By Nkanu Egbe
While we have yet to confirm the number of casualties in the shootings at the Lekki Toll Plaza on Tuesday evening, it is clear from video evidence that the government and security agencies acted in breach of the global convention on engagement in civil protests.
From the evidence, live ammunition was deployed by the security agencies on the protesters.
The use of live ammunition on the protesters by the security agents could have been with only one intent – to cause grievous, if not fatal, injury to their quarry.
Where the use of force to deter protesters could be remarkably effective, it should not be absolute to the extent of loss of life.
How did we get here? #EndSARS protesters were protesting, among other things, the arbitrariness in the taking of life by Nigeria’s police special squad – SARS.
Here is what every Nigerian needs to know.
There are certain rights and rules of engagement which are covered by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Nigeria is a signatory. Most of the articles are embedded in the Nigerian Constitution. These clauses are even of greater effect in a democracy which Nigeria portends and so it would be necessary to look at some of them.
Article 6.1 of the covenant says: “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”
Article 9.1 says: “Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.”
Article 10.1 says: “All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.”
Article 19.2 says: “2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
Article 21 says: “The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
The question we may ask then is if these clauses have been domesticated; that is, included in the Nigerian constitution.
The answer is yes and no.
For instance, section 33.1 of the Nigerian Constitution says:
“Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.” Fair enough.
However, section 33.2 says:
“A person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his life in contravention of this section, if he dies as a result of the use, to such extent and in such circumstances as are permitted by law, of such force as is reasonably necessary…(c) for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny.”
In a way, this section seems somehow and needs further thought, if not amendment.
Even then, assuming the security agencies on Tuesday night were relying on this clause in the execution of their action, was there a riot? Was there an insurrection? Was there a mutiny? These the security agents would have to justify.
The actions by the security agencies on Tuesday evening suggest a premeditated action sanctioned by someone of authority.
From live witness accounts, the security agents arrived the scene, first shooting in the air, then they shot into the crowd. There is no report of prior engagement with the protesters who were said to be seated on the floor, linked in arms, singing the Nigerian national anthem before the hapless shooting.
The Lagos State government later issued a statement:
“There have been reports of shooting at the Lekki Toll Plaza, following the 24-hour curfew imposed on Lagos State to stop criminals who hid under the #EndSARS protests to unleash mayhem on innocent citizens.
“The State Government has ordered an investigation into the incident.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has advised the security agents not to arrest anyone on account of the curfew, which he urges residents to observe for the peaceful atmosphere we all cherish.
He advises Lagosians to remain calm and not allow criminals, who have hijacked the noble protest of our gallant youths, to succeed in their evil plan of turning our dear state upside down.
The Governor will do everything within his power to ensure that the lives of all Lagosians are protected at all times.”
The last sentence of the statement betrays the powerlessness of the Lagos State government, as in this case, the government failed dismally to protect its citizens.
It is indeed difficult to estimate what an “investigation” can achieve when lives have already been lost and security agents continue to act with further impunity.
Albeit there must be a new protocol for engaging citizens whether under a democracy or martial law. And it must be in accordance with international convention.
Every Nigerian has a right to life.
- Nkanu Egbe is the Publisher/Editor, Lagos Metropolitan newspaper