‘House to house search for looted palliatives illegal’

Director Access To Justice Action Group, Joseph Otteh has said that going house to house to search for alleged looted palliatives is not only illegal but also unconstitutional.

According to him, “A house to house search without a valid search warrant duly issued by a court of law is illegal and unconstitutional. And under Nigeria’s laws, no state governor has the right to order a house-to-house search.

“To search a house, the state would need a search warrant issued by a court, in accordance with the various laws of each state. No governor can usurp the powers of a court in this respect and no “Executive Order” can confer such a right.”

He added that while it was sad that the #EndSARS protest metamorphosed into widespread looting, it wasn’t something the protesters planned. “We can only regret that things descended to this level but the government shouldn’t have said the palliative were just received last month. The panel of enquiry needs to expand its scope of work to investigate whether state governors kept faith with the people or not. People suffered a lot during and after the lockdown and it is very unfair to keep palliatives from them. Anyway you look at it, government was a major contributor to the mass looting that took place. When people are hungry and see food meant for them being kept away to expire and spoil, it would be almost impossible to keep them away from it.”

Otteh noted that most Nigerians live day today, and are chronically poor and deprived, wondering where their next meal would come from.

He said that Nigeria had enough resources to take care of everyone and ensure poverty is not a factor to premature death, yet many Nigerians die from hunger.

“It is hard to moralise this behaviour against people who, out of desperation and the need to survive, went to take those items. It is not normal behaviour but for people who are hungry, it is impossible to condemn. While I don’t encourage it at all, I can understand why they did what they did.”

Some state governors have said that after the ultimatums given, they would authorise a house-by-house search of residents’ houses in order to recover looted items and prosecute looters.

“Cross River State Governor, Ben Ayade, Osun State Governor, Gboyega Oyetola and Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai have ordered house-to-house searches. Adamawa State Governor, Ahmadu Fintiri has threatened to issue an “Executive Order” requesting door-to-door search of residents’ homes and upon finding any looted items in any house, he would withdraw the Certificate of Ownership of the house(s) and demolish them.

Otteh urged governments at all levels to take the path of the rule of law and resist the urge to ride roughshod over the constitution with respect to the said lootings.

“Security forces may be in the mood for reprisals and want to exact a pound of flesh over the unfortunate events of the last couple of days, and can easily scapegoat anyone they find to fit pre-formed stereotypes of a looter; they may want to exact revenge for other grievances against their adversaries, or simply to use any proxies they find to get back at civil society for daring to mount a protest against police brutality. We urge all governments pursuing these obnoxious and illegal policies to end them now,” he said.

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