In what may be described as the biggest affront on the rights of Nigerians, the Nigerian Army says it will demand identity cards from Nigerians in the streets from November 1 to December 23, 2019 under a purported Operation Positive Identification.
This is in a country where getting identity cards is a difficult and often expensive task.
Getting a driver’s licence can take up to two years and not less than N25,000 while the National Identity Management Commission says it will charge for national identity cards.
The process of issuing identity cards to Nigerians began under former President Olusegun Obasanjo but ran into stormy weather over corruption allegations levelled against some ministers.
Till date, the identity commission has been unable to issue cards to Nigerians despite billions pumped into the venture.
The Independent National Electoral Commission has not handled the process of voter registration with the professionalism required of it.
The Nigerian Immigration Service often complains of shortage of booklets for international passports.
In the absence of an electronic national database of Nigerians, and the tardiness associated with providing the four recognised means of identification – voter card, driver’s licence, national identity card and international passport – what is the justification for asking Nigerians on the streets fir identification?
Millions of Nigerians are unemployed yet the Nigerian government is more interested in expending scarce public funds on a wild goose chase
The army is not statutorily empowered to handle internal security matters or conduct such searches but Nigerians fear that the plan fixed for next month is an indication of growing dictatorship by President Muhammadu Buhari.
There are constitutional provisions for directing the Nigerian Army to take such an extraordinary measure but none of these is the case right now.
Nigeria is not in a state of emergency, the condition under which the military can be drafted in to handle internal security operations.
Under Miscellaneous Provisions in the 1999 Constitution as amended, section 305 states: “(1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the President may by instrument published in the Official –
Gazette} of the Government of the Federation issue a Proclamation of a state of emergency in the Federation or
any part thereof.
(2) The President shall immediately after the publication, transmit copies of the Official -Gazette of the
Government of the Federation containing the proclamation including the details of the emergency to the
President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, each of whom shall forthwith convene
or arrange for a meeting of the House of which he is President or Speaker, as the case may be, to consider the
situation and decide whether or not to pass a resolution approving the Proclamation.
(3) The President shall have power to issue a Proclamation of a state of emergency only when –
(a) the Federation is at war;
(b) the Federation is in imminent danger of invasion or involvement in a state of war;
(c) there is actual breakdown of public order and public safety in the Federation or any part thereof to such
extent as to require extraordinary measures to restore peace and security;
(d) there is a clear and present danger of an actual breakdown of public order and public safety in the Federation
or any part thereof requiring extraordinary measures to avert such danger;
(e) there is an occurrence or imminent danger, or the occurrence of any disaster or natural calamity, affecting the
community or a section of the community in the Federation;
(f) there is any other public danger which clearly constitutes a threat to the existence of the Federation;”
It is not known why Buhari is tightening the noose on Nigerians but there are fears of growing unease in the top echelons of power in the country amid failed expectations arising from the inability of the government to meet most of its promises.
Also, there is growing hunger and discontent in the land, with many businesses either shut or collapsing.
The government itself has complained of critical revenue shortages and resorted to borrowing to pay salaries and fund major projects.
Nigerians have risen as one to condemn the Army’s plan even as neither it nor the Federal Government has given strong reasons for the extraordinary measure.
In August 2019, the police led a brutal crackdown on #Revolution Now protests in parts of the country.
Publisher of Saharareporters, Omoyele Sowore, and some other activists were arrested and charged before different courts.
Also, some state governors have unleashed their powers against the Nigerian media, with the incarceration of some popular voices of dissent.
Currently, three journalists, Stephen Kefas, Agba Jalingo and Joseph Odok, are being held on the orders of two governors known for intolerant dispositions to criticism while a critic of the Buhari administration, Abubakar ‘Dadiyata’ Idris, disappeared since August 1.
Policemen from Kwara State Criminal Investigation Department on Friday abducted a programmer, Mr. Adebowale Adekoya, at Ikorodu Garage, a major bus terminus in Lagos where he had gone to buy a laptop.
They claimed he was abducted so he could lead them to the owner of a website, News Digest, to which he offers technical services.
They said they were investigating the medium over a story published in May 2018 but it is curious that they chose to travel all the way to Lagos to arrest Adekoya who has no connection with the story.
