Buhari’s shoot-on-sight order

ON the face of it, President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent order to the military to shoot on sight anyone seen with an AK-47 rifle is what the country needs to bring the worsening security situation in the country under control. According to Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, “the president has ordered security forces to go into the bushes and shoot whoever they see with sophisticated weapons like AK-47.” Taken together with the previous declaration of the northwestern state of Zamfara as a no-fly-zone,” the order on AK-47 assault rifles seems to signal a new resolve by the Buhari administration to come to grips once and for all with rising insecurity in the country.

Early indications from certain sections of the country would seem to suggest that the move is not unpopular. For instance, Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, was quick to commend the president on the order, expressing confidence that it would “make the communities safer for displaced farmers to return to their ancestral homes” and “reduce the high rate of criminality, banditry and militia herdsmen attacks on our farming communities.” In the same vein, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) has welcomed the order. Speaking through its National Publicity Secretary, Emmanuel Yawe, the Forum contended that, “Though only lawyers can interpret the legality of the president’s order… there is a need for extreme measures to curb the spread of small arms like AK-47.”

Nevertheless, while the sentiment underlying the president’s order is understandable, it appears to raise more questions than answers. In the first instance, since the order seems to have been directed at individuals operating in forests, does that mean it is lawful to carry the same assault rifles in towns and cities? Are there people legally permitted to do so, that is openly carry AK-47s, and what is the rationale behind limiting the order to bushes? Second, where some people see seriousness, we see desperation, for nothing about the president’s order suggests that it was carefully thought through. Why disclose such an important order through an assistant to the president, and on a radio station specifically tailored at a narrow linguistic demography? Why, if he had such an important thing to say, did the president not speak directly to Nigerians via a national broadcast?

Third, and on a substantive note, in attempting to stamp out a security threat, President Buhari seems to have licensed a situation that can only cause more aggravation. This is because, technically speaking, a shoot-on-sight order is no different from state-sanctioned extra-judicial killing, since all a military commander now has to do to get rid of anyone not in his good books is to say that they were caught with an AK-47. With this order, President Buhari has strengthened the skepticism of those who have long argued that the current administration has no credible or cogent plans to rein in insecurity in the country.

We are pleased to note that some civil society organisations have also picked holes in the order. For instance, the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), while concurring that the situation in the country demands a radical move, nevertheless wondered how the order would break the prevailing deadlock between armed herdsmen and farming communities in the country. According to the organisation, the order “will only have meaning when soldiers march into the forest. This is especially so as those with AK47 rifles are not at bus stops and shopping malls, they are in the bushes and forests. Besides, 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 rifle wielders who have made a sport out of pouncing on vehicles in between towns and cities.”

What Nigerians want from the president is a detailed, well thought through plan to combat festering insecurity, not a knee-jerk reaction that is capable of exacerbating tension and lawlessness.



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