Executive Lawlessness By Lawal Ogienagbon

Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move

freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any

part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be

expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereto

or exit therefrom.

– Section 41 (1) of the Constitution

The Constitution lists out the fundamental rights of the citizens and in line with the principle of social contract those in authority, must as a matter of course, uphold those rights. They are charged with the protection of these rights, which the citizens must enjoy without any encumbrance, except where they break the law. These rights are, however, not absolute as they come with responsibilities. It is the responsibility of the citizens to ensure that in enjoying these rights, they do not do anything contrary to the law, which may lead to the abridgement of their rights.

These rights are enjoyed by everybody, whether king or serf, president or pauper. The king is not expected to use his position to deprive the serf of his right nor is the president allowed to use his exalted post to oppress and deny the pauper or other members of the society their rights because of political disagreement. The lowly too are not expected to abuse the rights of those in power by denigrating them in any form whatever.

In essence, the mighty and the lowly should learn to live together and accommodate one another’s idiosyncracies. The powerful are not expected to take the law into their hands because they have what it takes to punish the poor. It is always the powerful versus the poor, but once in a while, we see the powerful taking on the powerful. When these two elephants take on themselves, it is usually not on equal terms, as we saw in some instances in the past.

A few years ago, the late Dim Emeka Odumegwu – Ojukwu took on the then military government in Lagos State over his father’s property in Ikoyi. The government of the day brought state might to bear on the case, despite the high and appeal courts’ verdicts that the property belonged to Ojukwu. Annoyed by the government’s disposition, the Supreme Court described the military junta’s action as ‘’executive rascality’’.

Governments, whether a dictatorship or a democracy, are expected to obey the law. This is why the sage once said: ‘’Even in the midst of guns, the laws are not silent’’. Yes, the laws are never silent, but we the people are the ones that are silent in the face of tyranny. We keep silent when others are being maltreated because of fear of what the late legendary musician, Fela Anikulpo – Kuti, called: I no want die, papa dey for house, mama dey for house…’’

We forget that when we keep silent when others are being oppressed, there may be nobody to speak up for us too when we find ourselves in a similar situation because by then, they may all have died or be in jail. This is why Wole Soyinka said in his book : The Man Died, ‘’that the man dies in him who keeps silent in the face of tyranny’’. It is tyrannical for the powerful to oppress the poor and more so when the highly powerful takes on the less powerful.

The Constitution, which grants every Nigerian the right to freedom of movement, states the condition under which that right can be curtailed. According to Section 41 (2): Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic setting –

(a): imposing restrictions on the residence or movement of any person who has committed or is reasonably suspected to have committed a criminal offence in order to prevent him from leaving Nigeria.

Last Thursday in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, without respect for this constitutional provision, Governor Rotimi Amaechi was prevented from entering his residence at the Government House by the police that were as usual ‘’acting on orders from above’’. Amaechi and his entourage were returning from an outing when they tried to access the Government House through Forces Avenue in Port Harcourt GRA, which is said to be a shorter route. They ran into the police blockade.

The blockade of road by the police is not new in our country. They do it at will under the guise of looking for a criminal. At other times, they may cordon off a street when they seal off a newspaper house. We have seen all these before, but to block a road leading to the Government House? That is the height of impunity. Being a governor comes with certain privileges. These privileges include unhindered access to anywhere the governor chooses to go on legitimate business. So, to stop Amaechi from entering his own abode under any pretext is farcical.

If Amaechi were to be a common man, it would have been understandable. We would have said that is how they treat us. But Amaechi is a governor for God’s sake; his office and person deserve respect. Who is a Commissioner of Police (CP) by the way, to stop a governor from accessing his quarters from any point he likes? Is there any law which says that the governor must come in or go out through a point chosen for him by the police? Who is the CP to direct Amaechi to take another route? Did he do that to show that he can make things tough for Amaechi? According to a Yoruba adage, no matter how mad a dog is, it is expected to respect its owner.

The police should not forget that they are public servants. They are funded by tax payers’ money and as such, they should be beholden to the people and not to those who are in power temporarily and who will quit when their time is up. What would it have cost the police to move their vans to enable Amaechi enter his house last Thursday, if they had no ulterior motive? When the governor alighted from his vehicle, they should have listened to him out of respect and allowed him to pass, if they had no other agenda. They didn’t because they wanted to humiliate him.

It wasn’t Amaechi that was

humiliated but those who

think that they can use their positions to play god. Why is the governor being harassed all over the place? In one breathe, they are talking peace, in another, they are still using agents of state to fight the poor guy. What did he do wrong to warrant being treated as if he is a commoner? By the grace of God, Amaechi is today a governor and there is nothing anybody can do about that, whether they have the police at their beck and call or not.

Besides, constitutionally, he is also the chief security officer of his state. So, the police must learn to respect him, no matter the brief they may have to make things difficult for him. I pity the policeman, who reportedly told Amaechi that he ‘’does not take instructions from civilians’’. He is emboldened by the support he is enjoying from those using him now. He will soon realise the folly of his action when they dump him. But I pray, will they let Amaechi be?

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