Human Rights Activist, Femi Falana (SAN) has asked the Federal Government to withdraw the army from enforcing the lockdown order placed on the Federal Capital Territory; Lagos and Ogun States.
He said deploying armed troops is illegal and unconstitutional based on precedent judgements of the courts of the land.
He said, “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 the members of the armed forces were not authorised to enforce the Regulations.
“But out of sheer impunity, the Defence Headquarters announced the 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 that 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 v 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 militarized.’ 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.”
Falana said his position was also backed by the judgement in the case of All Progressive Congress v Peoples Democratic Party (2015) LPELR 24349 where Aboki JCA held that the President lacked 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.
He 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.”
Falana regretted that the involvement of the armed troops in the enforcement had led to torture and brutalisation of innocent citizens as revealed in several video clips trending online.
He accused the military authorities of not conducting a thorough investigation but rather dismissing the video clip.
“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,” he said.