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‘Call for self-defence is a veiled reference to breach of social contract between government and the people’

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Prof. Epiphany Azinge


The recent outburst by retired general, Theophilus Danjuma, accusing the military of colluding with killer bandits, raised huge dust. Not just that he made the damning allegation, he called on Nigerians to defend themselves or get killed one after another. In this interview with JOSEPH ONYEKWERE, the immediate past director-general of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS), Professor Epiphany Azinge (SAN), says the call for self-defence is a veiled reference to the breach of the social contract between government and the people. He also expressed views about other legal matters.

Self-defence is a constitutionally recognised right. What do you make of the call for self-defence by Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (rtd)?
Our criminal jurisprudence recognises right of self-defence. Even at that, it is not a right that is invoked arbitrarily. Firstly, it is fundamental to determine whether the right of self-defence can be applied collectively in a corporate manner or what is only invoked by an individual in a personal manner. What I am alluding to is, can a mob invoke collectively self-defence for an action? General Danjuma’s postulation undoubtedly was made in good faith. Given his track record and accomplishments; it cannot be denied that his pronouncement was motivated by highest patriotic ideals. But the general statement must not be seen from most simplistic perspective because it does convey more message than the eye can see. General Danjuma’s statement is an indirect indictment on the government of the day and its perceived inability to protect lives and property of its citizenry. Also it is a veiled reference to a breach of the social contract between government and the people of Nigeria.

The people of Nigeria in whom dwell sovereignty have ceded powers to the government by virtue of social contract as encapsulated in the constitution. The powers exercisable by the military and the police constitutionally and statutorily to protect life and property are products of surrender of right of defence by the people to law enforcement agencies. Thus, to invite the people to assume such power is an indication that the agencies have failed and social contract vitiated. I am not unmindful of the quality of people in government and their capacity to read in between the lines to appreciate the wake-up call from General Danjuma. For me, the general sounded an alarm bell that must be heeded more by government than by individuals. My fear is that if not properly contextualised, people may see it as a licence to take laws into their hands and before we know it, mob actions will reign supreme and people will resort to lynching, shooting and other violent conducts all in the name of self-defence. This we must not allow and I bet that is not the intendment of General Danjuma’s outburst. Nigerians want good faith assurance from law enforcement agencies that they are still capable of protecting lives and property in this country.

Some critics are saying that Danjuma was part of the rot in the Military and therefore has no moral right to talk. What is your view on this?
I beg to differ. Every citizen of Nigeria has freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution. General Danjuma has made his comments responsibly and within the bounds of law. He therefore deserves commendation and not condemnation. As an individual, General Danjuma is neither loquacious nor garrulous. Indeed he is considered as one of the most taciturn soldier of his generation. So for a man not given to irresponsible statements, people are bound to listen when he speaks. I am not aware of the rots in the Military or his connection to it in any form. As a Nigerian of distinction, he does posses the moral right to speak on burning issues of the moment.

The retired General was unequivocal in his outburst that the military is colluding with bandits by providing them with logistics. As a former General, do you think he has information not open to the public?
For a man not given to frivolous statements it is obvious that he has his facts. That is highly regrettable. Why some soldiers will betray public trust and violate their constitutional responsibilities is difficult to comprehend. What is reassuring however is that the art of collusion is by some bad eggs in the military and they can be fished out and flushed out. It is not an indictment of the commanding heights of the military. Neither is it indicative that there is a deliberate policy by the military high command to engage in such nefarious activities

The military has initiated a panel to investigate Danjuma’s allegation. Don’t you think an independent and neutral body would have been better?
I whole-heartedly endorse the approach of the Military High command. Mark you; it is not the military as an institution that is under scrutiny but rather some bad elements within the military. Consequently, it is only proper that investigation is done in accordance with the internal mechanism for exhaustion of remedies within the ambit of structural and administrative organogram. It is only where this fails that the issue can be externalised.

Will the country be better policed if state police is legalised?
I honestly believe that Nigeria is under-policed. Given our large population, it can only be said that we are grossly under-policed as there is room for more police personnel in the country. Also beside numerical consideration, there is every need for a highly modernised Police force with state of the art policing equipment; this is an option that cannot be glossed over. The summary is that as much as state police in my considered view is an idea whose time has come, one must presume that effective and efficient policing is best predicated on creation of state police.

The police have called on Vigilante groups to surrender their arms and no such orders were given to killer herdsmen. Could there be a link between the order and Danjuma’s self-defence call?
The law recognises and permits legal possession of firearms. However the licence can be withdrawn or the conditions overhauled. Against this backdrop, the police operated within the ambit of the law by requesting vigilante groups to surrender their arms. It cannot be expected that the “ubiquitous herdsmen” should be invited to surrender their arms when it is almost impossible to track their movement or determine their place of domicile. What is desirable is to track the herdsmen and dispossess them either peacefully or forcefully. It may well be that General Danjuma’s statement has pushed law enforcement authorities to rethink their strategy and press for reduction of arms and ammunitions in circulation. This is a plausible approach to reducing incidences of armed criminality.

The President has exercised his constitutional right to seek for re-election and this is generating a lot of comments. Do you think he deserves a second term looking at his performance so far?
Mr President has a right to re-election and it is his prerogative to invoke it or not. Whether it generates comments or not is normal as far as contestation of political power is concerned. Ultimately it is for the voters to decide by exercise of their franchise. My personal opinion is totally irrelevant at this point in time.

What is your view about the increasing exchanges of hate speeches across the land and governments effort to tackle it through legislation?
It is disturbing and worrisome indeed. Obviously regrettable that at this age and era we are still resorting to hate speeches as instrument for ventilating ethnic grievances. This takes us back to when people usually found refuge in primordial sentiments of tribalism and ethnicism. But more fundamental is that hate speeches incubate more where there is absence of sense of belonging in the affairs of the country or patent domination of one group over others. The issues above must be addressed, in addition to the promotion of inclusive governments and accommodation of shades of opinion in decision-making and policy formulation.

Legislation against hate speech is not a bad idea. But not all issues can be addressed by criminalization. One begins to wonder if legislation can serve as deterrence to potential hate speech makers or will the legislation be honoured more in the breach than observance? In this digital era, hate speeches abound on the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp etc. The challenge is how do you track, investigate and prosecute perpetrators of hate speech using the digital devises above mentioned? That is the crux of the matter.


In this article:
Epiphany Azinge

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