By Jibrin Ibrahim
The President snubbed the invitation to address the National Assembly yesterday over the deteriorating security situation in the country. The initial invitation came from the House of Representatives and he eventually agreed to address the whole Assembly. Governors of the ruling party had urged him not to honour the invitation for fear of a ripple effect in their own States. On Wednesday, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami pronounced that the National Assembly has no constitutional power to summon President Buhari over the spate of insecurity in the country: “The management and control of the security sector is exclusively vested in the President by Section 218 (1) of the Constitution as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces including the power to determine the operational use of the armed forces. An invitation that seeks to put the operational use of the armed forces to a public interrogation is indeed taking the constitutional rights of law-making beyond bounds.”
Sections 88 and 89 of the Constitution empowers the National Assembly to summon any public official and the President is certainly a public official. The question that is posed for the entire country is whether those who exercise power are accountable to Nigerian citizens. If they insist that they are not even accountable to Parliament, which has vested powers of law making and oversight, then they cannot be accountable to Nigerians. It was in this context that Concerned Nigerians, a civic group, issued a statement on 9th December signed by Prof. Koyinsola Ajayi, A B. Mahmoud, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SANs), Bishop Mathew Kukah, Prof. Attahiru Jega and thirty-eight others including yours truly entitled: “For A Future for Nigeria: We Must Draw a Red Line on the Zabarmari Massacre.”
This group of responsible and patriotic Nigerians explained in the statement that they had watched with serious concern the unfolding crisis threatening to engulf the country as non-partisan individuals who believe in the union of the people through the maintenance of democratic order founded on the rule of law. The initiative grew out of the recent #EndSARS protests, by Nigerian youth across the country, against widespread police brutality, endemic corruption, and bad governance. They contended that the Nigerian State has the high constitutional duty and responsibility to act for the primary purpose of ensuring the security and welfare of the people (as set out in Section 14(2)(B) of the Constitution). The prerequisite for exercising the rights of citizens rests fully on the existence of the security of lives and property of all Nigerians.
Despite the exacerbation of prevailing pains of anguish and anger precipitated by COVID-19 and attendant stagflation, the unfortunate manner in which the ground swell united EndSARS protest was ended with illegitimate use of force by government (some disillusioned as well as criminal people), has increased tension, fear, dismay, disillusion and despair for most Nigerians. This is further aggravated by the unlawful detention and blocking of bank accounts of innocent protesters; the unceasing attempt to delegitimize EndSARS, presenting it as a move to initiate regime change as the Federal Government-appointed Consultative Committee under the Chief of Staff to the President has been saying.
In the effort to subdue the freedom of Nigerians, the top agents of State have been insistent on not allowing anymore protests, warning they will be treated as acts of treason rather than address the substantive issues that led to the protest. This is against the backdrop of concerns about an urgent and coordinated action by the States and the Federal governments to implement the minimum set of proposals by the youth, establish the basis for trust, allow for evident and speedy reform of the police, and more importantly deal with the open take-over of a large part of the nation by well-organized outright lawlessness, intent on unleashing generalized violence on the citizens, threatening community as we know it. This was brought to a head by the most barbaric slaughter of innocent Nigerians at Zabarmari, Borno State.
Nigerians now live in a state of anomie, well outside our unsuccessful eleven-year old war against Boko Haram. Across the country, especially in the North, life has become extremely tenuous. People are killed daily, women are raped regularly, kidnapping is rife and many farmers cannot go to their farms. We are concerned that over the past five years, in particular, public safety and security have been in steady decline throughout the country. According to the Global Terrorism Index 2020, Nigeria is the third country most impacted by terrorism in the world today. Everyone is asking, where is the State? Underscoring the message of many notable Nigerians, the Sultan of Sokoto declared last week, that no one is safe anywhere in Nigeria. The country is facing a real crisis of food insecurity. Millions of Nigerians are in desperate need of emergency humanitarian support.
What can be seen clearly is incompetence in governance demonstrated by a lack of ideas on how to tackle insecurity, a poor understanding of the situation and a clear failure in the pursuit of government engagement to address these problems. The Zabarmari incident is a grave indictment of the government. At the minimum what we should have seen is the honourable exit of the persons responsible for defence and security of our country.
In spite of numerous calls on the President to sack his Service Chiefs, the president has persisted in his policy of guarantying them longevity in their positions. His message to Nigerians appears to be that he is not ready to sanction his Security Chiefs for failure. The President must therefore take responsibility for the failure as the Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces.
Having carefully observed and followed these unfolding events, Concerned Nigerians is of the view that the Zabarmari gruesome killings must be a redline for the country. The time for action is now. There is urgent need to halt our descent into further deterioration of the system as the political space is heating up. We therefore with all sense of patriotism and love for a united, peaceful, secure, just and prosperous nation, call for the following urgent steps to be taken by all to whom it may concern:
The National Assembly Should during the engagement with the Office of the President, ensure that the Office takes decisive action to improve the security situation in the country as stipulated by our Grand Norm.
In consonance with the widely accepted notion of devolution, the National Assembly should enact laws to facilitate State Governments take more responsibility for their security as they face increased insecurity.
The security chiefs in the country have collectively failed to provide security for Nigerians and there must be consequences for this failure and in any case their tenure has expired.
Civil society groups and communities must come out and clearly show their legitimate concerns at mounting insecurity and make it clear that they are unwilling to continue to accept the current collapse of public safety.
State Governments and community leaders should quickly put in place legitimate mechanisms for better protection of their people against mass violence, banditry, kidnapping and other crimes.
The President and the Presidency should demonstrate real leadership in the crisis we face as a nation with the President showing empathy and compassion, using power of his voice to calm nerves; and urging all who speak for government to show sensibility to the feelings of the people and not denigrate as criminals’ objective critics of existential problems we all face.
The Federal Government should unfreeze all accounts and free all persons detained on account of organizing the #EndSARS protest, charging to court anyone it finds to have a case to answer for any crime.
The Federal Government should stop all acts evidencing dissonance in government, labelling innocent and legitimate activity as criminal, ridiculing government by misrepresenting facts, and labelling the reportage of facts as fake news.
*A professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, and Chair of the Editorial Board of PREMIUM TIMES.