By Ayo Kehinde
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on Tuesday ordered the Nigerian Army NA and its Chief of Army Staff, COAS, Lt Gen Tukur Buratai to suspend the ongoing Operation Positive Identification, OPI, by the Nigerian Army.
This was sequel to a substantive suit filed by rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Femi Falana. He is seeking and order to stop OPI, on the grounds that it violates the rights of Nigerians to free movement, assembly and gathering and seeks to give the army the power to take over the internal security work and law enforcement activity of the police. He said the planned nationwide operation which will run from November 1, to December 23, 2019, by which Nigerian citizens would be required to move about with means of identification is unconstitutional, illegal, null and void
According to him, the operation violates his right and that of other Nigerian citizens to liberty, “as stated in Section 35 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as Amended and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, (Cap A10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.”
Consequently, he is seeking an interim order restraining the respondents from going on with the plan pending the hearing of the substantive suit.
In a supporting affidavit sworn to by a lawyer Mr Taiwo Olawanle, the plaintiff recalled that on October 8, 2019 the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai disclosed that the Operation Positive Identification, said to be on going in the North East theatre of Boko Haram insurgency war would be extended to cover the entire nation.
He said the operation required Nigerian citizens to move about with legitimate means of identification such as the National Identification Card, Voters Registration Card, Drivers’ Licence and passports or other valid official identification.
He noted that the increase in deployment of security forces nationwide would be with potential of movement disruption, and the army had thus advised Nigerians to ensure that they always carry valid means of identification.
Falana contended that by virtue of Section 215 (3) of the Constitution, the Nigerian
Police “has the exclusive power to maintain law and order and secure public safety and public order in the country” and not the Nigerian Army.
He contended that going by section 217(1) of the Constitution, the Nigerian President could only deploy the armed forces for the suppression of insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore law and order.
Falana that “Neither the Constitution nor the Armed Forces Act Cap A20 LFN, 2004 has empowered the Nigeria Army to arrest any citizen who is not subject to service law.
In his ruling, Judge Rilwanu Aikawa ordered both parties to maintain the status quo pending the determination of substantive suit.
The COAS, the Nigerian Army and the Attorney-General of the Federation are respondents in the suit. When the matter was mentioned, none of the respondents was in court.
Falana told the court that the respondents had been served with the court processes and the proof of service was in the court’s file. The court confirmed it.
But Principal State Counsel from the Ministry of Justice, prayed the court to grant an adjournment to enable the Solicitor-General, Mr Dayo Apata, to handle the matter personally and also give the respondents time to harmonise their positions.
Mr Falana did not raise any objection. The presiding Judge, Justice Aikawa, granted his application and said
“in view of the agreement between both counsels, I order the Nigerian Army and Chief of Army staff to maintain the status quo, pending the determination of the case.” He, thereafter, adjourned further proceedings till November 18,2019.