A Statement By The Prominent Civil Rights Advocacy Group; Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) On The Proper Constitutional And Legal Roles of Security Forces And The Abuse of Their Obligations To The Rule of Law Vis-à-vis National Security
The need for adherence to the rule of law, safety of citizen and national security has been issues of public concern with the emergence of organised society. The return of democratic governance to Nigeria in May 1999 has more than ever before brought these issues to the front burner in national discuss as part of the broader good governance agenda.
Constitutional provisions and regulations have been made in addition to extant laws in the service of the rule of law, personal safety and national security. Reforms have also been undertaken in the security sector in order to make it more responsive.
In spite of these efforts, over 20 years down the line, there are still increasing incidences of threat to personal safety and national security in Nigeria. Cases of disobedience to court orders and human rights violations by security personnel, particularly the DSS and the Police abound, raising fears that if nothing urgent is done to arrest the ugly trend, the country might be thrown into serious crisis sooner than later. The entire South East of Nigeria has becoming a zone under security forces occupation with reports of frequent arbitrary detention and illegal arrests and the extortion and humiliation of citizens living in the mainly Igbo speaking geopolitical zone of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Police roadblocks which are centres of extortion and robbery of innocent citizen by armed security forces and police particularly have constituted the severest threats to the enjoyment of the fundamental human rights of Citizens enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999 as amended which the President and all holders of public offices including heads of security forces took oath of office to comply absolutely with. Reports reaching our desk also accused the DSS of being used allegedly by governors to harass and detain independent voices who are raising questions and demanding transparency and accountability from their governors and this malpractice has become a national pastime.
It would be recalled that it was in an effort to forestall such situation in human society that an English philosopher and political thinker; Thomas Hobbs became famous many centuries ago with his theory of the state of nature.
Hobbes had argued that life in a society without law becomes poor, short, nasty and brutish. In other words, the presence of law regulates man’s activities in society so as to avoid a situation where power becomes might. Such condition would also promote peaceful coexistence and that is only possible when laws are obeyed by all.
For close watchers of political developments in Nigeria since the last five years, the way security agencies go about disobeying court orders and violating citizens’ fundamental rights has left many in doubt as to whether Nigeria would not relapse into anarchy, where what Hobbes theorised and feared many years ago would materialise.
There are also fears that if urgent steps are not taken to reverse the trend, anarchy may soon reign supreme in the land giving rise to a situation that is akin to an ill wind that blows no one any good.
Recalling the commentary of the President of Nigeria at the opening of the 2018 Annual Nigeria Bar Conference in Abuja to the effect that national interest supersedes the rule of law and fundamental human rights delivers yet another concern as the stance raises genuine fears and sweeps up the need for fundamental queries regarding the current undermining of the Law to massage the ego of either the President or any political office holder.
For instance, just yesterday, Tuesday, September 8th, 2020, the media was frenzy with the news on how Nigerian music producer; Michael Ajereh widely known as Don Jazzy, and Tiwatope Savage popularly known as Tiwa Savage, were invited by the Department of State Services for questioning over alleged political utterances against the administration of President Muhamamdu Buhari.
According to media reports, following an upsurge in sexual assault cases across Nigeria especially against women, Tiwa Savage began a movement known as “WeAreTired” in protest of the situation. Through the movement, the musician called on Buhari’s administration to take action to stem the tide of rape in the country.
According to findings as reported by SaharaRepoters, this in addition to several posts on social media calling on the government to live up to its responsibilities to Nigerians earned Tiwa Savage an invitation by the DSS. Together with Don Jazzy, Savage was invited to the DSS office in Lagos two weeks ago during which they were warned to be careful with their posts on the social media.
Shortly after that episode, the two celebrities together with colleagues Yemi Alade and Waje were summoned by the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Zubairu Muazu, who while sharing efforts they were making to tackle rape and other problems in the state and country, warned the musicians to steer clear of political comments in order not to incur the wrath of the President Buhari administration.
Aside this, not too long ago the DSS reportedly invited a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria; Obadiah Mailafia over his comments on the operations of Boko Haram in the Northern part of Nigeria alleging that a serving governor in the North was the commander of Boko Haram.
He was invited twice for questioning by the DSS and also invited for interrogation by the police in Abuja, which he turned down by seeking a relief in court.
References could also be made to the DSS disobedience to several court orders for the release of the former National Security Adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan; Col Sambo Dasuki, the case of the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife, who have been languishing in the DSS custody for over four years, despite several court orders for their release.
