Quakers: More S’Court’s Justices’ll fast track delivery in election matters

Mr. Norrison Quakers, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in this interview with AKEEM NAFIU, speaks on controversies over Operation ‘Amotekun’, judiciary’s intervention in the nation’s electoral process and sundry issues

 

 

The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN), recently declared that the South-West Security Network also known as Operation Amotekun is illegal because it runs against the laws of the land. Do you share his sentiments?

 

 

Unfortunately, I don’t share his sentiments. As far as the law is concerned, the fundamental law of the land is the Nigerian Constitution and if my memory is not failing me, the Constitution clearly states that it is the responsibility of government to protect lives and property. It is equally not a hidden fact that government being referred to by the Constitution is not exclusive to the Federal Government.

 

 

Government in terms of security cuts across. We have the Federal, State and Local governments. Therefore, since we have these three tiers of government, it is their responsibility as defined by the Constitution to protect lives and property.

 

 

When it comes to policing, for instance, particularly, if there will be procurement of firearms for the purpose of protection, this comes under the exclusive list of the Federal Government. The Police Force as well as the Military which consist of the Army, Navy and Air Force are all under the exclusive list. But then, you can have states that would complement these efforts.

 

 

So, if a state or region comes up with an initiative to protect lives and property of its citizens, it cannot be termed as illegal on the basis that such declaration is not supported by the Constitution. The governor is the Chief Administrative Officer of a state and it is his prerogative to ensure that his territory is well secured.

 

 

There is also the authority of the Land Use Act which vested the power to control lands within a state in the governor and it is his duty to secure such lands.

Mind you, unlike what the AGF was saying, security is not on the exclusive list. You cannot find security on the exclusive list and like I said earlier the Constitution said it is the responsibility of government at Federal, States and local government to protect lives and property of citizens. They are mutually exclusive and interdependent.

 

 

Hence, any state that is desirous of kitting a unit could apply to do so. I hope you are aware that there are provisions in our laws for private citizens to be granted permission for the use of firearms in certain circumstance.

 

 

So, if you look at it in that context, you can say to yourself that all that the Federal Government should be concerned with is in the area of use of firearms.

 

 

Are you surprised with the AGF’s position on Amotekun considering the level of insecurity in the country?

 

 

Clearly, it is apparent that the Federal Government does not appreciate the enormity of the problems confronting the country in the area of insecurity, otherwise, there ought not to be any opposition to Amotekun.

 

 

We cannot continue to rely on the Federal Government because the security apparatus for the state has broken down. So, there’s a need to complement the efforts of Federal Government in the area of securing the lives and property of Nigerians.

 

 

I don’t see why the whole thing should be politicised. Operation Amotekun is an attempt to complement Federal Government’s efforts and nothing more. Therefore, I am encouraging the governors of the South West to go ahead with Operation Amotekun. There’s no law that says state governors cannot secure their territories. I even learnt from what I read that before this unit was set up, there was an interface with the Inspector General of Police, who also gave his approval.

 

 

Do you envisage crisis should the South-West governors go ahead with Operation Amotekun amidst opposition from the Federal Government?

It’s very clear. The only thing that can happen is that if the Federal Government is not comfortable with what these South-West governors are pushing, it should go to the Supreme Court. The Federal Government can initiate a suit at the apex court against the states and seek interpretation of the clear and unambiguous provisions of the Constitution.

 

 

When a dispute like this arose, the only arm of government that can resolve it is the judiciary. So, the Federal Government should approach the court, it is not for the states to sue. This is because by and large, the units have taken off and there are evidence that states in the South-West notified the Inspector General of Police, who is Head of Federal Government’s institution responsible for internal security about the arrangement. Therefore, Operation Amotekun is not intended to usurp the statutory duties of the power but rather it is complementary in nature.

 

 

So, the only option available for the Federal Government if it is not comfortable with Operation Amotekun is to go to court and not to say it want to declare a state of emergency anywhere because this can lead to a breakdown of law and order.

 

 

In view of the outrage that trailed the Supreme Court’s judgement on the Imo State governorship contest, what do you think should be done to limit judiciary’s intervention in the nation’s electoral process?

 

 

Let me be honest with you, we cannot isolate the judiciary from performing its constitutional role. The constitutional role of the judiciary is to interpret laws. The court is a place where redress is sought. Anywhere an infraction occurs, the appropriate forum to resolve the dispute is the judiciary.

 

The Electoral Act even recognized the roles expected of the judiciary at both pre and post-election periods. Now, if election is conducted and a party is aggrieved as regard the outcome, rather than take laws into your hands, it is appropriate to seek judiciary’s intervention.

 

 

This crisis also came about because politicians influenced it. You will recall that before now, in 1999 as far as resolving disputes arising from governorship elections are concerned, there are just two levels of conflict resolutions. These are the Election Petition Tribunal and the Court of Appeal. But now, the Supreme Court is burdened with appeals arising from governorship elections.

 

Meanwhile, for as long as statutes and provisions of our laws are not followed to the letter, the work that the judiciary is expected to do will continue. Also, for as long as the mindset of the winner takes all forms the bedrock of our electoral process, the judiciary must always be called upon to play its role. We are not yet mature politically to have elections conducted and then the outcome is embraced by all and sundry.

So, for me, the only way to get round this is to further tighten the electoral process and ensure that neutrality is promoted. What happened over the Imo State governorship dispute is quite unfortunate but unfortunately it cannot be reversed since the Supreme Court has made that pronouncement.

 

 

The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, is lamenting burden of meeting deadline of delivering judgement in governorship election cases especially as caseloads keep soaring. What would you suggest as panacea for this development?

 

 

I think I have addressed this issue earlier in our discussion. What was the position of the law before now? The law before now is that any dispute over governorship election terminates at the Court of Appeal. However, at some point, some leaders in their wisdom got the National Assembly to amend the law by adding extra burden to the one existing on the Supreme Court. This was the root of the problem. So, a way of addressing the problem is by reverting to the status quo.

 

 

Alternatively, if that is the case and the apex court intends to comply with the time limit of delivering judgement in governorship election cases, it means we must have the full complement of Justices at the Supreme Court. I hope you are aware that under the Constitution, the Supreme Court should have 21 Justices? That means, more Justices should be appointed to the Supreme Court. This is another solution to the problem.

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