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‘It is now necessary for the government to legalise arm bearing for citizens’

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Nwachukwu Odoemela

The security situation across the country has become very worrisome. It is now more like the state of nature, whereby the 17th century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes in his highly celebrated book, Leviathan stated that life was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Finding answers to this problem and many more, Lagos based lawyer, Nwachukwu Odoemela in this interview with Assistant Editor, Law and Foreign Affairs, JOSEPH ONYEKWERE argues that it has become necessary for the government to consider legislation to legalize arm bearing for screened citizens to protect themselves. He also expressed views on other topical issues. 

What do you think about the rising cases of insecurity across the country?
We have not had it so bad like this before. It seems that security personnel is overwhelmed by the growing spate of killings going on in the country without having the needed solution to those killings. Therefore, there is a lack of trust by the people that the government does not have the requisite will to secure the lives of the people it governs. The people that the government is saddled with the responsibility to protect as contained in the constitution they swore to uphold. It is really very sad. 

The situation is getting worse every day. Will it be right to assume that not apprehending, trying and punishing criminals is fueling the rise?
Punishment serves as a deterrent to others from committing crimes and our courts are constitutionally saddled with that responsibility. However, this is not the case here as we are faced with a situation wherein the heinous activities of kidnappers, terrorists and or bandits as the government calls them have never been burst nor foiled before they perform the acts. There’s no known record of major arrest or where there is, reports have it that the criminals are released with the help of security personnel. These recurring complexity and inability to bring those people within the ambit of the law have made it easy for the activities of the criminals to thrive as long as they are not brought to book.

A case in hand is the recent imbroglio between our two major security outfits – the Nigerian police and the Nigerian army over the recent killings of three policemen in the course of their duty, whereby a notorious kidnapper already arrested by the men of the Nigerian police was released whereas army foiled the closest attempt by security personnel to bring a major kingpin to justice.

With respect to the pervasive insecurity, will you support the idea of a legislation to legalize bearing of arms by citizens to protect themselves?
With the lack of will and trust on the side of our security personnel, it will be necessary that the government makes laws liberalising and legalising the bearing of arms by the people. Licenses should be issued to credible and qualified Nigerians who apply to acquire light arms for protection after subjecting such people to serious scrutiny. This will go a long way to check the rampaging of criminals and allow the people to secure themselves and their neighborhood.

Do you think to have state police will resolve the security challenges?
Sure, it will nip in the bud the difficulties associated with policing our environment. In a situation where we send people from different divides to police other people will forever threaten our security. Moreso, our people have not developed trust in putting their security in the hands of people that are not from their area. Also, the language barrier and lack of knowledge of the environment do contribute to ineffective security checks and the challenges it poses. Therefore state police will bring to bare these challenges.

How do you allay the fears of those who argue that governors would take advantage of the system to terrorise their opponents?
This has been the opposition against state police and the government in the centre has always used it very well in their argument against the establishment of state police. However, a serious parliament will have the onerous duty to make credible laws to checkmate any excesses that will be exercised by the state governors and the courts are called upon to stand firm in determining cases of such excesses.

Each state command will have qualified men to fill up the office of the command. The State Assembly will be the arm of the government to make laws for the appointment of the most senior officer to man the command as the case may be. The command will forward at least three most senior officers to the State Assembly who will screen the officers and forward the name of the most qualified officer to the governor for appointment.

In other words, the governor cannot singlehandedly appoint and also fire?
This is the unfit situation we are having at hand presently which has made it possible for the president to reward people who aided him during elections without more as security chiefs, whereas competence is neglected.

By not allowing the governor to hire and fire the police chiefs, he will definitely not be in a better position to dictate for him. Importantly, their finances should equally be under the direct control of the State Assembly.

Following the delay by the president to form cabinet weeks after the National Assembly had cleared ministerial nominees, do you think it is high time the law is amended to fix a time within which to appoint ministers and check the delays associated with governance?
It is pertinent to state that as a matter of urgency, no serious president will require legislation to form a cabinet and hit the ground running. It’s very unfortunate in our own circumstances, mostly this government that has formed it as a habit and this has had an adverse effect on the performance of this government and the consequent inability to cover the lost grounds. Based on this, it is a yes for legislation to be in place for the president to forward his list of nominees at least two weeks after he is sworn into the National Assembly for screening and to swear them in immediately after they are cleared by the National Assembly. 

