[A MUST READ]: Insecurity In Nigeria: The Role Of Law Officers -By Chief Emeka Obegolu, SAN
Being a paper delivered at the Law Officers Association of Nigeria Anambra Chapter (LOAN) Dinner and Award Ceremony 2022.
I thank you for the invitation to speak at Awka this afternoon/evening. In normal times many would be enjoying the hospitality of the City of Awka at this dinner. But these are not normal times. The insecurity has led to tragedy for many, to serious concerns for more and to disruption for all. That is why dinner holds by 12 noon.
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I asked the chairman how long I should speak for this evening and he said; “Speak for as long as you like; but we’re getting home before it is late.”
I offer my congratulations to Anambra Chapter of LOAN, not because it turns on a pretty good dinner, but because today is an affirmation of those values that underpin the practice of a law officer as a Nigerian who must interrogate our respective roles in addressing issues confronting us as a nation, in this instance – curbing insecurity in Nigeria.
This is ironic because just 3 years ago, your national body held her National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state on July 12, 2019, and as part of their communique they stated:
Lawyers in the employment of federal and state governments have expressed concern over heightening insecurity in the country.They argued that, by the nature of their duties – involvement in the prosecution of high-risk criminal cases relating to terrorism, kidnapping, high profile corruption, among others – they were mostly exposed to security threats and could easily fall victim.
Three years down the line, after an astronomical increase in incidences of insecurity, Anambra chapter has decided to introspect.
Now, I speak from experience. Lawyers know all about speeches. Nothing they love more than the sound of the human voice – not particularly the voice of others but especially the sound of their own. And thus, no legal dinner is complete without some lawyer rounding off the evening with a few smug tales of triumphs of his practice, or dinner etiquette or even rules of professional conduct or even some legal jokes.
But jokes will not be bad for as my recollection of a Prosecutor’s experience goes –
The prosecutor: “Did you kill that man?”
Prosecutor: “Do you know what the penalty for perjury is?”
Defendant: “Yeah it’s a lot less than the penalty for murder.”
Over the recent years, Nigeria has been enmeshed in a firebox of insecurity leading to records of deaths of innocent civilians, foreigners, some members of the nation’s security personnel, elected officials, and many government workers.
Within the year 2022, Nigeria has experienced different incidence of insecurity affecting all spheres of human life and human endeavor and cutting across every part of the nation.
The south-west of Nigeria is plagued by a surge in cyber crime, armed robbery, kidnapping, domestic crime, extrajudicial killings, herder-farmer conflicts, ritual killings, and banditry. The south-east is a haven for secessionist agitation, kidnapping, herder-farmer clashes, attacks by unknown gunmen, and banditry. The south-south remains threatened by militancy, kidnapping, and environmental agitation.
More critically, the north-east has been subject to the Boko Haram insurgency and the Islamic State in West Africa Province. Meanwhile, the north-west is enmeshed in illegal mining, ethnoreligious killings, Kidnapping and banditry.
On the 28th of March 2022 Bandits attacked the train enroute the Abuja-Kaduna rail tracks. Of the 362 passengers on board the train when it was attacked, only186 had been confirmed safe. Of the remaining 176 passengers, eight were confirmed dead, leaving 168, some of whom have been released after the payment of huge ransom monies.
On 5th June 2022, religious worshipers in Owo, a town in Ondo state Nigeria, were attacked in the church by gunmen and scores of people, including children, were killed.
Kuje Correctional facility came under heavy attack on the night of 5th July 2022, leading to the escape of several inmates. It was reported that 69 inmates belonging to the terrorist group Boko Haram were freed because of this attack.
In Anambra State, the occurrence of cultism is alarming, with very little being done to curtail it by security forces. In Awka, the capital of the state, cult-related killings have become a major occurrence, with one incident or the other recorded every week.
The bigger threat facing us in Anambra is the persistence of rampaging gunmen, who have been dubbed; unknown gunmen (UGM). They have been responsible for the incidences of killings at homes, on the roads and in our communities.
The challenge of insecurity today calls for a collective approach with all hands-on deck to see that insecurity is a thing of the past.
ROOT CAUSES, AND IMPACT OF INSECURITY IN NIGERIA
National security is a premise for national economic growth and development of nations. Domestic investors will also invest in states with security. Security is the pillar upon which every meaningful development could be achieved and sustained. Poverty, Corruption, Bad governance, low morale among security agencies, porous borders, unemployment, religion, ethnicity, weak judicial system, etc., have been identified as some of the causes of insecurity in Nigeria
Some of the impacts of insecurity include:
Disruption of Economic Activities: With increasing insecurity comes internal displacement of people and the crippling of economic activities in the worst-affected areas.
Decimation of Consumer Confidence:The protracted insecurity in Nigeria, as has been the case in recent years, has depressed consumer confidence, which in turn reduces consumer spending.
Decrease in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI): One of the great impacts of insecurity is record decrease in foreign direct investment. Investors are not quick to invest in a society where their lives or investments are not secure.
According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), FDI flows to Nigeria averaged $5.3 billion annually from 2005-2007. However, UNCTAD data shows FDI to Nigeria averaged $3.3 billion from 2015-2019, a period that has been marked by heightened and widespread insecurity in the country.This of cause has worsened by the recent torrents of insecurity from 2020 till date.
