The Islamiyya Kidnap
When this administration’s record is compared to the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy contained in Chapter II of the 1999 Constitution, it is indisputable that they have not achieved the standards set therein, nor are they anywhere close, particularly failing woefully in their primary purpose to secure the lives and property of Nigerians (Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution). The kidnap of 200 or so children of the Salihu Tanko Islamic School, Niger State just over a week ago, in broad day light I might add, is further confirmation of this failure. So far, 11 of the pupils were released by the kidnappers, because they were too young to walk. I pray for the safe return of all of them.
As I watched the interview of Abubakar Alhassan, the Head Teacher of the School on Friday, I broke down in tears. It was possibly my first time seeing a Nigerian man in tears, during a television interview. Mr Alhassan wept, and so did Tundun Abiola, one of the Anchors of the Arise Morning Show. It is getting unbearable. I cannot imagine the type of emotional trauma the Parents of these little children are going through, let alone the children themselves – both physical and emotional. Mr Alhassan whose daughter is also amongst the abductees, informed listeners that some of his students are orphans, being given an opportunity by the School to learn and obviously, better themselves. Apparently, as of the time of the interview, the fifth day after the abduction, there had been no Government intervention in the matter, just like in the case of the Forestry and Greenfield students of Kaduna. In the Greenfield case, the Authorities only showed up to provide transportation for the abductees upon their release, following the payment of the ransom by their Parents! Naturally, the Parents firmly and angrily (rightfully so) rebuffed the offer of Government’s ‘ride’, having been abandoned by them and left to stew when the going was tough.
The President’s Statement on the South East
For a while, the public had been calling on President Buhari, to say something about the incessant kidnapping of students, and the state of the nation. And, when the President eventually emerged to make a statement, it had nothing to do with the spate of kidnappings; I watched the videoclip of his statement, excerpts of which were used on his Twitter handle, and personally, I cannot say I found President Buhari’s statement as distasteful as some have, except for where he claimed that he does everything according to the Constitution. I actually found that part of his statement, quite amusing and unrealistic. The President even dared anyone to show him where he has not acted in accordance to the Constitution! The list is long, but one classic instance is infringing upon the right to freedom of the press and expression with the suspension of Twitter, while the lopsided appointments within the security apparatus with no adherence to Sections 1(2) and 14(3) of the Constitution, is another. Many even consider the President’s Patronship of Miyetti Allah yet another, arguing that it is a conflict of interest preventing him from upholding the Oath of President contained in the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution, which he swore to.
President Buhari spoke about the secessionists, and the seemingly anarchical situation in the South East. Interestingly, he made mention of the fact he would do everything possible to provide security, in order not to be accused of surreptitiously trying to secure a third term (possibly by declaring a state of emergency as provided for in Section 305 of the Constitution or invoking Section 135(3) of the Constitution by which if the President considers it impracticable to hold elections because the country is involved in a war, the National Assembly (NASS) can pass a resolution extending the President’s tenure by six months, and this resolution can be renewed ad infinitum, as long as it is passed as one six month extension at a time).
Some Nigerians however, took exception to President Buhari’s statement about treating those perpetrating violence and burning national assets in the South East in a language that they understand, possibly because of his reference to the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970). As Lawyers, we believe that the law must be left to take its course. Section 33(1) of the Constitution unequivocally guarantees everyone’s right to life, except in the execution of a death sentence upon conviction for a criminal offence (like murder), while Section 36(1) and (5) of the Constitution provide for fair hearing and innocence until proven guilty.
Was it the President’s allusion to the Civil War, which reminds us of the genocide in which about three million Igbos perished during that war that upset people? Nevertheless, can we not give President Buhari the benefit of the doubt, that though his statement may have been seen by some as indelicate, we cannot take it to mean that he has instructed the Armed Forces to go on a rampage and just kill Igbos in the South East at random, as that would be mass murder on his part (which he can be held accountable for, as it would be crimes against humanity)? I thought the President was trying to say that there was too much bloodshed during the war, and because those responsible for the mayhem now were possibly not born at the time of the civil war, they didn’t experience the trauma and devastation of war like they who were on the battlefield for 30 months, and as such, a repeat must be avoided at all cost. That said, while I will never condone violence and destruction of national assets as a response to this administration’s perceived or real marginalisation and exclusion, Government has the responsibility to refrain from stoking the fire of hatred and division that is raging in the South East, by living up to the constitutional ideals of equity, equality and fairness for all, including the South East. The fact that the South East zone has the least number of States – five, is one proof of the inequality and inequity. Though this state of affairs is not the making of this administration, they have done nothing to correct it.
However, the anger of the people may not be entirely without reason, because, in everything that concerns Nigeria, tribalism always rears its ugly head. Firstly, some argue that while the shoot-to-kill order on AK 47 bearing Herdsmen or whoever the criminals occupying the forests are did not seem to be particularly backed up with any battalions of soldiers going into the forests to raid or kill them; we understand that soldiers have already been drafted to the South East to take position. They argue therefore, that the strategy being implemented in the South East, is harsher than that of the one being used for the Herdsmen. That the bandits/terrorists kidnapping in the North or the Herdsmen dealing with the people of Benue, are being mollycoddled by so-called negotiators and clerics, and for the Herdsmen, the Government. But, was it not people like Governor Uzodinma who requested that the military be deployed to quell the violence there?
