By Lukman Olabiyi
Mr. Adekunle Adegoke, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and former Secretary of the North East Task Force of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), in this interview, spoke on many national issues, most especially security in Nigeria, and the recent face off between the Federal Government and Ondo State Governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu over activities of Fulani herdsmen.
Recently, the Federal Government faulted the order issued by Governor Akeredolu, directing herdsmen to vacate Forest Reserves in his state, what is your view on the position of both parties?
Every governor has a responsibility to preserve life and property. If someone is claiming that he has the fundamental right to move about as he pleases, there is a qualification to every fundamental right preserved in the constitution. Nobody has the right to enter into a forest reserve, graze there when it is not allowed, or to build there without approval. There are qualifications to the fundamental rights preserved in the constitution. Nobody can jump on any land and say because I am a Nigerian, I have the right to stay anywhere I like; if you are a Nigerian and you wish to stay anywhere you like, you have to purchase land there. No Yoruba man can go to Kano and claim that because he’s a Nigerian, he can conquer any land and say it is because he is doing a trade. No Igbo man can do that as well.
So, if we know that this is not something anybody will allow, then it would be sheer dishonesty for the Federal Government to insist that the governors must tread with caution. Any Fulani man that wants to have land to stay or graze, should purchase it. Our people have land, anyone who wants to, will sell to intending buyers. But if you don’t have right of purchase or ownership of land, or even possession, maybe as a result of being a tenant, you cannot claim that simply being a Nigerian, you have the right to move about anyhow.
The governor is perfectly right, in telling them to vacate the forest reserves. In fact, the notice required to get a trespasser off your land is not more than seven days. You have the right to eject a trespasser using minimal force. So, the governor’s directive is legitimate.
How best do you think the challenges of insecurity can be tackled in the country?
It calls for determination. It calls for an unwavering resolution on the part of the government to restore security of lives and property. The efforts of the government right now to combat insecurity are half-hearted. No serious government restores peace and order by negotiating with bandits and granting amnesty to terrorists to spite gallant forces who died in the anti-terrorism campaign. The morale of the living and serving soldiers can never be boosted where they see their tormentors in a banquet with the government they are dying to protect. The wives, sons and daughters of soldiers who were killed by the slaughter knives of Boko Haram will never see any justification for the “foolish” choice of their breadwinners to die for a country that will not mourn them but rather compensate their killers with training abroad and dinners with the government. Justice must be served to the victims and the perpetrators in accordance with due measure of law.
Second, the government must appropriately kit and equip our law enforcement officers to effectively combat terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and other vices of insecurity. We have read and watched much of how our soldiers are being mercilessly slaughtered by Boko Haram and you wonder whether these are the same soldiers who received international medals for excellent performances. A senior military officer who was not ready to continue indulging in the shameless and deceitful claim of excellence while his battalion was being slaughtered by bandits, recently voiced out against the inadequacies in their weaponry and how Boko Haram terrorists displayed better weapons. The military authorities and the government, rather than looking critically into the complaints of this gallant officer, removed him from his command and demoted him as a punishment for speaking the truth. The government would rather praise a military officer who is lying that they had killed Shekau and destroyed all his men only for the same killed terrorists to be killing thousands of villagers the following day.
Third, the government must attend to the economic challenges affecting the masses. The bands of terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and armed robbers have ready supplies from the millions of unemployed youths whose markets must be reduced by provision of jobs and creating of employment opportunities. Many of the youths who fuel the source of violence and evil perpetration are unemployed youths who would have rather been useful in some other sectors.
Finally, the government must prioritise education. A situation where the number of out-of-school children multiplies on a daily basis can never augur well for security in any nation. Thousands of young children are out of school in every local government in the Northern part of the country and these are ready sources for supplies of terrorists and bandits. The previous government established hundreds of almajiri schools all over the North. We must look at how efficient these schools are in reducing the population of wandering almajiris and upgrade them to tackle the scourge of ignorance by which bloodshed was made attractive to young and innocent souls that ought to be the hope of the nation for a more progressive future.
