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‘Jungle justice poses a serious threat to national security’

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Evans Ufehi

The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government is clearly provided in section 14 of the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Evans Ufeli, in this interaction with YETUNDE AYOBAMI OJO, speaks on the prevailing cases of jungle justice as well as other national issues.

Expressing view about how government could nip in the bud the recurring cases of jungle justice, Ufeli said the government must wake up to its responsibilities.
He said: “Jungle justice is a serious threat to national security. Nigeria is a civil society and not a jungle, so the rules of the jungle should not be allowed in a civil society to stifle the prescient structures of democracy. The government must wake up to her responsibilities, using the security agents to curb the menace of these primordial shenanigans. The constitution of Nigeria in section 14 posits, “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” The danger of jungle justice is that almost always, innocent citizens are killed because society passes judgment on the victims spontaneously, leaving room for errors and the questions of mistaken identities. Our history of crime is littered with gory stories of innocent Nigerians who were mistakenly killed for just no cause. Any person can be mistakenly killed in Nigeria once the fierce mob gathers to hear a suspect has committed an offence. Some years back, four innocent Nigerians were set ablaze in Aluu in Rivers State. A little boy by the name Samuel was burnt alive at Surulere in 2012 after it was alleged he attempted to kidnap little children. Samuel was just 12 years old when he became a victim of jungle justice.

“Recently, some people were killed at Ikorodu when the community alleged that their victims are members of a notorious cum ritualistic cult called the Badoo group with fierce cannibal tendencies. Further interrogation revealed that one of the victims is a comedian who earns a living from a legitimate job in the entertainment industry.
It’s time to sensitise Nigerians of the danger of this kind of practice. The National orientation agency, the police force and all stakeholders must come together to fight this monster. The common excuse for this action is that the police often release alleged offenders of the law after little or no interrogations. However the extent to which that is true is still debatable. I don’t think that constitute sufficient reason why people should be lynched to death at the instance of mere allegations. We are quick to kill people on account of mere allegations, but we can’t muster same courage against criminals looting our common wealth. Those who depleted our treasury walk around freely and we remain subservient to them. However, those that are alleged to have committed offences on our streets are killed even before their voices are heard. Nigeria must change this narrative.”

In the light of the issues that came up when the president was on medical tourism, the lawyer said the constitution could be amended to fix a time lag within which a president could be out of office.

His words: “The 1999 constitution as amended did not specify in express terms how long the Nigerian President can stay away from the country on health ground or on any other matter related thereto. Perhaps, the lawmakers never envisaged that the circumstances just as we have them today would cause a president to be away for such a lengthy period of time. There is therefore no foreseeable end as life itself is transient and presciently anchored on submerging contingencies. That leaves the human question amenable to circumstantial variations. It is this dynamic and unforeseen occurrence that entrenched and causes our laws to fine their bearings in amendments such that the jurisprudential vicissitudes of extant legislation are stretched to cover new vistas and spectrum of our socio-economic space.

“However, the constitution in section 144 graphically stated that if it appears that the president is no longer capable to discharge the function of his office by reasons of incapacitation, the executive council must by a two-third majority pass a resolution to declare the president or vice president incapable to discharge the functions of his office. I hereby reproduce section 144 of the 1999 constitution as amended for reasons of clarity and elucidation. 144. (1) says the President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office, if – (a) by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all the members of the executive council of the Federation it is declared that the President or Vice-President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office; and (b) the declaration is verified, after such medical examination as may be necessary, by a medical panel established under subsection (4) of this section in its report to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

“(2) Where the medical panel certifies in the report that in its opinion the President or Vice-President is suffering from such infirmity of body or mind as renders him permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office, a notice thereof signed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be published in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation. (3) The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office as from the date of publication of the notice of the medical report pursuant to subsection (2) of this section. (4) the medical panel to which this section relates shall be appointed by the President of the Senate, and shall comprise five medical practitioners in Nigeria:- (a) one of whom shall be the personal physician of the holder of the office concerned; and (b) four other medical practitioners who have, in the opinion of the President of the Senate, attained a high degree of eminence in the field of medicine relative to the nature of the examination to be conducted in accordance with the foregoing provisions. (5) In this section, the reference to “executive council of the Federation” is a reference to the body of Ministers of the Government of the Federation, howsoever called, established by the President and charged with such responsibilities for the functions of government as the President may direct.”

The lawyer answered in the affirmative, when he was asked if he supports the idea of amending section 144 of the constitution. According to him, both section 144 and section 145 of the 1999 constitution as amended requires concrete amendment. “First, section 144 requires amendment to the extent that where the law mandates the executive council to start the process of declaring the president’s incapacity. This may not be easy, especially when the entire executive council are in a manner of speaking, the president’s employees. The president appointed members of the executive council and therefore, it will be difficult to have them start a process that will declare their boss incapacitated. I think this should be amended such that the National Assembly is made to undertake this function to further deepen the principles of check and balances.

“Again, section 145 of the 1999 constitution as amended requires an amendment to the effect that the length on time the president is required stay away from the functions of his office must be thoroughly defined. And if need be, the limit of the acting president’s power to function in the absent of the president may require amendment for the sole purpose of clarity.

To take a broader look at this whole issue in legal construct, whenever any provision of the Constitution is to be interpreted, that provision must be considered in the context of the whole Constitution. Thus, in the case of Efuawape Okulate & Ors vs Gbadamosi Awosanya & Ors [2000] FWLR 1552 -1743 (Part 25) the Supreme Court, per Uthman Mohammed, JSC, stated the law at 1695 as follows: “There is no doubt that it is settled law that when interpreting the provisions of the constitution, all its provisions must be read together. (Adesanya vs President of Federal Republic of Nigeria (1981) 2 NCLR 358 referred to p.1695, (para. C).

“For a revelatory understanding of section 145, it is imperative to read that section together with The Seventh Schedule to the Constitution as well as section 1(2), section 5(1) and section 148 of the Constitution. This is because, on assuming office, a President of Nigeria takes and subscribes two Oaths contained in the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution. These are the Oath of Allegiance and the Oath of Office.

“In his Oath of Allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the President swears to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In particular and most importantly, the President undertakes a sacred duty to “preserve, protect and defend” subsection (2) of section 1 of the Constitution, which is the very foundation of democratic government in the country. That subsection goes thus: ‘(2) The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed, nor shall any person or group of persons take control of the Government of Nigeria or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.’
“Thus, by his Oath of Allegiance, President Buhari publicly declared – ‘I …do solemnly swear/affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and that I will preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So help me God.’

The second oath is the Oath of Office of President and it goes thus: “I … do solemnly swear/affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, that as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria I will discharge my duties to the best of my ability, faithfully and in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the law, and always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity well-being and prosperity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; … ”

“When subsection (2) of section 1 of the Constitution is read together with the above Oaths, it is clear that the first and paramount duty of any President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is to ensure the continuity of constitutional government in the country. Consequently, section 145, taken together with the President’s Oath of Allegiance and his Oath of office, compels the President, any time he realizes that he is going to be unable, for any reason whatsoever, to discharge the functions of his office, to take the necessary step to ensure the continuity of constitutional government in the country during his absence.



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