Tuesday, the 29th day of December 2020, turned out to be a red-letter day for the residents of Katsina-Ala, Ukum and Sankere axis of Benue State of Nigeria, when the State Security Council, through the Bureau of Internal Affairs and Special Services, banned the use of motorcycles in those local government areas of the state.
The council in a statement by the permanent secretary, directed security agencies to arrest defaulters and impound their motorcycles. A premise upon which, the Nigerian Army, acting under the authority of the State Security Council, had impounded, set ablaze, burnt and destroyed over 50 motorcycles belonging to the residents of Katsina Ala and Ukum Local Government Areas, without trail before a court of competent jurisdiction and further subjecting the indigent masses to a greater level of futility, destitution and despondency.
LEGAL FRAMEWORK GOVERNING THE FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS OF CITIZENS WITHIN THE NIGERIAN CONCEPT
It is trite and fundamental principle of law by the combined interpretation of the express provisions Sections 36 and 44 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As amended) that the Right to Fair Hearing and Right to acquisition and ownership of property is protected and guaranteed.
Section 36(1) clearly provides that ‘In the determination of his civil rights and obligations, including any question or determination by or against any government or authority, a person shall be entitled to fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or tribunal established by law and constituted in such manner as to secure its independence and impartiality.”
Section 44(1) No moveable property or any interest in an immovable property shall be taken possession of compulsorily and no right over or interest in any part of Nigeria ecept in the manner and for the purposes prescribed by law…..”’
REGIONAL LEGAL FRAMEWORK
the African Charter on Human and Peoples Right, (hereinafter referred to as ACHPR), a document which has been domesticated and forms part of the body of laws in Nigeria, clearly and unequivocally guarantees freedom from discrimination and equal protection and equality of individuals before the law. The treaty which was signed in 1981, but did not become a law in Nigeria until when the National Assembly ratified and enforced it as applicable law in Nigeria. The Charter is now known as the AFRICAN CHARTER ON HUMAN AND PEOPLES RIGHTS (RATIFICATION AND ENFORCEMENT) ACT (CAP 10) OF THE FEDERATION OF NIGERIA 1990
Article 2 of the Act, clearly provides that ‘Every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedom recognized and guaranteed in the present charter without distinction of any kind such as race, ethnic group, colour, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or other status’
Article 3(1) (2) provides that Every individual shall be equal before the law, and every individual shall be entitled to equal protection of the law.
Every individual shall have the right to have his cause heard. This comprises:
The right to an appeal to competent national organs against acts of violating his fundamental rights as recognized and guaranteed by conventions, laws, regulations and customs in force;
The right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty by a competent court or tribunal;
The right to defence, including the right to be defended by counsel of his choice;
The right to be tried within a reasonable time by an impartial court or tribunal.
The above constitutional provisions, clearly raises questions that begs for answers:
Is the action of the Nigerian Army, in arresting, confiscating and burning of motorcycles of the residents of Ukum, Katsina Ala Sankere axis of Benue state without reference to the principles of Natural Justice and without following the due process of the law of having alleged offenders brought before a court of competent jurisdiction to stand trial, not constitute an infringement of the fundamental rights of the people as enshrined in the constitution?
Is the action of the State Security Council in passing a directive banning and confiscating the motorcycles of the residents, taking away the only source of livelihood of most of the residents without an adequate alternative for the sustenance of the affected residents, further subjecting the poor masses to a further state of destitution and despondency justifiable?
THE ROLE OF CIVIL SOCIETY GROUPS IN THE ATTAINMENT OF SOCIAL JUSTICE
Civil society groups, have created positive social changes in numerous places throughout the world. Benue State of Nigeria, is not an exception. LAWYERS ALERT, a right based civil society organization, having its Headquarters in Makurdi the capital of Benue State, has been astute in speaking out boldly and condemning in strong and vehement terms, the insensitivity of the Government of Benue state to the despondent masses of Katsina Ala, Ukum and Sankere axis of the state, especially with the recent directive of the State Security Council placing a ban on the use of motorcycle and invariably taking away the source of livelihood of the common masses.
These actions have cumulated into a law suit by LAWYERS ALERT, against the Benue State Government demanding justice for the residents of the affected areas who have been thrown into a further sate of futility. Kudos to LAWYERS ALERT, for the right step in the right direction.
From the above consideration, it suffices to say that if the rendition of the constitution “WE THE PEOPLE” is to have a meaningful impact, then it must have the force of general application without prejudice.
The following recommendations are worthy of consideration:
The Government of Benue State should be more proactive in addressing the security situation in Katsina Ala and Ukum areas. The deployment of 1.The deployment of the Nigerian Army and presence of more police personnel to the region is a good attempt but not a solution. It is high time to get the locals involved in their own security. Therefore, community policing is an indispensable tool in curbing the crime rate in the affected regions. (Nothing for us without us), the locals know the nooks and cranny of their community and thus can easily fish out recalcitrant individuals therein.
The condition of the roads in both Katsina Ala and Ukum is such in a deplorable state, making it a haven for thieves and bandits to make a clean sweep, for often times, motorists are forced to slow down on high ways due largely to the pot holes and several obstacles that have bedevilled the only road leading to the districts. It is sad and pathetic that a journey from the state capital Makurdi to Katsina Ala, last as long as three to four hours as a result of the deplorable condition of the road, for a journey that ordinarily should not exceed a maximum of two hours. The State Government should give attention to the deplorable state of the roads.
History has shown that a ban placed on the livelihood of the people has never resulted in attainment of security in the district. Years back, Government in place at the time in question, placed a ban on the use of a particular Toyota model in Katsina Ala popularly known in the local parlance as (DOG YANSH) for reasons that it was being used by kidnappers and bandits to unleash mayhem on the community. In spite of the ban, crime rate in the district never abated. What good then will the ban on motorcycle have in securing the lives and property of the locals other than to heap hardship on the poor who would barely manage to keep their heads above water?
If the Government is bent on eradicating the use of motorcycles, can they in turn make provisions for the replacement of same with tricycles to convey the poor masses from one destination to the other?
Can the Government as an alternative to an outright ban, rather impose curfews at designated hours to restrict the movement and activities of nefarious characters in the district?
From the above consideration, one fundamental principle looms large, that discrimination against any individual or groups of persons, is unacceptable. OUR HUMANITY should be paramount in ensuring Dignity and Rights of ALL PERSONS.