Disproportionate Defence Spending Vis-à-vis Other Economic Sectors: In responding to the increasing insecurity in Nigeria, the government has been allocating tens of billions of naira to defence and security-related expenditure.
Increase in Brain Drain:Due to insecurity, Nigeria is losing its best brains on a daily basis through mass emigration to Western countries. A recent poll conducted by NOI Polls, found that: “Almost 9 in 10 respondents (88%) disclosed they are seeking work opportunities abroad.” It also found that: “83% of doctors who filled the survey and are based abroad are licensed in Nigeria, indicating that they had completed their medical education in Nigeria before departing beyond the shores of Nigeria.”
Decline in Productivity: Continued insecurity and government’s inability to bring an end to it can lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, especially in the areas that are most vulnerable. This state of agitation affects productivity.
Possible National/State Isolation: Tourists do not visit unsafe places. Insecurity in Nigeria has led to many countries advising their citizens not to travel to many parts of Nigeria. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), for instance, advises British nationals against traveling to sixteen states in Nigeria.
ROLE OF LAW OFFICERS IN THE FACE OF INSECURITY
As stated earlier, law officers are by their portfolios key players in the administration of justice system. You are all active agents in the fight against insecurity in any given society.
Law Officers as Prosecutors:
Cognizant of the objective of Criminal Justice system being to serve as a deterrence, Law officers are responsible for diligent prosecution of offenders to ensure that there is adequate punishment for crime. Diligence connotes the quality of working carefully, with persistence and much effort. Bringing this to the context of this discussion, law officers must ensure they are careful with evidence, they are persistent regardless of setbacks, and they commit to the prosecution of offences. This way, they can secure conviction of offenders.
Incidental to this is the urgent need to oversee the prosecution of criminal cases by the legal department of the Nigerian Police.This also implies that law officers are to avoid corrupt practices in the prosecution of crime. They are to be just and fair in their approach and give no room for compromise.
I am reminded about a hard core prosecutor who when Jehova’s witness knocks on his door he will tell them “Sorry, I am Jehovah’s prosecutor and I shouldn’t be talking with you”
Law Officers as Defence Counsels
There are increasing incidences of wrongful incarceration in our society and consequential Fundamental Rights enforcement suits. It is the responsibility of law officers to defend the state against FHR proceedings. These violations can be mitigated and sincerely addressed where the state is culpable.
Where there is no respect for human rights, an environment for breeding insecurity is created, fueling citizens who want to fight back.
Law Officers as Policy Reform Agents
Given the position of law officers in our society, they have the ear of the government. As such, they can more readily and easily, influence policies made by the government with respect to insecurity.
This they can do by promoting legal reforms that more adequately tackle the issue of insecurity. Also, they should champion the cause of the amendment of our laws to provide for fitting punishment for the crime of insecurity at all levels.
Law Officers as Activist
Activism is fundamental in the wake of the increasing torrents of insecurity all over the nation. Law officers must join the activism to force the government to take the necessary steps towards the end of insecurity in our society. Take a stand always, neutrality is not an option.
Law officers can also begin to organise public lectures and grass root education to enlighten the populace against involvements in act that lead to insecurity. Establishing a working relationship with members and heads of communities is essential to facilitate openness on the part of the citizens, easy access to information, and the protection of cooperating witnesses.
The current torrents of insecurity in Nigeria is an indication that the government is failing in its chief purpose-to secure lives and properties. Though for all intents and purposes, the Governors are less than the Chief Security Officers in their states, Prof. Soludo has shown that with sincerity of purpose, commitment and thinking outside the box, a State governor can improve the security of lives and properties in the state. This implies that the government requires the active participation of all to ensure security.
Law Officers are lawyers of the government and therefore saddled with the responsibility to work tirelessly and effectively towards the eradication of insecurity. This is more so, because prosecution forms an integral part of the fight against insecurity.
It is therefore imperative that law officers become diligent in their duties. They are not only to be diligent, but also to be innovative in their approach to fighting insecurity. Enough of the incidences of the release of criminals on the failure of the law officer to diligently prosecute their case.
Conclusively, the fight against insecurity in this nation cannot go on without the active participation of law officers. Let us therefore gird our loins and work towards the Nigeria that we all desire. An Anambra state where the security of lives and properties is assured; where there is economic growth and development, that truly mirrors the spirit of the Igbo nation.
I will leave you with two quotes.
“Somewhere along the way, the balance of power between the prosecution, the defense, and the judiciary shifted. We have to readjust it. The stakes are so high—the well-being of so many communities and the trajectories of so many lives. Public safety depends on our collective faith in fairness and our view of the law as legitimate.”
― Emily Bazelon, Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration
“Countries who don’t have brave prosecutors and fearless judges will instead have plenty of thieves, many killers and even stupid dictators!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan
So tonight I would like to offer a toast to the Law Officers Association of Nigeria Anambra Chapter. To Prosecutors who get up early in the morning, and have to be at their best as travel distances, sometimes on commercial vehicles and tricycles without allocation for transport to prosecute hardened criminals with network of criminals. Many of you are underpaid and sometimes not encouraged, many of you are running small businesses to sustain your families, while securing justice for the state. I believe that the Government recognises the work you are doing and values it.
Your help is in your hands.
Chief Emeka Obegolu, SAN.