Last Saturday, a platoon of armed soldiers led by an unnamed Army General invaded the premises of a company, Kakarta Civil Engineering Limited at Katampe in Abuja, Federal Capital Territory. The property is said to be owned by Mr. Robert Azibaola, a cousin of former President Goodluck Jonathan. The troops who were reported to have driven away the workers in the premises have since seized the property without a court order. Sequel to the illegal action of the army of occupation the innocent workers in the company have been dispatched to the unemployment market.
Although the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has charged Mr. Azibaola to court for alleged criminal diversion of $40 million from the office of the National Security Adviser he pleaded not guilty to the charge and has been granted bail. The implication of the plea is that he is presumed innocent until the contrary is proved by the prosecution. Therefore, if the Nigerian military authorities had wanted to dispossess him of the property in question they ought have applied for a court order. But by taking over the property under the pretext that it constitutes a threat to a nearby military barracks the military authorities took the law into their hands. The forceful seizure of the property should not be tolerated in a civilized society which operates under the rule of law.
Once again, we are compelled to advise the federal government to stop members of the armed forces to refrain from violating the rights of criminal suspects accused of engaging in the mega looting of the public treasury. By allowing the security forces to adopt Gestapo tactics in the recovery of the loot the Buhari administration stands the risk of winning undeserved sympathy for the criminal suspects who are standing trial. Indeed, the security forces are unwittingly colluding with corruption to fight back.
In the last one year, the Nigerian Army has engaged in the massacre of 348 Shiites, scores of members of the Indigenous people of Biafra and other armed citizens in various parts of the country. Armed soldiers have also usurped the functions of the police to maintain law and order in the society. Civilians are now declared wanted by power drunk military officers. Even under the defunct military junta the courts never condoned the forceful seizure of the assets of citizens by armed troops. In case of The Military Governor of Lagos State (1986) 4 NWLR (pt 18) 621 the Supreme Court held that “In the area where the rule of law operates, the rule of self-help by force is abandoned. Nigeria being one of the countries in the world, even in the third world, which profess loudly to follow the rule of law, gives no room for the rule of self-help by force to operate.”
Under the current political dispensation the apex court has cautioned the federal government to desist from engaging in any of self-help. That was in the case of Attorney-General of Lagos state v Attorney-General of the Federation (2005) 2 WRN 1 at 108 where it was held that “In a society where the rule of law prevails, self-help is not available to the Executive or any arm of government. In view of the fact that such a conduct could breed anarchy and totalitarianism, and since anarchy and totalitarianism are antithetical to democracy… all the Governments of this country as well as organizations and individuals must kowtow to due process of the law and this they can vindicate by resorting to the courts for redress in the event of any grievance.”
Since the seizure and the illegal occupation of Mr. Azibaola’s property cannot be justified in law the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai should order the immediate withdrawal of the armed troops and sanction the officers who have exposed the nation to ridicule in the circumstance. Having regard to the massive infringements of the fundamental rights of the Nigerian people by armed soldiers President Buhari should order the Army to stop interfering in the police duty of the maintaining law and order in the country.
Femi Falana is a Lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria