In the March 29, 2020 national broadcast of President Muhammadu Buhari and the COVID-19 Quarantine Regulations issued thereafter to curtail the spread of Coronavirus pandemic, members of the armed forces were not authorised to enforce the regulations. But out of sheer impunity, the Defence Headquarters announced plans of the armed forces to implement the presidential order on the restriction of the movement of the Nigerian people. In my reaction to the illegal plan of the Defence Headquarters to involve armed troops in the enforcement of the regulations, I issued a public statement wherein I said, "While the nation's armed forces should be commended for making their medical facilities available to members of the public in the fight against the highly dangerous virus, the plan to dispatch armed soldiers to the streets to enforce the COVID-19 guidelines should be shelved because it is illegal.
For the umpteenth time, I am compelled to draw the attention of the military authorities to the case of Yussuf vs Obasanjo (2005) 18 NWLR (Pt ) where Salami JCA (as he then was) held that “It is up to the police to protect our nascent democracy and not the military, otherwise the democracy might be wittingly or unwittingly militarised. This is not what the citizenry bargained for in wrestling power from the military in 1999. Conscious steps should be taken to civilianise the polity and thereby ensure the survival of and sustenance of democracy."
In the same vein, in the celebrated case of All Progressive Congress vs Peoples Democratic Party (2015) LPELR 24349 Aboki JCA held that the President lacks the power to call on the Armed Forces to restore law and order in any part of the federation without the approval of the National Assembly as provided in sections 217(2) and 218(4) of the constitution as amended. His Lordship reminded the Federal Government of its legal obligation “to confine the military to their demanding assignments especially in these trying times of insurgencies and encroachment into the country's territories..."
However, in utter violation of the aforesaid injunctions of the Court of Appeal, the platoons of armed troops deployed by the military authorities have unleashed mayhem on innocent members of the public for allegedly breaching the COVID-19 Regulations. The several video clips, which captured the unwarranted brutalisation of the people have been circulating at home and abroad. As usual, the military authorities have publicly defended the rampaging troops by dismissing the video clips.
In a desperate bid to cover up the atrocious behaviour of the torturers, the military authorities deliberately refused to conduct any investigation into the complaints of the victims. Although, while not denying the authenticity of the video clips of horror, Coordinator of Defence Media Operations, Major General John Enenche, said that "the videos were old clips of past incidents that took place in 2012 and 2013." Assuming without conceding that the incidents recorded in the video clips took place in the past, were the culprits identified and sanctioned by the military authorities?
Whereas based on a similar video clip, which recently exposed a group of policemen, who had engaged in the brutalisation of some traders in Lagos under the pretext of enforcing the COVID-19 Regulations, the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Mohammed Adamu, ensured that the culprits were promptly identified and arrested for the purpose of prosecuting them. The civilised conduct of the police chief has demonstrated the readiness of the current police leadership to put a stop to the involvement of police personnel in the crude infringement of the fundamental right of the Nigerian people to dignity.
In the light of the foregoing, we respectfully call on President Buhari and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces to restrain members of the armed forces from further enforcing the COVID-19 Regulations.
Furthermore, we urge the President to order an investigation into the video clips of the brutalisation of members of the public by some overzealous soldiers and direct the appropriate authorities to bring them to justice for contravening the provisions of the Anti-Torture Act, 2017.