Okoroji

Lagos based constitutional lawyer, Bob Okey Okoroji has said the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai must tender an apology to the Igbo and people Southeast and tender his resignation or be removed from office by President Muhammadu Buhari for ‘threatening’ them with state of emergency.

Okoroji argued that although the army chief does not have power to declare state of emergency in any part of Nigeria, it is shocking that he could contemplate same in the Southeast, which according to him, is the most peaceful region in the country.

The lawyer who spoke in this interview with OBINNA EZUGWU, also argued that the President Muhammadu Buhari led All Progressive Congress (APC) administration has disappointed Nigerians and should be thrown out in 2023.

Excerpts:

There was this article you wrote in which you took serious exception to the alleged threat by the chief of army staff, Buratai to declare state of emergency in the Southeast if security agencies are attacked again…?

As a matter of fact, I was piqued by the reported threat by Buratai to declare state of emergency in the Southeast. It is in my view, the most arrogant, contemptuous and irresponsible comment by any serving chief of army staff in Nigeria’s history. The issue is that he is operating from the position of ignorance. The chief of army staff does not have the power to declare a state of emergency in Nigeria or any part thereof. It is exclusively within the power of the president, subject to the approval of the national assembly. And the president does that by the instrument of proclamation in an official gazette, which he must forward immediately to the national assembly for two-third majority support and approval.

Having said that, you would recall that in 1962, and as a matter of fact, the first instance of the declaration of state of emergency in Nigeria’s political history was in May 1962 when the Tafawa Balewa government declared a state of emergency in the western region, and appointed Dr. Moses Adekoyejo Majekodunmi as the sole administrator of the region. That was done in line with in line with section 65 of the 1960 Constitution. You would recall, too, that another case was when President Olusegun Obasanjo imposed a state of emergency in Plateau State and Ekiti State, and appointed Gen. Chris Alli and Gen. Tunji Olurin respectively as sole administrators.

You would also recall that under Goodluck Jonathan, there was a declaration of a state of emergency on a couple of northern states, namely Adamawa, Gombe and Borno. But Jonathan did not did not follow precedence, he applied the law strictly by allowing the state structures to continue to run, unlike the two previous declaration of state of emergencies under Balewa and Obasanjo. Jonathan allowed the state governors and the state assemblies to continue to operate as normal.

Now, let’s come back to the issue of Buratai. Buratai obviously has little or no understanding of what the law says about declaration of state of emergency. Balewa specifically made a statement during the declaration of a state of emergency in the Western Region, that it was solely by the desire to ensure that peace order and tranquility are maintained throughout the federation. So, it was not speculative. There was a condition that warranted the declaration, a condition of breakdown of law and order. There were clear cases of killings, arson and sundry violence. Again, when Jonathan declared state of emergency in those states, it was as a result of wanton killings and destruction of properties by Boko Haram terrorists, which went even as far as occupation of territories. Boko Haram went as far as establishing control and authority over some parts of Nigeria. They tore Nigerian flag, the symbol of sovereignty and challenged the country’s authority. Those are the conditions that warrant declaration of a state of emergency. It is not speculation of the possibility of a future threat like Buratai is trying to do. I don’t know what informed his comments, but I think his comment was unwarranted, it was unnecessary.

The law is clear on the declaration of state of emergency. And it bears repeating that he doesn’t have the power to declare a state of emergency. He is an errand boy of the president. He takes instructions from the president. The president is the only person in Nigeria that has the exclusive power declare state of emergency, but it is still subject to national assembly approval. Talking about Buratai as a person, you would notice that this is a chief of army staff that hasn’t won any battle in his entire military career, not even against the ragtag militia in the Northeast. The man calls himself a general, but he and his army cannot withstand even Amotekun in the Southwest, and that’s why he couldn’t have issued similar threat to the Southwest, because he knows that Amotekun is present in the Southwest and he is too afraid to confront them. You would notice also that terrorists everywhere, and this is important, look for soft targets. Buratai is looking for soft targets. He considers the Southeast a soft target. Southeast, from all indications, is one of the most peaceful and yet most militarised part of Nigeria. Buratai just holds the region in contempt, and he is also seeking to wage psychological war against the government and people of the Southeast and South South because he considers them to be soft targets. As I said, every terrorists looks for soft targets. You can draw your conclusions from there.