Under what circumstances can the National Assembly take over the activities of a state Assembly?
This is a constitutional issue. It can only happen in such a situation whereby the State Assembly cannot sit and conduct their activities which has become a subject of debate and has come under scrutiny as there are many for and against this policy. It is seen as the National Assembly meddling into the affairs of the State Assembly whereas so many are of the view that rather than the National Assembly to wedge into the affairs of States Assembly, any aggrieved member or persons can approach the courts for guide rather than the National Assembly usurping the powers of another elected and constituted assembly. From this unresolved issue, taking a leaf from the Edo State Assembly, it would be said that the State Assembly has done the needful by approaching the court for injunction and interpretation. So many questions are been asked as to what purpose will it serve the National Assembly to take over the affairs of Edo state? How long will this last and can the National Assembly now legislate for the state? This is a total distraction and can only be resolved by the courts. The National Assembly can only act as a peacemaker.

By merely using the word revolution, does it constitutes the offence of treason, looking at the charge against Omoyele Sowore?
Revolution is defined as being a forceful overthrow of a government or social order in favour of a new system. This definition is what the government has held tenaciously to, in dealing with the acts of sowore and his members. Treason in the like manner is viewed the same. However, this is misconstrued judging from the fact that what was intended as a peaceful protest.

In treason, every preparation and steps to be taken in carrying out their purpose has to be taken into place. Merely using the word revolution stricto censo cannot amount to treason only if in their protest the method results in violence and the use of equipment that will actually aid the use of force. Government has the constitutional power and what it takes in a democratic setting to check such protest from escalating to violence.

Do you think that the government can sustain a conviction in a court of law over this charge?
In the first place, was there any crime committed against the state? To my mind, there was no war levied against the state. The government’s apprehension of any intending violence cannot gain a conviction against the protesters in a state that allows peaceful protest and this has been adjudged by our apex court that the citizens are allowed to carry out peaceful protest within the ambit of the law.

What is your view about the RUGA controversy?
In the first place, there shouldn’t have been the need for any envisaged controversy. First, the federal government never expected the resistance it faced when the cattle colony issue arrived and the sudden withdrawal of the proposal. Let me be a bit civil by us of my word here. Because the issue of cattle colony was never canvassed to the public, it died on arrival. Then came the RUGA issue which was repackaged, though it is of the same species with the cattle colony programme coupled with its budgetary allocation of such a huge some. And the question on the lips and minds of average well thinking Nigerians in a fledgling economy is, who is the RUGA programme made for and for what purposes? From a snapshot of little explanations heard from the federal government quarters, RUGA is mandatory and almost every state has been drafted into it by a gazette wherein state-owned lands have been compulsorily acquired to accommodate the RUGA programme for herders, their families, and facilities for their use in the settlements. Therefore, RUGA settlement or whatever nomenclature it is called in so far as the Land Use Act bestows the lands of each state in the hands of the executive governors, which extant law has not been amended, suspended or abrogated by any other enactment, acquisition of people’s land for Fulani herdsmen in the guise of RUGA programme will always be resisted by the host communities. Those communities have been brutally murdered, maimed, held hostages, kidnapped and their wives raped by those unidentified herders.

My take is that it is an affront by the federal government to believe that this programme will work no matter the number of times the programme is repackaged and rebranded. Therefore, should the federal government be desirous of having interest in investing on cattle management programme, it can open discussions with the state governments that are interested in engaging in such investment both for their lands, infrastructure, finances, and management and end the controversies associated with this whole thing.

The belief from a large percentage of Nigerians is that cattle business is a private one, though there is no harm associated with government investing on it but not by the use of force and intimidation to compulsorily acquire individual lands for the benefit of a set of unidentified and faceless people hugely associated with all manners of vices and crimes.

 


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