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A PlayBook for Leaders Responding to Protestors: Simple, Don’t Shoot!

Roland Buaben

Yen Governance and Development

Last night I witnessed the horror of several patriotic Nigerians being killed. Their crime? Peacefully protesting for accountable governance and an end to the atrocious police force known as SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad). The right of the people to protest is a fundamental one that enables us to hold our leaders accountable; thus, this right ought to be protected at all costs. However, the most important element to protect is the dignity of human life. At no point is it permissible for the government or any of its agencies- in this case, the police force- to open fire on civilians peacefully protesting. It is outright wrong and not sanctioned under the Nigerian Constitution, the principles of international law, nor other conventions on the protection of human lives and rights.

Even on the battlefield, the principle of respect for the dignity of life is afforded to one’s enemy, how much more one’s fellow citizen. The Geneva Convention deems it illegal to fire at a soldier that is unarmed, that has surrendered, or one that poses no threat. This convention is built on the reasoning that, above all economic interests, political interests, combat advantage, human life takes precedent and must be protected. So how then would a leader see it fit to allow peaceful protesters to be harassed and massacred by police and the military? How come Governor Sanwo-Olu and President Buhari have allowed this to happen on their watch. Which commander authorized the use of force against protestors? Who authorized the CCTV Cameras to be taken down. Who ordered the Blackout?

From many accounts, the protesters gathered at the Lekki toll gate were peaceful. They did not pose any harm to the police officers nor did they provoke them in any way. Hence, opening fire on peaceful protestors was an unwarranted use of excessive force and a blatant disregard for the value of human life. This in itself is evidence of the very lawlessness that the #ENDSARS movement is protesting, yet, here we are. Unfortunately, time and time again we have witnessed around the world, the massacre of civilians who peacefully protest. You would think our political and military leaders, and law enforcement officers would have taken a hint: do not shoot peaceful protestors. These protests were peaceful and protestors did not commit any crime yet, they were treated as criminals.

Being an officer of the law does not make one judge, jury, and executioner. If that were the case there would be no need for the court of law. When law enforcement officers believe someone is breaking the law, the most they should do is arrest the person and let them be dealt with by the court. It is the court’s duty to decide if the person is guilty of the alleged crimes, and if so, what the consequences should be. It’s not the police’s job to accuse someone of a crime, condemn them to death, and perform the execution. Yet, this is what they did last night on the streets of Lagos: accused protestors of a crime and executed them, an injustice by all measures. Law aside, basic decency, empathy, and humanity should dictate to President Buhari and his cabinet, Gov. Sanwo-Olu, and members of the Nigerian police force that what happened today is wrong and should have never happened in the first place.

In the words of Fatou Bensouda, “impunity is never an option.” Therefore, I call on the respective Nigerian authorities to correct this injustice. Most importantly I call on African heads of state, the leadership of ECOWAS and the African Union to use their channels of communication with the Nigerian presidency and members of the Nigerian diplomatic corps to ensure that the demands of the #ENDSARS movement are met and to bring an end to these atrocities. To our leaders home and abroad, silence is definitely not golden. Perhaps you have chosen silence in order not to hurt your diplomatic relations with the Buhari administration. Perhaps you have chosen silence to protect your political and economic interests. I beseech you. The value of human life surpasses all else, thus break the silence.


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