His threat is condemnable, it is an abuse of office, it is a comment which has no regard, whatsoever, for the rule of law. And I want to urge the president of Nigeria to watch Buratai very carefully, because his comment betrays his hidden ambition; his inordinate ambition to usurp power, to arrogate to himself powers that don’t belong to him; powers that exclusively belong to the president of Nigeria under our constitution. That is a man to put under serious watch. Whether the comment is borne out of ignorance, or borne out of inordinate ambition, it poses danger to our country, to our constitution and has far reaching security implications. I condemn his comments because they are not based on our law. It is more or less an attempt to intimidate the government and people of the Southeast in order to put pressure on those governments of the Southeast to facilitate the killing of their own people. So, such comments should never be tolerated in the future and to be sure, we are taking it very seriously. Personally, I’m going to take legal action to ensure that he doesn’t carry out such threats. Because there have been many cases of disregard of the rule of law in the activities of this government. By the way, this is a general who, in spite of the humongous resources at his disposal, has not been able to defeat a ragtag militia in the Northeast of Nigeria, and anywhere else. We urge the president to consider his removal from office. Buratai does not deserve to be chief of army staff, he does not have the competence, he is not performing, he is frittering away our resources, and he is passing careless comments that have the capacity to endanger the security of the country.

You also made the point that Buratai has not threatened the Northeast and Northwest where there are serious security issues, and where security agents are being killed. You feel he is just targeting the Southeast?

I need to make haste to state that under our laws, there are conditions under which an emergency may be declared. I have already clarified the issue of who has the power to do so. A state of emergency can only be declared if Nigeria is at war; if there is an imminent danger of invasion by foreign powers. That’s what’s provided under section 305 Subsection (3) of the constitution. The question is, is Nigeria at war? Subsection 3 (C) of that section 305 also states that there has to be an actual breakdown of law and order; actual breakdown of public order, public safety in the federation or any part of it, that require extraordinary measures to restore peace and security. It says that there has to be a clear and present danger, not speculative, not futuristic, not imaginary danger; not speculation of a break down of order. The subsection (3) says that there has to be an occurrence of imminent danger, or an occurrence of natural disaster affecting the country.

And if you read down, subsection (4) clearly states that emergency can also be declared if the president receives a request from a state governor to declare a state of emergency in his own state, which would still be subject to the approval of the state assembly.

There is no time for me to go into the constitutional procedures for the declaration. But all those provisions come under section 305. So, even the president does not have total power to declare state of emergency. He needs national assembly approval. And no state of emergency can be declared except these conditions I have mentioned are met and the conditions I stated have manifested, and not a futuristic and speculative projection, that ‘if an attack.’ And in any case he doesn’t have such power. Only in Nigeria will such a man spend an extra day in office, that seeks to usurp the powers of the president.

Talking about Southeast Security. You mentioned Amotekun in the Southwest. Governors of the Southeast also muted the idea of a regional security outfit but later abandoned it in favour of community policing, were you disappointed?

