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Human casualty of subsidy protest

Published by Guardian on Sun, 22 Jan 2012

THE reported loss of at least 25 lives across the country during the mass protest by civil society groups and labour unions marks a sad and unfortunate turning point of the nation-wide campaign against the removal of fuel subsidy. The incidents again raise the almost over-flogged need for the nation's security agencies, particularly the police, to embrace a crisis management strategy devoid of extra-judicial killings.According to reports, those killed in the struggle include Muyideen Mustafa in Ilorin, Ademola Aderinto in Lagos, Raheem Mojeed in Osun, Olurin Olateju in Ibadan, AbdulGafar Mohammed Hadis in Kaduna, Yahaya Abubakar Adamu in Lambata and Rabiu Abubakar in Suleja. These are in addition to no fewer than 15 others killed in Lokoja, Jalingo, Kano, Maiduguri and Ibafo area of Ogun State, among other places.Without doubt, the deaths represent a violation of the sanctity of human lives and constitutional guarantees of right to life. More pathetic is the fact that those killed were Nigerians expressing their displeasure on the actions of a government that purportedly represents them.Particularly sad is the killing by a policeman of Ademola Aderinto at Yaya Abatan Street Junction in Ogba, Lagos last Monday. The late Aderinto was with friends, taking advantage of the empty streets occasioned by the strike to play football, an action that allegedly angered the policeman that opened fire on them, killing him and injuring four others.The unprovoked nature of the incident is condemnable. Those who were protesting had a right under the Constitution to assemble and stage rallies, let alone those who were not directly part of the protest.Lagos Police Commissioner, Mr. Yakubu Alkali acted well by promptly ordering the arrest of the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) suspected to be behind the Lagos killing, and by apologising to, and condoling with Aderinto's family and community. Equally noteworthy is the fact that President Goodluck Jonathan has lamented the loss of lives. These actions probably helped in dousing the heightening restlessness of youths in the area.The arrested officer should be made to answer for his deeds in accordance with the law. It is important too that any other security agent found to have killed any person(s) during the protest be brought to book. The use of force by a policeman to occasion death is only permissible in cases of extreme and present danger to his life and to those of others. In the absence of such a compelling circumstance, any killing will amount to an unlawful act.There is need to pay more practical attention to the conduct of policemen in times of crisis; and to emphasise to policemen that the law will not spare them if they engage in illegal or unauthorised action. Only recently, the Supreme Court ordered the execution of a policeman, Emmanuel Ochiba, who killed a passer-by, Godwin Momoh, along Tafawa Balewa Street in Jos, Plateau State. At the time, the policeman was said to be drunk.Five justices of the court, in appraising the policeman's appeal of the death sentence passed on him by the lower courts, dismissed the appeal on the ground that he (Ochiba) did not show any reason why his conviction for culpable homicide should be overturned. That case should be a constant reminder to police officers of their responsibilities to the civil populace at all times.Although labour has suspended the nationwide protest over the rise in fuel price, the lesson in it for the police is enormous. While a measure of violence and criminality may have attended the protest in some states, the officers failed to exercise the caution and wisdom professionally demanded of them to prevent needless bloodshed and to subsequently avoid an escalation of the crisis.Ultimately, the provision of the Constitution guaranteeing the right of citizens to lawful assembly, freedom of expression and right to life are fundamental provisions that should be closely guarded by everyone, particularly law enforcement agents.
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