Secondly, our law enforcement and Armed Forces are famous for arbitrary abuse of power, to the point of killing and maiming non-offenders. Issuing that type of carte-blanche to them, may prove to be endangering the lives of majority in the South East who are law abiding citizens. The #EndSARS Protest, the ensuing Lekki Tollgate incident, and the various Panels of Inquiry set up thereafter, have given Nigerians insight into how law enforcement agents brutalise, kill and maim innocent Nigerians for no reason. The fear that this reprehensible behaviour may be replicated by the Army in the South East, is therefore, palpable and not unfounded. Furthermore, laws like the Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2011, the Criminal Code Act, the Penal Code Act etc, more than provide for all the offences we have witnessed in the South East and other parts of the country, be it Terrorism, murder, destruction of property or kidnapping.
Be that as it may, as harsh or unpalatable as it may sound, there are exceptions to the right to life guaranteed by Section 33(1) of the Constitution, contained in Section 33(2)(a-c), which make it lawful to deprive another of his/her right to life – in defence of another from unlawful violence, to effect a lawful arrest/prevent escape from arrest, or for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny. Whoever is behind the attacks in the South East, whether IPOB or an unknown third force, this destruction of national assets and symbols of authority, along with the murder of Police Officers and those unfortunate enough to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, is nothing short of insurrection and terrorism, and the defence of the country against these attacks may fall into the category of these aforementioned exceptions.
I’m sure there is a general consensus that the reckless destruction of national assets (especially before it spreads all over the country), as well as kidnapping and grazing cattle on the farms of others (while maiming, raping and killing them) are all unacceptable, and must be stopped. Nevertheless, it is imperative that Government hones up its investigative skills, and deploys technology and intelligence to apprehend troublemakers in the South East and the other parts of the country, as getting to the root by extracting as much information as possible, may also prove to be an effective way of curbing insecurity.
Suspension of Twitter: A Clampdown on Freedom of Expression
While I do believe that Twitter overreacted on President Buhari’s tweet, what I found troubling was Government’s swift, egotistical, selfish, senseless, thoughtless and authoritarian reaction, that is, without consideration for the welfare of Nigerians, suspending Twitter activities here because the latter deleted President Buhari’s tweet, excerpts of his videoclip on the South East. Though Government’s behaviour through its mouthpiece Alhaji Lai Mohammed comes as no surprise, still, it is wrong to make Nigerians suffer for what is nothing more than a personal issue between President Buhari and Twitter. For one, it is unconstitutional, a breach of our fundamental right of freedom of expression. Nigeria is a signatory to various Charters, some domesticated in our laws, undertaking to support tools which will enhance our freedom of expression, not restrict it! The question is, whether Alhaji Mohammed or Government can simply wake up and infringe on our fundamental rights like that? The answer is a resounding No, unless of course, we are in a military dictatorship.
Many young Nigerians depend on Twitter as a means of livelihood, and furthering their businesses. With the exceedingly high rate of unemployment among the youths, should Government be rendering more of them idle by suspending Twitter? Additionally, there will certainly be a drop in Nigeria’s GDP, because the millions of Nigerians who spend money buying data to utilise Twitter won’t be doing that until the suspension is lifted (if it is); this will most certainly result in a negative multiplier effect on our economy – a drop in telecoms revenue, and consequently, drop in tax revenue for the country and so on.
America and its people did not bear the brunt of President Trump’s misunderstanding with Twitter, why should we? But, when you have people who have the remit to advice the President on such matters like the Minister of Information, a Lawyer by training for that matter, whose utterances and actions have many a time given rise to people questioning his lucidity, this is what you get. Alhaji Mohammed has had it in for media organisations, for not painting Government and Nigeria in a positive light (remember the Lai Mohammed/Amnesty International/CNN/#EndSARS saga), and Twitter particularly, since it refused to locate its offices in Nigeria, choosing a saner, safer and more conducive environment like Ghana instead.
Again, this latest reaction by the Nigerian Government shows that indeed, under this administration, Nigeria is not the place for Twitter to house its African operation. By this singular action, Government has once again portrayed itself as being backward, dictatorial and oppressive. Such an action will definitely discourage FDI which we badly need (apart from fellow authoritarian China, from whom Nigeria is enjoying endless loan facilities), which is also contrary to Section 16 of the Constitution. Who knows? Maybe if Twitter had had offices situated in Nigeria, their staff may have been arrested by now.
This administration, has been looking for ways to clamp down on our constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of the press, expression and association assured by the provisions of Sections 22, 39(1) and 40 of the Constitution respectively, and to them this incident afforded them an opportunity to do so. Is Alhaji Mohammed not aware that, when you sign up to make use of these social media platforms, you agree to adhere to their terms and conditions, not yours? It is not about whether Alhaji Mohammed finds President Buhari’s statement to be as innocent as ‘Mary had a little lamb’; it is about Twitter, Facebook or whoever’s rules one must abide with, to make use of their device. This move by the Nigerian Government leaves us in no doubt that they are the All Regressives Congress, because this is certainly not an action which Progressives would take.
In conclusion, I can only reiterate what I have been shouting from the rooftop for quite a while – Government is doing an excellent job of destabilising itself by itself – making the wrong decisions and taking the wrong step at practically every given opportunity. It then turns around to blame others, and passes the buck to Twitter, PDP, late General Murtala Muhammed, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, everyone else but itself, for its failures, and to the Press, for reporting these failures as news. I do not deny the fact that indeed, there are many mischief makers who thrive on spreading fake news, but it is this Government’s incessant maladministration that gives them the impetus to do so. If Government was doing the right thing and Nigerians were relatively happy, there would be nothing negative to report or twist. But, as things stand in the country, it is only NASS, top Government officials and Politicians who are happy, and they constitute only an infinitesimal percentage of the population of the whole country.