Femi Falana (SAN), human rights lawyer was a guest on Channels Television’s programme ‘Sunrise Daily’ on Tuesday where he spoke on the security situation in the country. TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI who monitored the session brings the excerpts:
Do you think the insecurity challenges we face is related to the constitution?
Partly so, but the increase in the rate of killings, kidnapping and banditry in recent times has to do with the just concluded national elections. The thugs that were armed by politicians were not disarmed. They were very busy during the elections, attacking people; killing political opponents but now, they are back in business. Nothing was done to disarm them after the elections. They have been dumped by politicians and therefore, they have to look for means of survival of livelihood. That is why we are witnessing this increase.
But there are no reports of politicians arming thugs?
No, there are reports. I do know that the police arrested close to 2,000 thugs, many of them with arms and none of them has been taken to court. I am sure you are aware of the incident in Lagos whereby in the middle of the address of Governor Ambode, armed thugs invaded the venue, disrupted the rally and nobody has been charged to court. They declared the thugs wanted, many of them have been found but they have not been taken to court. That is the situation all over the country. What we are witnessing is a reign of impunity. In fairness to the police, these thugs are usually taken to court for all manners of criminal offences, including murder or culpable homicide. But when it comes to political thuggery, many of these cases are quietly withdrawn by the Attorney-Generals in different states who will just file nolle prosequi motions.
But this is not the first time this is happening. Is it?
It is a regular phenomenon at every election. Once an election has just been concluded, you have phenomenal increase all over the country.
Does that mean the police didn’t anticipate this and plan in advance?
The system has collapsed. The Nigerian state has proven over and over again that it has no capacity to guarantee the security of lives and property. A number of factors are responsible. Most of the discussions are centred on the architecture of security such as we need to increase the number of personnel, we need to buy gadgets for them, buy vehicles and the rest of them. What of the social dimension of crime control? In other climes, in some countries, the number of people engaged every month productively, the number of people employed, the number of people who lose their jobs are public matter. They are announced every month. Here, what is the government doing about how many people that have lost their jobs or employed?
Is that not the reason why Senator Olusola Adeyeye raised the issue that the constitution is an albatross of sort?
With profound respect, the members of the National Assembly are toying with the security of our country. How can the senate in this age and time be passing resolution asking for state police? Or the House of Reps requesting the President to come and address the members of the National Assembly on the security situation of the country? Why have they not moved a motion for the creation of state police?
Does the constitution permit them to do that since Police is on the exclusive list?
I am not aware of the fact that Section 214 of the constitution provides that there shall be only one police force in the country. But the national assembly and former president Olusegun Obasanjo decided to establish another force called the Nigerian Civil Defence Corps with power to bear arms. Today, the EFCC, ICPC, Prisons Service, Immigration Service, NDLEA and others are empowered to bear arms. How can the national assembly continue to maintain that it is unconstitutional to have state police?
But is it constitutional?
Of course! The constitution provides that a state governor can make a law and the law will be respected. The same federal government that says there shall be only one police force has created all other police forces. What stops state governments then? I was listening to the governor of Lagos yesterday complaining to the Acting Inspector General of Police that there are only 33,000 personnel guarding 24 million people. And I ask myself, why are we in this mess? The least a governor can do is not to complain or issue a press statement. Just go to Abuja and say ‘If you are not going to allow me to have a state police to take care of my people, you will either give me 100,000 police personnel to guard Lagos state and you can do that because the constitution allows me to defend myself, property, while Section 33 says I have a right to life. Section 37 says the privacy of my home shall be guaranteed and protected.
What part of the law will the governors rely on to have their own state police?
I can go the IGP or apply to the President that I want to have licence to bear arms as an individual. If the government finds that I am responsible enough, I will be given the licence. What stops a state governor from going to Abuja and apply for 10,000 licences for 10,000 young men and women to protect the people of Lagos? Why should it be reserved for the rich or the privileged in the society? So, we have to be very innovative in the business of securing the people of the country. We can’t just throw up our hands in helplessness.
What if they are not granted the licence?
Then, they go to court! Why should an individual be allowed to protect himself or herself and the entirety of the people be deprived of that right?
What about the fear of the political undertone when it comes to state policing?
