For Rt. Hon. ‘Icheoku’ Wase

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By Onikepo Braithwaite Email: onikepo.braithwaite@thisdaylive.com Twitter: @TheAdvocatesTD

Where exactly should I start? Our dear country, Nigeria seems to be an ongoing Nollywood series plagued with new dramas each passing day. When I was a child, I used to find a particular television comedy series – “Icheoku” quite hilarious. It was set in the colonial era, somewhere in the Eastern part of Nigeria. The Judge was a British man (a very poor imitation of a British man I might add, from the nasty wig he adorned to look like a white man with silky hair, and his Ibo accent which sounded nothing like a British one), who required the assistance of a court interpreter to act as an intermediary between him and the locals, since he did not understand the lbo language and the natives did not understand English. The British Judge made use of a native man, who – I’m not sure whether it was that he had a limited understanding of the English language, or that he did it deliberately to intimidate and oppress the people, as well as for his own personal gain – but either way, he would misinterpret what the Judge said to the litigants and vice-versa, and the people would have no choice but to accept the harsh decisions despite their misgivings and objections. Like the present-day people of Nigeria, you would often hear the natives who were present in the courtroom during the proceedings, shouting in protest when the Interpreter conveyed ‘pronouncements’ of the Judge to the litigants. Whether it was a case of a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, or that of selfishness and a total of lack of concern for the plight of others on the part of the Interpreter, the litigants ended up being the losers!

Nigerian Diaspora

The Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Ahmed Wase, reminded me of the Interpreter in Icheoku – nonchalant about the displaced people of Benue State who have suffered so badly as a result of the farmer/herder crisis – when he ignorantly blurted out that Nigerians in the diaspora have no right to bring a petition before the House of Representatives (on this or any other issue I would imagine), because they do not live here and do not know what is happening here! That is the most absurd and embarrassing statement I have heard lately, and it is worse coming from a supposed law maker who should obviously know better.

If they are not relevant to the scheme of things in Nigeria, why did this administration establish the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, headed by Hon. Abike Dabiri? Does Hon. Wase not know that being in the diaspora simply means that though these Nigerians reside outside the country, they very much identify with Nigeria? Don’t the Nigerians abroad have families here? According to Nairametrics, between January and November 2019, Nigerian diaspora direct remittances amounted to a whopping $17.5 billion! Could it be that Hon. Wase is suffering from such a level of benightedness akin to that of the Interpreter (assuming that the Interpreter only had a limited grasp of the English language and therefore, was unable to understand let alone interpret accurately), or that he cares more about the interests and reputation of the Federal Government than the misfortunes of those who have been displaced in Benue State and unable to return to their ancestral land (in this case, a deliberate attempt by the Interpreter to pursue his own interests, over and above that of the people)? Either way, such level of unconcern, cluelessness and gormlessness displayed by such a high ranking elected representative of the people and decision maker, can spell nothing but doom for Nigeria. Do Hon. Wase and many like him, even understand their role as members of the National Assembly, especially their oversight functions?

To decide that Nigerians in the diaspora do not know what is going on here because they are outside the country, is simply nothing short of being asinine, when we are all aware that aside from having relatives at home, the world has shrunk and become a global village because of technology. The sooner our Legislators realise their role – that they are the third arm of government, elected by the people as our representatives to protect our interests (See Sections 4, 88 & 89 of the of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended in 2018) (the Constitution), a check and balance on the other arms of government, and not an extension, protector or stooge of the Executive, the better for all of us.

Fundamental Rights

For the avoidance of doubt, Section 25 of the Constitution (and other provisions too) clearly define who a Nigerian citizen is or can be, and nowhere in that provision does it mention that the rights of a citizen are limited or curtailed by the fact that such citizen resides outside the country. As far as I know, the Constitution does not even exclude Nigerians who reside outside the country from voting. It is just that, the absentee voting system has not been introduced here yet (unlike countries like America where people can vote from outside the country, and those within the country can even vote by post).

