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Lawyers knock Customs chief over national security comment

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Comptroller-General of Nigerian Custom Services Col. Hameed Ali. PHOTO: LUCY LADIDI ELUKPO

The Comptroller General of Customs, retired Colonel Hameed Ali is under fire for re-echoing the Federal Government’s sentiment that national security prevails over human rights.

Ali, while addressing the issue of border closure last week, asserted that where national security is involved, human rights will not be recognised, as one has to be secured before talking of rights.

But criticising the statement, Owerri based legal practitioner, Barr. Ike Augustine said there is no philosophy or commitment on the part of the All Progressives Congress (APC) led Federal Government to protect citizens’ civil liberties.

Augustine said this is ironic because the party campaigned on three focal areas of the economy, fight against corruption and security.

He said: “So, in achieving those, the government is not concerned whether the rule of law or civil liberties of the citizens are trampled upon, which in my humble view, is not good for any country that professes constitutional democracy. Non-observance of the tenets of the rule of law in governance is fatal and puts a question mark on the legitimacy and sincerity of government’s actions…”

The National Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Barr. Kunle Edu said the evolution and sustenance of modern democracy is founded on the rule of law.

“The rule of law entails supremacy of valid laws of the land, independence of the judiciary and respect for the civil liberties of citizens. It therefore means every action of government must be subject to the rule of law, which the President of Nigeria and his appointees swore to uphold, preserve and protect.

“To now say repeatedly that security occupies primacy over the rule of law is to suggest that there should be no Constitution and civil liberties, and we should be governed by the whims and caprices of whoever is in power… The situation where different parameters are being used to deal with perceived offenders for just expressing their constitutional rights to freedom of expression is condemnable, a betrayal of the trust of Nigerians and sets the country on the path of anarchy…” he said.

On his part, Barr. Nwachukwu Odoemelam recalled that during the Annual General Conference of the NBA, President Muhammadu Buhari, at a well-attended conference of lawyers, had publicly emphasised the fact that national security comes before the rule of law.

He said while many Nigerians were baffled by his stand, the President was not bothered. The position, he noted, was affirmed by the Attorney General of the Federation at many events and for a, where he defended the President’s view.

He said: “The President’s position is being supported by numerous infractions and disregard to orders by our courts and the way and manner government agencies go about flouting these orders and the Gestapo and coordinated arrest and detention of our Supreme Court Justices and other targeted individuals speaks volume and of the fact that these men are a law to themselves…

“One asks the question as to where this will lead us in this 21st century. I believe it is hopelessness.”

For the erstwhile second vice president of the NBA, Mr. Monday Onyekachi Ubani, the comment by Ali is a clear evidence that government is ready and willing to trample on Nigerians’ fundamental human rights at any slightest opportunity.

Also criticising the position, Lagos based lawyer, Ms. Lotanna Dim said a government that has little regard for the rule of law and human rights will eventually strip its citizens of their civil liberties.

She said: “This is a democracy and the foundation of democracy is a free society. There is no arguing that security is a major issue in our country, but when in an attempt to fight this ill, the fundamental rights of Nigerian are infringed upon, it takes away any feelings of safety and this defeats the purpose of ensuring national security…

“Attacking citizens who express their right to free speech by criticising government does not make for a safer society. It only portrays the kind of tyranny exhibited during the military rule, which creates the impression that our President only shed his uniform but not his military ways.”


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