A human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has described as unconstitutional and illegal the alleged invasion of the home of the leader of the indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) Nnamdi Kanu, by the Nigerian Army.
He stated that though the president is constitutionally empowered by the Constitution to deploy the armed forces for the suppression of insurrection to restore law and order, he cannot exercise the power until there is an insurrection or civil disturbance which cannot be contained by the police.
He has therefore urged President Muhammadu to immediately order the soldiers to “withdraw and return to their barracks forthwith” and warned against assigning soldiers for a function constitutionally meant for the police.
Nigerian Army had recently announced Operation Python Dance 11 in the entire five states of the South East. It claimed the exercise aims to contain instances of kidnapping and armed robbery attacks in the region.
However, reports from Abia State last Sunday September 10 and Tuesday September 12 alleged that soldiers in their numbers with armories invaded the home of the IPOB leader and killed some members of the group. They were said to have also invaded and destroyed properties at the Nigerian Union of Journalists secretariat in the state.
But in his reaction on this development, the human rights lawyer and activist described the action of the soldiers as “unconstitutional and illegal.”
Part of the statement read, “No doubt, the Federal Government of Nigeria has the duty to maintain law and order in the country. But it is the duty which cannot be carried out outside the ambit of the law of the land. Last weekend, armed troops invaded Abia in Abia State to deal with the alleged threat of Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) to destabilise the country.
“It was reported yesterday that the troops have taken over the family house of Mr Kanu and put him under house arrest. I wish to submit, without any fear of contradiction, that the deployment of armed troops in Abia State and the house arrest of Mr. Kanu are illegal and unconstitutional on the following grounds:
“By virtue of section 215 (3) of the Constitution the Nigeria Police Force has been conferred with the exclusive power to maintain law and order and secure public safety and public order in the country.
“Having filed an application in the Federal High Court for the re-arrest and detention of Mr. Kanu for allegedly breaching the conditions attached to his bail the federal government ought not to have presented the trial judge with afait accompli by resorting to self-help in the circumstance.
“Although the President is empowered by virtue of section 217(2) of the Constitution to deploy the armed forces for the ‘suppression of insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore law order’ he cannot exercise the power until there is an insurrection or civil disturbance which cannot be contained by the police.
“Since there was no insurrection in Aba State which the Nigeria Police Force could not contain the deployment of armed troops by the President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces cannot be justified in law.
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“However, if the Federal Government has evidence of other criminal offences recently committed by Mr. Kanu the Police should have been directed to arrest him and charge him to court without any delay. Neither the Constitution nor the Armed Forces Act Cap A20 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 has empowered the Nigeria Army to arrest any citizen who is not subject to service law.
“There is no legal basis for authorising the Nigerian army to take over police duties. Even under the defunct military era in Nigeria the military dictators had to declare a state of emergency to legitimise the usurpation of police powers by the armed forces. But under a democratic dispensation the President and Commander-in-chief of the armed forces lacks the power to deploy members of the armed forces in the maintenance of internal security in any part of the country.
“Hence, in waging the war on terror in the north east region a state of emergency was declared by President Jonathan to justify the deployment of members of the armed forces as part of the extraordinary measures required by him to restore law and order pursuant to section 305 of the Constitution. Thereafter, the President sought and obtained the approval of the National Assembly for the said deployment of the armed forces.
“In view of the foregoing, the President should direct the armed troops who have invaded Aba in Abia State to withdraw and return to their barracks forthwith.”
Focus keyword: Biafra