What is your view about the appointment of new service chiefs; do you think that is what the country needs right now or is it even coming late?
Better late than never. I pray the new gentlemen will be able to bring us peace. I believe this realisation by the President is coming quite late. The level of insecurity in the country, orgy of violence we read on a daily basis, the volume of tears of victims, the number of deaths, both recorded and unrecorded, do not justify that the government is responsive enough. It is easy for someone to stay in a place where there is relative peace like Lagos, Osun or Anambra and be praising the government. I believe if one’s relative happens to be a victim of Boko Haram slaughter or kidnap for ransom, one will not find it funny. The victims of mass slaughter in Benue, Nasarawa, Borno, Zamfara are not laughing and can never be finding the situation pleasant. They are weeping.
The call by the people for the removal of the security chiefs was not based on hatred for anyone. It is a genuine call for the enthronement of law and order through people who are ready to do the job. A situation where there is anarchy all over the land is not a commendation to the efforts of the executive. We only hope and pray that the statement by the President to reorganise the security apparatus and personnel is genuine and not just a New Year statement to pacify the angry masses.
Many people are of the opinion that this administration is taking away citizen’s rights and liberty through its actions against the citizens. What’s your take on this?
The government needs to critically assess itself with respect to its human rights achievements. When we talk about a government’s human rights records, it is not limited to an order given or not given by the President. It is not merely defined by the action and inaction of the President alone. It is a summation of the activities of the government with respect to its police department, law enforcement section generally etc. The arrest and detention of Sowore leave a bitter taste in the mouth for some of us who supported and worked to put this government in place. For all you care, the government could have ignored the call for a revolution by Sowore as it was not a new statement made by anyone. In fact, the act would not amount to treason if properly scrutinised in the context of the law. There have been no reports of arms bearing or use of weapon by any of the protesters who claimed a revolution. At best, what Sowore called a revolution was a nomenclatural misnomer as it was merely a protest and nothing more. For the men of the Department of State Service to brutalise him in court only showcased our officers as operating below the standard recognised in civilised community.
With respect to the #EndSARS campaign and the manner it was addressed by the government, I believe the government could have done better. The government actually handled it with maturity at the beginning, ready to listen and discuss and in this regard, I will give kudos to Governor Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State and many of his colleagues like the Governor of Kwara State who intervened in the protests with good measure of responsibility.
The deployment of soldiers to Lekki, arrest, detention, victimisation and denial of right of travels to the leaders of the protests only show the government as not being tolerant and ready to respect human rights enough. I must concede that the acts of hooliganism, brigandage, arson, destruction and killings of policemen that succeeded the protests from some quarters require a stronger hand by the government as no government should allow a free rein of anarchy. And at the same time, a peaceful and well-organised theatre of protest like Lekki and Ikeja did not deserve the cruelty that was unleashed on the people.
Do you think the government has given room for judiciary autonomy in this dispensation?
The government has not ensured judicial autonomy. Notwithstanding the signing into law of the Executive Order No. 10, it is certain judicial autonomy is a necessity as no arm of government should have an over-bearing influence on the constitutional capacities of other arms of government if separation of powers would be meaningful. A Chief Judge at a recent NBA Conference in Lagos lamented the financial situation of the judiciary in her state and attributed their incapacitation to financial control by the executive. A situation under which our courts operate cannot be regarded as part of the modern judicial system in which courts of other lands operate. I have said it elsewhere that the judiciary has always been going cap in hand to the executive to beg for allocations and financial support. This has made many governors determiners of what the judiciary does and does not do. You see a governor who considers himself a potentate dishing out orders to the judiciary or by subtlety influencing the outcome of judicial determination by threat of financial incapacitation. It is not for a governor to buy cars and distribute to Judges who will now feel obliged to such a benefactor. I read recently of Magistrates appointed about two years ago in a state still going to offices on foot as they have no cars to transport themselves. Such a situation cannot boost the morale of such judicial officers and a hungry stomach cannot be insulated from corrupt influences.