I was anxious, and I had expected the Southeastern and South Southern states to copy and paste the Amotekun model from the Southwest. Because, if you notice, Amotekun is effective in the Southwest in warding off these terrorists in the forests of the zone. But unfortunately, the government of the two regions have not manifested similar courage. I’m quite dissapointed with the state governors in the Southeast. The community policing which they considered a better option is not effective; it’s not working. Farms are still being destroyed by herdsmen and their cattle. Sadly, this is happening despite the militarisation of the zone. There are checkpoints everywhere by the military, police and so on. So, Buratai should apologize to the people of Southeast and the governors of the Southeast. He has an apology to tender, if he is a responsible person. The apology is not even enough, given his poor performance in office as chief of army staff. The Northeast is still boiling, the Northwest and Northcentral have become very insecure. I think the most honourable thing for him to do is to throw in the towel and resign. He should just resign. But if he doesn’t resign, it is only right that the president considers his removal, and indeed other chiefs of various armed forces who are also not performing, because performance is key.

Nigeria now ranks 3rd behind Iraq and Afghanistan in the list of most terrorised countries globally. You would say it lends credence to your argument?

Yes, obviously, that is serious retrogression, it is not progress at all, it is a clear indication of bad performance by the President Buhari led APC government. As a matter of fact, in civilised climes, considering its inability to tackle insecurity, which was one of the cardinal electoral promises it made, this government ought to honourably resign. They promised to fight insecurity, fight corruption and grow the economy, but five years down the road, everything has gotten much worse.

The Global Terrorism Index has moved Nigeria from the 4th to the 3rd most terrorised country in the world, and I would not be surprised if we come down to the second position next year, and eventually become the first as we approach 2023. Nigerians have lost hope in this government, nobody is expecting anything from this government in any way, because their performance in the last five years doesn’t give anybody any reason to be hopeful. The economy has gotten very bad, insecurity has gotten much worse, and the anti corruption fight is a failure because it’s selective, it is arbitrary, it is not in compliance with the rules, and it is not delivering the desired results. Corruption under this government compared to the previous governments, is the worst ever in the history of the country. And the major culprits are never arrested or prosecuted, in fact they are pampered. They are treated as if they are special species of people. This is not the government that Nigeria and Nigerians deserve, this is a government that should be thrown out in the next election in 2023.

There was also this comment by Olusegun  Obasanjo few days ago to the effect that under Buhari, Nigeria is becoming a failed state. The presidency has since hit back. You feel Obasanjo is right?

That is to state obvious; Obasanjo only said what is very obvious. It is so manifest that it doesn’t even need to be said at all. Nigeria is a failed state, and if the government itself does an objective self appraisal, it will also arrive at the same conclusion. The government has failed in all sectors. Nigeria has become worse in every aspects. Look at even the exchange rate, look at inflation, the hunger, the pump price of fuel. Remember the Ojota protest in 2012, you ask yourself, ‘where those protesters are now?’ You ask yourself where are the Tunde Bakares and the Wole Soyinkas? Today, they are all hiding their faces.

Talking about 2023 election, there has been this agitation for Igbo president or Southeast president. Others have also said what is important is that Nigeria is restructured. Which side of the argument do you belong?

The point is that until Nigeria is restructured, it’s only right and fair that the Southeast is allowed to produce the president. Of the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria, it is only the Southeast that has not produced a president since 1960, apart from the six months that Aguiyi Ironsi was in power. Now, I’m not one of those who talk about Igbo presidency, I’m talking about about Southeast presidency. Because we are talking about the six geopolitical zones. Other zones have produced presidents at different times, we shouldn’t ethnicise or tribalise the issue of presidency. We are talking about fairness and equity, that of the six geopolitical zones, this is the only zone that has not produced a president. The Southwest has produced both under the military and civilian dispensations, they have had Obasanjo for eleven years cumulatively, and have also had Ernest Shonekan. The Northwest the same, the have had Shehu Shagari, Sani Abacha, Umaru Ya’Adua and Buhari under the military and civilian dispensations. The North Central has had Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar. The South South has had presidency under Jonathan. The Northeast had Tafawa Balewa for almost six years as Prime Minister. So, if Nigerians are people of conscience, if equity and justice that they always mouth is anything to go by, Nigerians everywhere should support the election of competent president from the Southeastern geopolitical zone. That is my position.