HUMAN rights lawyer Femi Falana has warned President Muhammadu Buhari not to use the military against #EndSARS protesters making it clear that if this happens chief of army staff Lt General Tukur Buratai faces being charged with crimes against humanity.
Over the last fortnight, there have been widespread demonstrations across Nigeria and in the diaspora to protest the recent brutal killings by men of the Special Anti Robbery Squad (Sars) police unit. It all sparked off a fortnight ago when Sars operatives killed a young boy identified as Joshua Ambrose in cold blood in Delta State but unfortunately for them, videographer Prince Nicholas Makolomi, recorded the whole incident live.
So fierce has been the public mood that the inspector-general of police Mohammed Adamu has been forced to announce the dissolution of the Sars unit. Adding his voice to the protests, Mr Falana, a former chairman of the West African Bar Association has warned the government of the consequences of cracking down on the protesters or trying to end their demonstrations using brute force.
Mr Falana pointed out that Lt General Buratai, risks facing the International Criminal Court (ICC) if any of the protesters is killed. he gave the warning as the Nigerian Army announced that it was commencing Exercise Crocodile Smile VI, which is seen as a prelude to a Tiananmen Square-style crackdown on the protesters.
Already, Ambassador Hussaini Coomaisie, President Buhari’s peace envoy to the United Nations and the deputy national coordinator of the Buhari Campaign Organisation, has called for the military to be brought in to end the protests. In some states, thugs have been hired to disrupt the protests and there are now fears that the government will take further steps to discredit the protesters.
It is believed that the government has already hired thugs to perpetuate acts of violence in Osun and Edo States to create the impression that the protests have now got out of hand. This, it is feared, will provide the perfect pretext for a military crackdown, mass arrests and the forceful dispersal of the protesters.
Nigerian Army bosses have revealed that Exercise Crocodile Smile VI would run from October 20 to December 31. They added that it would carry out cyber warfare operations to counter negative propaganda by criminal gangs and groups in social media and across the cyberspace.
However, Mr Falana advised President Buhari to withdraw plans to engage soldiers for what is a purely democratic issue. He added that protests have commonplace across the world as seen in Hong Kong, US, France, South Africa, Belarus, and even in Sudan today.
Mr Falana said: “It is unfortunate that the Nigerian government is sending a signal to the military that it has a role to play in a purely civil matter. The plan to deploy soldiers is dangerous as it will push Nigeria into the red light district of global reckoning.
“Buhari is advised not to use soldiers to quell a peaceful, civil protest as the protesters have been lawful. The few cases of violence were associated with armed thugs disrupting the protests coupled with the shooting of protesters by security operatives.
“The political class is isolating Nigerians from governance. State resources are squandered by a few, corrupt people who over the years have failed to address institutional rot that continues to fuel anger and desperation of the toiling people.”
Other civil society organisations including the Centre for Democracy and Development, Enough is Enough and Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, have also condemned the military exercise, saying it is unacceptable. They unanimously warned that Exercise Crocodile Smile VI would only serve to exacerbate the distrust of citizens and lack of confidence in the state and its institutions.
They urged the military to withdraw the operation and remain in their barracks to defend the territorial integrity of the country until the #EndSARS protests abates. In some part of Abuja, the Nigerian Army has already been deployed to confront the protesters today.