From time immemorial, the use of force has been a veritable tool both local and international conflicts. Maintaining peace and order, is often a difficult task particularly when other legitimate means appears to have failed often leads to the application of maximum force. There is the universal opinion that maintaining peace should always be calibrated in a precise, proportional and appropriate manner, within the principle of the minimum force necessary to achieve the desired effect, while sustaining the very existence of the state. As some may argue that while it is not advisable to use force in a continuous basis for stability and progress of the state, it will be unwise to neglect its (mis)use altogether.

Just recently, according to the official accounts of the military, members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (also known as Shiites) reportedly blocked the route of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Tukur Buratai’s motorcade on his way to the palace of the Emir of Zauzau, thus prompting a confrontation between the Army and the group. The army has consistently maintained that the group attacked with ‘crude weapons’ and fearing that the life of the army chief may have been in danger, lethal force was used to clear a route of escape for the army chief. It is quite unfortunate that the function of law of enforcement agency is to protect lives and properties, given in a sharp reminder, the clash in Zaria was similar events that triggered the rapid evolution of the Boko Haram insurgency which has left thousands dead and millions perpetually displaced.

With our little knowledge of International Relations, we will bother ourselves to buttress this short essay by citing United Nations Basic Principles on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials, adopted by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana, Cuba,  27 August to 7 September 1990, under POLICING UNLAWFUL ASSEMBLIES:…As everyone is allowed to participate in lawful and peaceful assemblies, in accordance with the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Governments and law enforcement agencies and officials shall recognize that force and firearms may be used only in accordance with principles 13 and 14. The regulations states as follow:

“In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.

In the dispersal of violent assemblies, law enforcement officials may use firearms only when less dangerous means are not practicable and only to the minimum extent necessary. Law enforcement officials shall not use firearms in such cases, except under the conditions stipulated in principle 9, which states that: Law enforcement officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defense or defense of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life, …and resisting their authority,… In any event, intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”

From aforementioned, the salient questions to be asked are: did the military act in self-defence or defense of others against the imminent threat of death or simply an act of aggression? Was the army chief’s life so-threatened to warrant the use of force? Was the military authority resisted? Were the Shiite peaceful and lawful in their gathering? Was the display of “lethal and dangerous weapon” lawful blocking government roads? Was there a permit for that gathering? Were they a threat to the rest of us? Were they persuaded (as less dangerous means) to make way for the military convoy? Were they willing to do so after much persuasion by the top military officers? If no reasonable answers could be provided to the above, no authority can exists within constituted authority. There can never be two captains in a ship. What might have played out was a display of the Machiavellian maxim of the end justifying the means. The AK47s wielded by armed forces are not chewing sticks-It is used to consolidate the state. We only pray that next time, reason will prevail!


Remi Otuneye is a political analyst based in Lagos. He can be reached on