Nigerians in the diaspora contribute to our GDP and foreign exchange earnings in no small measure through their remittances; and as much as this is very well acknowledged and appreciated by us all, it plays second fiddle to their fundamental rights as Nigerians guaranteed by Chapter IV of the Constitution, more particularly pertaining to this matter – their rights to freedom of thought, expression and association as provided by Sections 38(1), 39(1) & 40 of the Constitution respectively. In other words, it goes without saying that Nigerians in the diaspora have the right to petition if they so desire, whether or not their group is registered. See the case of Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti & 3 Ors v AGF, Chief of Army Staff & 7 Ors 1985 2 N.W.L.R. Part 6 Page 211 at 230 where the Apex Court held that a fundamental right is one “which stands above the ordinary laws of the land, and which are in fact, antecedent to the political society itself”. See also Imonikhe v AG Bendel State 1992 23 N.S.C.C. Part II Page 480 at 491 per Nnameka-Agu JSC where his Lordship stated thus: “Any act which infringes or runs contrary to those organic principles or systems (in the Constitution), is said to be unconstitutional”. Also see the case of R. Benkay (Nig) Ltd v Cadbury (Nig) Plc 2006 6 N.W.LR. Part 976 Page 338 at 385 per Ogunbiyi JCA (as she then was) defining a constitutional right thus: “…..is that inherently provided and which cannot by any act or stretch or reasoning be taken away, without a constructive laid down legal due process of the law”. My advice is that all law makers should at least, bother to familiarise themselves with the Constitution which is the grundnorm, before they publicly disgrace themselves with outlandish utterances.

Firearms Amendment Bill 2021

As for the Firearms Amendment Bill 2021 aka Licence to kill Act (LKA), I have not had the benefit of reading the full text of it, only the snippets which were publicised. It is probably another knee-jerk, fire brigade response to the level of insecurity Nigerians are currently facing. At any rate, we already have the Firearms Act 2004 (FA) which is permissive enough, allowing those who are 18 and above to apply for a firearms licence (Sections 2 & 3 of the FA), though Section 7(2) provides that an applicant must have a cogent reason for wanting to own a firearm. In fact, I was taken aback when I discovered that Section 7(2))(a)  of the FA allows a 17 year old to obtain a gun licence or permit, even though a 17 year old is not eligible to vote! It could be that one of the main differences between the FA and LKA, is that the need to give a cogent reason to own a firearm has been dispensed with, and self-defence may be the new omnibus condition which does not have to be proven specifically, instead – this will be revealed when we  see the full text of the LKA,

In a country which has been declared to be the poverty capital of the world, where the level of insecurity and criminality is unprecedented, and part of the reason for this is poverty and desperation, what we need is gun control, not everybody being able to walk into Shoprite to buy a gun! Why would Hon. Adeogun, the sponsor of the LKA believe that the best way to fight the insecurity we are facing, is to arm angry, anguished people with gusto and relish? In a country such as ours, arming every adult with such ease would be a terrible idea. Sections 14(2)(b) and 17(3)(c) of the Constitution hold the Government responsible for the security, safety and welfare of Nigerians, not individuals, unlike the USA where the right to keep and bear arms is a constitutional right (2nd Amendment). Again, would individuals be licensed to carry AK 47s? Because, if they are only allowed to bear rifles and pistols, by the time the bearer of a rifle has shot once, 10 bandits would have shot 10 times each – 100 to 1! Invariably, other petty criminals will use such weapons against citizens to rob etc, because it is impossible to defend yourself with a manual firearm against an automatic one. In fact, it is a death wish to try to come up against a machine gun with a ‘shakabula’ – the chances of survival would be higher, if a victim hid under the bed to avoid the armed bandits and their more sophisticated firearms!

Suggestions 

Why can’t many of our unemployed graduates who are willing to join the Forces, be trained and armed? As it is, Nigeria is faraway from fulling the UN recommended ratio of Police to citizens. Can they not be trained by outfits like the GSG 9 elite Police Tactical Unit of the German Police Force or the SWAT Team of USA? What are the Governors doing with their ‘secret’ Security Vote? Should they not have invested in the purchase of sophisticated drones, technology and equipment, especially to monitor all the schools in their various States, since they have become targets? With the deployment of such equipment, they would be aware of any impending attack before they take place, and will be better prepared to repel same because of foreknowledge. I would have imagined that by now, all roads, especially from places like Benue, Borno, Yobe, Niger, Kaduna and so on, would lead to countries like Israel. Government, both Federal and State, cannot just sit down twiddling their thumbs, while encouraging parents to continue to endanger their children’s lives by sending them to schools which are totally unsecured, making them sitting ducks and pawns in this horrible game.

These are some of the issues that the National Assembly should be concentrating on and questioning the Governors about, instead of wasting time enacting useless laws. As Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola got Presidential approval to import weapons for his State, and they were then given to the Lagos State Command to utilise for the benefit of the people of Lagos. At the time, the crime rate reduced drastically. These are the types of initiatives we want to hear of, not the constant whining that Governors do not have control over their State Police Commissioners. They have control over their Security Vote – let them use it judiciously.