manner of flimsy excuses. With Buhari’s shoot-on-sight order, Nigerians fear reckless arms-bearing men will take liberty for licence and unleash reign of terror on innocent, law-abiding citizens. 11: The order is likely to become potent ammunition in the hands of a military whose errant members openly extort Nigerians. Virtually every day, we have reports of the mowing of hapless citizens who refuse to give bribes to such men and women in uniform.

12: The order is a slap in the face of the legislature, which alone has the powers to make laws for the good governance of the country, as well as amend same. Theorists of separation of powers like John Locke posit that only through this means can one arm of government check another and protect and preserve our liberties and freedoms as free citizens of a free country and not as serfs. 13: In the event that Buhari is of the view that the existing provisions against electoral offences are inadequate, he should come through amendments to the law. His word alone cannot amend our laws. It must be noted that the same Buhari has severally frustrated efforts by the National Assembly to amend the Electoral Law. 14: Buhari’s shoot-on-sight order is also a continuation of his slap on the face of the Judiciary. Buhari, who heads just the executive, which is but only one arm of government, now acts as the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge. This is an aberration and an anathema to the fulcrum of the rule of law that no one may be a judge in his own cause. 15: If Buhari is allowed to become the legislature and judiciary, in addition to his being the executive, then, we have full-blown dictatorship. Call him Emperor or Fuhrer or the Nigerian State! 16: Nigerians also fear that the order will not be uniformly applied but will, like the anti-corruption war, be skewed in favour of Buhari’s friends and party men, while his perceived opponents and opposition political parties will be at the receiving end.

17: Nigerians suspect that the order is politically-motivated, meant to intimidate opposition figures while leaving the field wide open for Buhari and his party to run rampant before, during, and after the elections. 18: An international community already miffed by the unholy-hour postponement of the elections will be aghast at the shoot-on-sight order. Such can only come from banana republics, which whimsically substitute due process and extant laws for the whims and caprices of despots. 19: The bestial order, if carried out and if resisted or if its atrocious outcome is protested, will further tarnish our image in the international community. We may return to the days of the late vile dictator, Sani Abacha, when Nigeria was treated as pariah in international circles. 20: Depending on how it is implemented, the order is capable of instigating political crisis and endangering our renascent democracy. This is the longest stretch of civil rule Nigeria has had since Independence in 1960; preserving and carrying it forward, not endangering and destroying it, ought to be the focus of every patriotic Nigerian. 21: Nigerians are surprised that Buhari has not declared shoot-on-sight order at much more dangerous challenges to our nationhood, such as the killer herdsmen who have been allowed to roam freely, killing and maiming all over the country. 22: That the order is likely to scare voters away from the polls and increase voter apathy, which the postponement had triggered in the first place. Voter apathy is unhealthy for democracy as it is generally perceived to impact negatively on the credibility of polls. 23: That the order is seen as scantily-concealed threat against and intimidation of INEC and its officials, both permanent and ad-hoc. It is akin to saying “you better fall in line or else…” 24: The order is coded language to the military to do all in its powers to return Buhari/APC to office. “We have empowered you with this order; so what else are you still waiting for” kind of promptings. 25: On the surface the order looks like a commitment to credible elections but on a careful analysis, Buhari’s administration has no such pedigree: Critical elections since their ascension to power in 2015 – Edo, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun – have been less than credible, free, and fair. 26: Buhari’s statement that he used “remote control” to win the Osun election for his party conclusively proves that he will cut corners to help his party win elections or feather his own nest. 27: With the way Buhari used the military to lock down Ekiti state during last July’s governorship election there, allowing his party men to have a field day while the opposition was caged, the fear is that we are about to witness similar shenanigans on a national scale with this shoot-on-sight order.

28: A party or president that could not guarantee internal democracy in his party or deliver credible, free, and fair party primaries but which faltered at that hurdle and is fractured as a result cannot be expected to give what he does not have. If APC can deal sleight-of-hand with its own leaders and members and Buhari can look the other way, we would be day-dreaming to expect anything different from him at the national level. 29: Going by his campaign rhetoric in fractured Imo and Ogun states where he asked party faithful to vote for him but vote their conscience in other elections, it is beyond dispute that Buhari will sacrifice anything and everything to achieve his own political ambition. 30: Give a misfiring military an inch and it could take a mile. Allow them shoot ballot-box snatchers and they could add those waiting patiently at polling booths to make their votes count. Framing up the innocent is frequent occurrence here. 31: It is not as if the military have no duties more pressing than the elections – Boko Haram and the herdsmen, for instance.

32: The shoot-on-sight order is cold-blooded, mean, and blood-cuddling. One shudders to think of the kind of mind which spews it. Unfortunately for Buhari, it portrays him in very bad light, especially when it is placed side-by-side his 2011 “monkey and baboons will be soaked in their own blood” incendiary statement which led to widespread blood-spilling in the North. Are we set for an encore on a nationwide scale?

LAST WORD: If the elections held, by the time you are reading this, things should be getting clearer – this column was put to bed (meaning “was written”) on Friday evening. The effects of Buhari’s shoot-on-sight order; the performance of INEC; the response of voters, especially to the disappointment of two Saturday’s ago, and, of course, the results which should have been trickling in by now – all of these will be pointers to where we are headed as a people. While wishing my countrymen the very best, I nonetheless counsel that we keep an open mind. Another four-year election circle is just around the corner!