When I returned home some years ago during the Yuletide holiday my brother, Azuka, had come to the international airport in Lagos to welcome me. As we got set for the long journey to the east days after I was a bit surprised when Azuka brought out a ‘pump-action’ assault rifle he had bought and loaded it first inside the boot of the car. Upon inquiry, subdued by curiosity, he had told me grinning that banditry in the village had taken a turn for the worst so he needed to arm himself for any unforeseen circumstances.
Of course, despite the incessant military roadblocks (harassments and embarrasments) on the way we succeeded in transporting the weapon home. From Lagos to Benin down to Onitsha one could count scores of check-points, legal and illegal, where extortion and blackmail were the order of the day. It was not only ridiculous but provocative and nauseating an experience. Yet many ‘Biafrans’ still endure it even today!
Months prior to my arrival Azuka’s mother had been kidnapped in the village on her way to the farm! The young man had to shell out millions of Naira as ransom for her mother to be set free. He went to great lenght metaphysically to discover who the mastermind behind the kidnapping incident was.
Arriving in the village at dusk the first thing Azuka did was to release some rounds of bullets into the air as if to announce indirectly of our return. Again by so doing he must have sent a loud message to the bandits and kidnappers that violence or aggression would be answered with bloodshed.
Perhaps that was a fitting answer to the ordeal he went through when his beloved mother was abducted and he was made to pay a huge price for her freedom. For almost a month we spent in the village drinking fresh palm-wine and goat pepper-soup no effort was ever made by any undesirable element to intimidate or get near the compound.
In the village we attended a social event featuring a silver jubilee celebration of a blissful marriage. As we drove in armed vigilantes were keeping watch in different directions around the neighbourhood. They were armed with AK-47 assault rifles! I remember asking Azuka if the arms they were bearing were legally acquirred to which he answered in the affirmative.
Recently President Muhammadu Buhari had issued a shoot-at-sight order to the security chiefs as he decorated them with their new ranks inside the Aso Rock Villa in Abuja. The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, told BBC Hausa Services in an interview last Wednesday that the embattled President had ordered the service chiefs to go inside the bushes and flush out the criminals terrorizing Nigerians shooting at sight anyone caught wielding AK-47 sophisticated weapon!
The problem here is not issuing orders but carrying them out without let or hindrance. The fear of selective implementation persists in the consciousness of discerning Nigerians. How are we sure that there would not be discrimination in the implementation process of this presidential diktat? If a Fulani cattle herder, in his ignorance, who is used to carrying AK-47 around thinking that it is within his right to possesss one is caught inside the jungle would a primitive Fulani soldier on patrol, for example, summon enough courage to shoot him to dead upon seeing him?
Now, with the Eastern Security Network (ESN) controversially (yet audaciously) formed by the fugitive Nnamdi Kanu of the IPOB fame clashing already violently with the Nigerian security forces in Orlu and elsewhere in the east it remains to be seen how they would evade the presidential shoot-at-sight edict. Besides, it is only hoped that the Buhari shooting order would not spare the Fulani herdsmen who possessed the weapon of war more than any other civilian or para-military group in Nigeria.
If the order concerns everyone then it could be a sure dissuasive desperate measure aimed at curbing generalised banditry and the proliferation of lethal weapons across the federation. But if it was aimed at intimidating or forcing ‘Amotekun’ or ESN or Niger Delta militants, for instance, to surrender their weapons then it would definitely fail.
When, prior to the general elections of 2019, President Buhari ordered the security forces to shoot ballot box snatchers at sight ballot boxes were still snatched and no one was shot. Thugs and hoodlums belonging to the ruling APC committed the electoral offense more than the opposition PDP. Perhaps that was why no one was ever ‘caught’ or shot at any polling booth.
President Buhari is always good at dictatorial tendencies. When he seized power in the early 80s overthrowing a democratically-elected federal government led by the late Shehu Shagari he had tyranically sought to enforce discipline by bringing a war against indiscipline (WAI) into place. Indisciplined and irresponsible Nigerians suddenly changed their attitudes towards civism and decency on the streets.
Examples and victims were made out of many folks as they were made to frog-jump or do rigorous press-ups. Others were subjected to lashes of ‘koboko’ (horse-whip). But between then and now there is a big difference in terms of governance structure and composition. Then, Buhari was an unrepentant dictator and now he is a reluctant democrat — if he could be described as such.
Ordering the security agents to go about shooting whoever they see in the bush with AK-47 rifle cannot be applauded under a democracy. It is abhorent! Constitutionally it remains an aberration. Under the law no one deserves to die unless tried and sentenced by a court of competent jurisdiction.
President Buhari has no right, therefore, to order the security chiefs to kill Nigerians bearing weapons in self-defense. It is high time the possession of firearms was legalised in Nigeria so that terrorism or criminality can no longer prosper in our land.
We have had cause to warn that our problems as a nation disunited and divided are exacerbated by the system of governance at the centre which does not take cognisance of the multinational nature of the country.
The presidential shoot-at-sight directive is dead on arrival; it is akin to shooting blindly at a target. Who shoots whom? What if the ‘hunter’ becomes the hunted? Let wisdom and smart decision prevail in a terrible national situation. Buhari should resign if he is bereft of ideas on how best to solve the increasing social and security problems bedeviling our nation.
Unless Nigeria is a jungle (or a zoo) and Nigerians glorified animals then opening fire upon sighting someone wielding an AK-47 inside the jungle or elsewhere around town could be said to be in order. Otherwise, the global best policing or law enforcement strategy must apply here.
When as a soldier or police you encounter a bearer of an assault riffle like AK-47 the normal thing to do is to immediately order the armed man to surrender himself and his weapon. If resistance or aggression is encountered in the process of trying to enforce the law then you can shoot in self-defense. Killing the aggressor becomes appropriate under the circumstance.