Another reference point of the utter disregard for Rule of law by this APC-Led Government is seen in the invasion of the nation’s law making body; the National Assembly by the DSS in 2018, where they prevented the law makers from entering into the National Assembly to perform their constitutional duty. Till date, there is no accountability on why armed hooded DSS operatives attempted to overthrow the properly constituted hierarchy of the arm of government identified in section 4 as that which has the legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This invasion and attempted coup against the National Assembly by the DSS under the command and control of the President has been swept under the carpets. This is impunity taken too far and our democracy has diminished due to this deliberate sabotage by those clothed with temporary legal powers to enforce the RULE OF LAW and when you have ENFORCERS OF THE LAW BECOMING LAWBREAKERS then the nation is doomed.
Such brazen act of lawlessness exhibited by the officers of the DSS portrayed Nigeria in a bad light before the international community. Then Senate President Bukola Saraki and the then Speaker of the House of Representatives; Yakubu Dogara, were said to have described the incident as a coup against democracy.
It could be argued that the current government had its plans cut out from the outset to emasculate every segment of the society and that it chooses which court order to obey and the ones to disobey.
Currently the three arms of government which ought to be separate in operations, and act as checks on one another only exist in theory. In other words, the principle of separation of powers as well as checks and balances only exist in theory; in practice, only the executive is vibrant as the executive under Buhari appears to have pocketed both the legislature and the judiciary.
The forceful retirement of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN); Walter Onnoghen, and the appointment of the current CJN; Tanko Muhammad was the end of the game for the judicial arm. The move was what put a clog in the wheel of the judiciary and the result is what happened in 2019 where an agency of government like the DSS could invade a court in a bid to arrest a suspect without any consequence.
On the part of the Legislature, the executive’s interest in who became the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representative was a tell-tale sign of what the people would expect. Today, the legislators could only bark but not bite because they have been muzzled by the executive.
So, with the judiciary and legislature comfortably placed in the pockets of the executive, the stage was set for other segments of the society such as the media, civil society organisations and others who may likely rise to challenge the activities of government.
This penchant to disobey court orders and infringe on citizens’ rights is not exclusive to the DSS. It cuts across most of the security agencies. The EFCC and the Police are also as guilty as the DSS in this circumstance.
OUR POSITION AND RECOMENDATIONS:
National Security is absolutely subsumed under the OBSERVANCE OF RULE OF LAW and no democracy is properly so if the law is undermined to massage the ego of either the President or any political office holder no matter the status because all persons holding authority are bound by the provisions of the law and the Constitution.
Fascism, Tyranny and Dictatorship is where one see these sorts of harassment of citizens for exercising their fundamental human rights to freedoms as found in the Nigerian Constitution and a plethora of international humanitarian and human rights laws.
We may need to remind the president of the fact that the ultimate national interest is codified in the Constitution, wherein the fundamental human rights are given primacy of place and hinged on the rule of law. It therefore portends a dangerous trend where the rule of law now has to play the second fiddle and be at the mercy of a political power. This signals strong dictatorial tendencies and potential trampling on the rights given and protected under our constitution.
With the advent of civil rule in May 1999, majority of Nigerians expected that those dark days of flagrant disobedience to court orders and violation of fundamental rights of citizens would be history. The consequence of using security forces to harass those perceived to be against the central government is that constitutional democracy may collapse and this must be prevented by all means possible because if there is no democracy in Nigeria the next thing that could happen is anarchy.
President Buhari should not lose sight of the transient nature of power. He should note that whatever influence or the rank of enthusiasts cheering him on to the extreme, they would sure abandon him the moment he falls out of grace. It’s therefore very important that the President guards against sliding into bad errors, such as trying to build something on nothing by attempting to place emotion above the law.
What President Buhari and his handlers seem not to quite comprehend is that more than anything, the weakening of the institution of state destroys its national security capacity and not the conduct of the citizens. As such, the failure and decomposition of the foundational systems designed to protect the state and secure the citizens from the abscess of extreme actions constitute threat to national security.
The only body given the power to interpret what constitutes national security and what is Nigeria’s national interest is the Judicial Arm of the state. The President, as the Chief Executive of the Federation is empowered only to govern with, and execute the laws made by the National Assembly, and enforce the orders made by the Judiciary.
Therefore the rule of law is supreme, and is the foundation of its national interest, not the other way round. President Buhari was elected under the rule of law. There is no higher purpose for a nation other than to safeguard its citizens under the rule of law which guarantees, harmony, social order, prosperity, and the security and equality of citizenship.
That is the sum of the national interest: those principles already established under the constitution of the republic. To subvert that constitution willfully, and with intention to disorganize and re-interpret its purpose, and goals is actually the legal meaning of treason.
*COMRADE EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO:
*Miss. Zainab Yusuf:
Director: National Media Affairs.
HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA).
2nd September 2020.