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When a Government Chooses to Be The Enemy of Its Citizens

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 By Frank Tietie

Article 5 – 8 of the _UN Basic  Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms_ provides:

5. Whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials shall:

(a) Exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence and the legitimate objective to be achieved;

(b) Minimize damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life;

(c) Ensure that assistance and medical aid are rendered to any injured or affected persons at the earliest possible moment;

(d) Ensure that relatives or close friends of the injured or affected person are notified at the earliest possible moment.

6. Where injury or death is caused by the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials, they shall report the incident promptly to their superiors, in accordance with principle 22.

7. Governments shall ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offence under their law.

8. Exceptional circumstances such as internal political instability or any other public emergency may not be invoked to justify any departure from these basic principles.

Adopted by the 8th United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana, Cuba, 27 August to 7 September 1990

The present Nigerian situation is miserable. It is paying the price of many years of incivility by its authorities and citizenry.

In the last decade I and many other human rights advocates have through the media warned of dire consequences whether in  immediate or future terms that there would be chaos and ultimate implosion if we do not reverse the culture of disregard for human rights standards, impunity and relegation of the rule of law.

With the lethal use of force against citizens who gathered peacefully at the Lekki Toll Gate, the vestiges of the precursors to a full blown conflict are now present in the Nigerian situation. It was a tactical blunder to have deployed lethal force by soldiers as reported in the international media.

The Nigerian authorities must immediately act to reverse the growing escalation of violence by instituting swift changes in the leadership hierarchy and operational culture of the country’s law enforcement institutions, especially the Nigerian Police and the Nigerian Army.

The worst which is yet to come is when citizens take up arms against state institutions and against themselves. The happenings in the last few days in Lagos and Abuja now make this a possibility if  the situation is further mismanaged by the authorities.

The international community should not only be concerned about setting standards without showing a quick committment to applying mechanisms to enforcing those standards regarding conflicts prevention.

Many prolonged armed conflicts in Africa began in the way the Nigerian present situation is going. Whether in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire or Rwanda, those countries were largely abandoned by the international community in their moments of brewing crises which could have been prevented to avoid the loss of life and social order, only if the United Nations or other regional influence intervened timely.

Under the UN principle of Responsibility to Protect, the protection of human rights transcends the respect for sovereignty of member states of the United Nations. The international community must act to prevent a further worsening of the Nigerian present situation.

Nigeria is going through a trying time at this moment which may trigger an avoidable political conflict. The international community can help for it has indeed been too aloof in the face of constant violations of  treaties and international standards by the Nigerian state.

Citizens must realise that only they can determine the quality of sociopolitical space that will be enduring to guarantee present and future peace of Nigeria. That is embodied in the right to self-determination.

The protests need not be violent. There should be no basis for violence. However, the resoluteness for a better standard of living must be unwavering until standards set by national and international laws are obeyed.

Frank Tietie

Executive Director,

Citizens Advocacy for Social & Economic Rights (CASER)

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