What of the Nigerian Police Force? Is it not being used by the rich to intimidate and harass people or political opponents? That is it.
If a governor can apply for 10,000 licences, what stops an individual from applying for about 200 licences?
It is not given to everybody. There is a procedure for saying if you are found to be responsible, you will be given a licence. But why can’t you give a state governor to secure everybody in the state? If you go there and ask for 200 licences, nobody will give you because you cannot be given more than one to protect yourself.
What can we do now about the security situation?
We were given a Decree. What we call Constitution is a misnomer. What we are calling constitution today is a constitution Promulgation Decree Number 24 of 1999, signed alone by General Abdulsalami Abubakar.
Was it not crafted by jurists?
Which jurists, the military people crafted it. It is a replica of the 1979 constitution. By the way, we have two constitutional documents in 1979, but the Obasanjo military junta refused to allow the minority constitution authored by Dr. Segun Osoba and the late Bala Usman which would have addressed this problem, which would have made Section 2 of the constitution justiceable. You have to allow Nigeria have the two; the majority draft constitution of the group led by the late Rotimi Williams. You should have allowed Nigeria have the two so we can compare. But the minority was suppressed and the most fundamental of that minority constitution (draft document) was that every young person in Nigeria has to be gainfully employed and if you are unemployed, you are entitled to unemployed benefits. It is in Section 16 of their own constitution.
Why don’t the Justice Niki Tobi commission take a look at that ?
All those committees were out to maintain the status quo. At the 2014 national conference, the delegates unanimously resolved that for us to have peace and security in this country, you must make Section 2 justiceable. Again, the report was ignored. But as bad as this constitution is, I have just given you suggestions on how to go about it, and if governors are not going to be allowed to protect the people within the areas of their jurisdictions, they have the right to go to court. That constitution as provided decreed that I have a right to life to life, our property and the privacy of our homes. And if you do not guarantee these rights, I can go to court. I have won cases where the court has ordered the federal government of Nigeria to pay damages to families of those who were killed either by hired killers, terrorists and all others because it is the primary responsibility of the government to protect the lives of the citizen.
If the governor gets the licence for 10,000 people, won’t they be using the arms to protect themselves?
They will be available to protect all of us. For instance, the Lagos state government has set up the Neighbourhood watch programme. I went to convince the House of Assembly that they can get the guys to bear arms but I didn’t succeed. But let’s come to this mangled constitution. Paragraph L of Part one of the fifth schedule provides that there shall be a Nigerian Police Council which shall be constituted as follows: The President shall the Chairman of that body; the IGP, the Chairman of the Police Service Commission and each of the 36 state governors shall be members. So, we are talking of a 39-member Nigerian Police Council. What are the functions of that body? To organise, administer and supervise the Nigerian Police Force. In other words, police powers in Nigeria are to be jointly shared by the President and the governors but that body never meets. I have been shouting myself hoarse that the federal government to convene a meeting of that body or the governors to requisition a meeting of that body because that is the body that is empowered to organise the Nigerian Police Force.
If that body functions, can it stand the level of terrorism that we face in the country today?
Of course! Instead of militarising security in the country, what we are required to do based on that constitution is to equip, train and motivate the Nigerian Police Force. In fact, in the Second Republic, it was the Maitatsine phenomenon and other civil disturbances that led to the establishment of the Mobile Unit of the Nigerian Police Force. Under that political dispensation, the government had acquired enough weapons for the police but what happen when we had the coup in December 1983? The armed forces impounded and seized all the equipment and since then, the Nigerian Police Force has never been equipped adequately. Even right now, we have barely 200,000 police personnel guarding 180 million people.
Is that not similar to what happened in Benue when they establish Livestock Guards bearing arms but the police arrested them?
I think it was only Kano state government that challenges the federal government over its decision to challenge it to create police force. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court struck out the case on technical grounds. I believe they can go back to court moreso now that the federal government has proven incapable to secure the country. This is the time to do that. The governors should requisition regular meetings of the Nigerian Police Council so that that body can effectively organise the Nigerian Police Force by insisting on mass recruitment of police personnel in the country, and to provide for the funding. The security votes being claimed by everybody in the country, you ask yourself, who they are securing with the votes. So, the security votes should go into funding the police in the country.