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The law of self-defence in a helpless state

By Festus Ogun
28 August 2018   |   3:19 am
Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd.), a former Minister of Defence and an elder statesman, told Nigerians recently to defend themselves against killers in the country, saying the armed forces were not ready to defend them. At a convocation at the Taraba State University, Jalingo, he expressed his dissatisfaction about the attitude of the Nigerian Military…

Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma

Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd.), a former Minister of Defence and an elder statesman, told Nigerians recently to defend themselves against killers in the country, saying the armed forces were not ready to defend them.

At a convocation at the Taraba State University, Jalingo, he expressed his dissatisfaction about the attitude of the Nigerian Military in the face of ongoing security crisis rocking the country.

In his words “our armed forces are not neutral. They collude with the bandits to kill people, kill Nigerians.

The armed forces guide their movements; they cover them. If you are depending on the armed forces to stop the killings, you will all die one by one.”

He therefore encouraged Nigerians to defend themselves as the country’s leadership and governance system appear impotent to render necessary security help, for they are no longer neutral.

He went further to say “I ask every one of you to be alert and defend your country, defend your territory and defend your state.

Defend yourselves because you have no other place to go. God bless our country.”

Lt. Gen Danjuma, now 80, cannot be more correct, politically and legally.

The security and welfare of the country and its people have been dragged into the mud of politics.

The governmental machinery that ought to ensure the lives and security of people have crossed the sacred rubicon of neutrality.

Right to life is an inalienable provision of our constitution.

Section 33 of the 1999 Constitution makes provision for right to life of all citizens.

Nowhere was it written that fellow citizens or a sect of citizens have the licence to kill.

For the right to life is the greatest of all rights and cannot and should not be arbitrarily taken away.

For this right to be properly protected, the constitution empowers the government to run security agencies that will be neutral in bringing about “peace, order and good governance of the Federation”.

As such, it is obvious that adequate welfare and being properly secured are civic entitlements of the citizens.

The security of the people is sacrosanct to any state. A country is as good as dead if lives are insecured.

Sadly, in Nigeria, the security of the people appears to be something of little or no concern to the leaders.

May we save ourselves the stress of talking about the welfare of the people, this time — it is obvious welfare is neither adequate nor sufficient.

It is sad that the right to life in Nigeria is only provided for on the pages of our laws.

The licence to kill others with impunity, prevalent here, is a pointer to the fact that the right to life in Nigeria is nothing other than a mirage.

Right to life, and life itself, is meaningless in a situation where the security of the people is a prank.

In the face of endless killings going on in the country, the citizens are made to see hell and frustrated due to the improper attitudes of security agencies.

If the lives of the people are breached, about to be breached or ordinarily threatened to be breached, it becomes a constitutional onus on the government through its security agencies to provide adequate and necessary help.

Unfortunately, in Nigeria, those necessary and urgent interventions of the security agencies will either come at the wrong cum late time or come not at all.

Few instances can be given. We are aware of the popular style of our police.

When you place a call to them to inform them about an ongoing armed robbery or similar cases, they will come to the “locus in criminis” only few hours after the incident, which would have claimed a plethora of lives.

Another good example is that of the recent Dapchi abduction.

There was a withdrawal of troops from the Dapchi area a few hours before the abduction took place.

The same drama surrounded the Chibok abduction. Should we term this as a conspiracy, natural coincidence or a point to buttress the security agents’ unneutral stance?

Mention should be made of how security agents join in endangering of lives of the citizens by way of joining in unlawful killings and complicating security matters beyond satisfactory repair — they are all part of the abnormalities we have unconsciously normalised.

One is even tempted to think Nigeria is a country with no security.

When this is the case, then, the citizens appear helpless, cheated, betrayed and are made to be more of slaves in their own country.

They are forcefully made to become victims of poor governance and insecurity; meaning their lives can be taken at any time.

At this point that the citizens are dragged to the wall, the only lawful means to save their dear lives is to take advantage of the laws of self-defence.

Self-defence is a defence to criminal liability.

“A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large.”

Self-defence is a constitutional right. Section 33(2)(a), a part of the constitution concerning right to life, provides thus:

“A person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his life in contravention of this section, if he dies as a result of the use, to such extent and in such circumstances as are permitted by law, of such force as is reasonably necessary – (a) for the defence of any person from unlawful violence or for the defence of property.”

Section 32(3) of the Criminal Code also provides that a person is not criminally liable for an act, when the act is reasonably necessary in order to resist actual and unlawful violence threatened to him or to another person in his presence.

In UWAEKWEGHINYA v. STATE (2005) 9 NWLR (PT. 930) 27, the Supreme Court was of the firm view that “where a person kills another in defence of himself, such a killing is excused, and it does not amount to manslaughter under the Criminal Code or Culpable Homicide not punishable with death under the Penal Code.

The defence of self-defence is a complete defence under the Criminal Code and the Penal Code and a successful defence of self-defence leads to the discharge and acquittal of the accused person.”

So, it is appropriate to say that Lt. Danjuma only reminded Nigerians of an already settled position of our law and the attacks from the Federal Government are needless and unwarranted.

What should be done is to take realistic measures to curb insecurity in this clime.

For the sake of clarity, self-defence is not the same as self-help.

Whereas self-help is unlawfully putting law into one’s hands and as such a crime, self-defence is the lawful protection of oneself against arbitrary attack, as we have seen.

Look, taking advantage of self-defence is truly the emergency fate of Nigerians who will not allow government recklessness and security agents’ un-neutral nature to terminate their precious lives.

Now, the government needs to rediscover its purpose at this stage of our history.

The government needs to know clearly that the security (and welfare) of the people is their primary goal.

If the security of the people continues to get politicized, the indivisibility and indissolubility of the country we all crave for will be totally unachievable.

Politicizing national security is a dangerous move that can lead to the total disintegration of the country and cause avoidable violence.

The nation as a whole, I fear, may become a thing of history if armed forces continue to be unneutral. 

No one desires to get killed and become casualty of politicized insecurity in a “forced union”.

One fears yet again if this insecurity and wickedness wouldn’t lead to more secessionist agitations.

Finally, the government should quickly give a lasting solution to security issues rocking the country.

Even self-defence may not save us when it gets to a stage, as it might later lead to avoidable violence and disorderliness when virtually every citizen resorts to it.

•Ogun, a law student, is a civil rights activist.