The laws frown on arresting any person in lieu of another but security agents in Nigeria typically become emboldened and reckless whenever the leader of the country expresses a disposition to tampering with the rights of citizens.
Fisayo Soyombo, an investigative journalist with The Cable, has gone underground after receiving threats from security agents over his expose on the rot in the Nigerian Police and Nigerian Correctional Service’s custodial operations.
He detailed systemic abuses, extortion and general rights abuses gathered in the course of an undercover investigation of a police station and a prison in Lagos.
After public outcry, the Nigerian Prisons Service said it was investigating the issues raised in his report.
Some activists who went to submit a petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission seeking the investigation of a former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, were manhandled by the agency’s operatives at its headquarters in Abuja.
Rogue units in the Nigeria Police have routinely embarked on illegal arrests, extortions and killings of Nigerian youths, especially undergraduates and those driving exotic cars or seen in possession of laptops, iPhones and other expensive personal effects.
Some other critical voices have been forced to go underground and it is feared that the planned army searches, if allowed to proceed, would be used to engage in mass arrests of Nigerians.
Some months ago, trucks filled with soldiers invaded the offices of Daily Trust newspapers in Lagos, Abuja and Maiduguri, abducting some staff members and ransacking the offices.
Public condemnation of the high-handed raids forced Buhari to order the soldiers out of the newspaper’s offices and release its employees.
Buhari’s state of health has come under fresh scrutiny with the statement by his media aide, Femi Adesina, that he would be away in London for 15 days on a ‘private visit,’ a euphemism for medical treatment.
There are fears that a tiny cabal is running the country on behalf of the president and using extra-judicial powers to muzzle opposition.
There is palpable suspicion about the timing of the purported operation, especially coming two days after the Supreme Court is expected to begin hearing six appeals in the suit by former Vice-President and Peoples Democratic Party’s presidential candidate in the 2010 elections, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
It is also arrange that this is coming in the period when the Bayelsa and Kogi governorship elections are scheduled for November 16.
Nigerians are also reading meaning into the timing of Buhari’s “private visit” to London.
As the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he alone grants approval for military deployments.
As such, Nigerians are wondering if Buhari is returning the nation to the era of the brutal War Against Indiscipline when he was military head of state from December 31, 1983 to August 27, 1985.
Under WAI, Nigerians were subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment by security agents.
It remains to be seen how far these deliberate actions to keep Nigerians under a cloud of fear will go.
Experts last week examined the defects in the existing Nigerian security architecture at a summit on safety and security organised by Caleb University, Imota, Lagos State and concluded that there was still a lot to be desired.
A former General Officer Commanding, Training and Doctrine Command and Executive Director of the Pan-African Strategic Group, Maj-Gen. Ishola Williams (retd.), and policing authority, Prof. Etanibi Alemika of the University of Jos, condemned the use of soldiers in internal security duties.
They advised the Buhari administration to overhaul the security system and introduce state and community policing in order to cope with existing and unfolding security challenges.
Even with the plethora of military checkpoints across Nigeria, bandits, kidnappers and armed robbers still terrorise the highways unchecked.
Only last week, two men died in an autocrash that happened few kilometres to military and police checkpoints on Sagamu-Ore-Benin Expressway when the driver of a grey Toyota Picnic van tried to escape from a roadblock set up by armed robbers in the wee hours of the morning.
Nigerians are generally unhappy with the state of affairs in the country and any attempt to re-enact military era jackboot violation of human rights will surely fail.
This exercise should be called off while security agencies should conduct themselves in accordance with laid down provisions.
At the Caleb University conference, a South African-trained criminology lecturer, Dr. Chiji Ezeji, called for the adoption of advanced methods of policing to put Nigeria at par with leasing nations of the world.
Nigeria is not a banana republic where the rights of citizens count for nothing.
The so-called searches and demand for identification is an opportunity for sundry criminals to rob Nigerians using fake army uniforms.
This is a fact that the leadership of the country must consider and call off this exercise immediately.
President Muhammadu Buhari must put a stop to this unlawful plan to subject Nigerians to harrassment.
The National Assembly and all voices of reason must condemn this move. It is undemocratic, unconstitutional and a breach of the fundamental rights of Nigerians.
•Emeka Madunagu is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Metrostar Newspaper and can be reached via [email protected] or 08154378732 (SMS only)