Last week, some video clips, which were in circulation exposed the horrendous physical attacks unleashed on members of the public by a number of armed troops. The victims of such attacks were alleged to have contravened the COVID-19 Regulations. But in a bid to cover up the atrocious infringement of the fundamental right of the Nigerian people to dignity, the Defence Headquarters dismissed the video clips.
But barely 24 hours later, fresh video clips confirmed the brutal murder of Joseph Pessu in Warri, Delta State, by trigger-happy armed troops. In another video clip, a couple of soldiers were threatening to rape women and transmit HIV to them.
However, based on the nationwide condemnation of the brutal killing of Joseph Pessu and the threat to rape women by a bunch of rampaging soldiers, the Defence Headquarters turned round to announce that the culprits had been arrested. Having refused to call the torturers in military uniforms to order, the Defence Headquarters should not be allowed to conduct the investigation. In the circumstance, the National Human Rights Commission should take over the investigation and ensure that the culprits are brought to justice without any delay.
However, in view of the ongoing brutalisation and dehumanisation of members of the public by armed troops, it is pertinent to point out that the contravention of the Regulations made by President Muhammadu Buhari under the Quarantine Act does not attract the death penalty.
Indeed, by virtue of section 5 of the Act, the penalty for contravening the regulations is a fine of N200 or six months imprisonment or both fine and imprisonment. To that extent, the killing of any person for breaching the presidential stay-at- home order is illegal and unconstitutional. It is also a criminal offence under section 2 of the Anti-Torture Act of 2017.
For the avoidance of doubt, neither the Armed Forces Act nor any law has vested in members of the armed forces with the power to subject civilians to harassment under the pretext of enforcing any law or regulation whatsoever.
Therefore, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces should not hesitate to direct the service chiefs to withdraw all armed troops from further enforcing the COVID-19 Regulations.