ASABA — “They pointed the gun and pulled the trigger”, said Harrison Gwamnishu, a human rights activist who escaped assassination by Nigerian police in Asaba, the capital of Delta state.
Gwamnishu said the incident happened outside Asaba International Airport on Tuesday, after armed police officers in a white Hilux vehicle followed him.
“I wasn’t stopped by police men, there was no checkpoint and I did not overtake them. They did not even flash their light or put on their siren indicating they were flagging me down,” he said in a statement obtained by Gazette Africa.
“When I noticed the car was trailing me, I had to pull out my phone to record.. In midst of danger, I was able to have the courage to capture what happened on camera.”
Gwamnishu said that after the incident and that he filed a complaint with police authorities, the officers involved were identified.
“They are attached to CP Monitoring Delta State Police Command. They denied till they watched the video and started pleading.
“They said they didn’t know it was me in the car and pleading forgiveness for their unprofessional conduct,” he said.
The Human Rights advocate noted that on February 2021, similar incident happened to him. He said, “I was shot several times and till date those involved were not found.”
In October 2020, police brutality and extrajudicial killings sparked a demonstration by youth. The protest turned violent when government forces opened fire on protesters and killed dozens.
Meanwhile, Nigerian police have been charged in several reports of human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings. Authorities often denied the reports despite evidence, and took no action to end the crimes against civilians.
Who is responsible for attacks on police facilities, officers in Nigeria?
The true identity of those responsible for the series of attacks on police and other government forces in Nigeria has remained a mystery.
“Unknown Gunmen” is the name that the media and civilians in the country have tagged the assailants.
The federal government of Nigeria and the armed forces continue to point fingers at members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), but many civilians, including statesmen and Mazi Nnamdi Kanu – the leader of the secessionist group, have refuted this claim.
Attacks on police facilities started since October 2020, after a nationwide protest by youths demanding an end to police brutality and the disbandment of a notorious police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
The killing of protesters by government forces sparked attacks on police officers and police facilities across the country.
The attacks have worsened since January 2021, as the assailants commonly referred to as “unknown gunmen” across the country carries out a series of attacks on police facilities, police checkpoints and operatives of government forces.
Meanwhile, security experts attribute the attacks to years of hostile policing in the country and the government’s failure to bring justice to victims of police brutality in the country.
“What Nigeria is going through right now is caused by the actions and inactions of the government and the police. You don’t continually mistreat, rob and kill people, and expect them to be happy with you,” said a retired police officer Clement Alozie.
“The people who burn the police station are not ghosts or unknown gunmen as we call them. These are the angry citizens who have lost their loved ones due to the police brutality, they are the victims of hostile policing, they are the citizens who have been deprived of justice in Nigeria”.
Daran Gaddo, described the attacks as worrying, but said the government is making matters worse by accusing and attacking IPOB and others.
“The government and police hastily accused IPOB and ESN just because they don’t like them and their ideology. It’s unprofessional. When you send soldiers and fighter jets to go kill these people because you don’t like them or you suspect, without prove, that they are behind the attacks, you create more beasts in society.
“If you accuse IPOB and its Eastern Security Network known as ESN, of being responsible for the attacks on the police in the south, would you also say that they are responsible for the ongoing attacks on the police and checkpoints in the west and north? The government should engage in dialogue with youths and restructure the police, including the army, to the taste and desire of the masses.”
Rights activist and leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, on his part said that ESN only operates in the bushes and forests where they guard farmers and hunt violent jihadist-Fulani herders who have killed thousands of farmers and other civilians in the Biafra region.
“I’ve said it before but let say it again that the Eastern Security Network I command is strictly organized to deal with terrorist herdsmen in our land. ESN is a highly disciplined group of volunteers that does not engage in any act of criminality or terror,” he said.
Southern Youth Forum warns against attack on Biafra, Yoruba agitators
The Southern Youth Forum, SYF, has warned Nigerian security forces against attacks on ‘Biafra’ and the ‘Yoruba nation’ agitators in the south of the country.
In a Friday statement, the socio-political group notes that any attack against members of the self-determination groups will receive “an aggressive counterattack”.
Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba, had ordered police to shoot and kill members of secessionist groups in the south of the country. “Don’t mind the media shout; do the job I command you. If anyone accuses you of human rights violation, the report will come to my table and you know what I will do. So, take the battle to them wherever they are and kill them all. Don’t wait for an order,” the police chief said when speaking to police officers in the early days of May 2021.
A statement signed by the Hon. Adewale Lekan – President, Comrade Nwagu Orie – Vice President, and Dezia Kue – SYF spokesperson, reads as follows:
“We, the Southern Youth Forum, SYF, strongly condemn the militarization of communities in southern Nigeria, the illegal arrest alongside the slaughter of youths by security agents who have been deployed on orders to kill at will.
“It is regrettable that the government has deployed its military equipment and soldiers against the population of the south, while pampering the Fulani terrorists who sack parts of the country, mainly the Christian communities of the north where they kill thousands of people, displace and kidnap others for ransom.
“It is also painful to see that Nigerian security agents who have failed in their constitutional duty to protect the lives and property of citizens, parade and kill innocent civilians in the south, accusing them of being responsible for attacks on them, police stations and others.
“Having said this, we, the SYF, hereby call on the Federal Government of Nigeria headed by “President Muhammadu Buhari” to withdraw soldiers, military equipment and police from all communities in the South within 48 hours.
“We also hereby demand the Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba, to publicly apologize and withdraw his order asking the police to arrest, shoot and kill IPOB members and other civilians he labeled as “criminals” in the south. Failure to do so within 48 hours will lead to all legal proceedings against the IGP, which will include his ban from the region, and we will mobilize against the police in the south, regardless of the consequences.
“Sheikh Ahmad Gumi who is the known spokesperson for Fulani terrorists in Nigeria, and whose house is used for the payment of ransom and other heinous acts by Fulani terrorists, walks free and threatens citizens even on national television and newspapers, but the army, police and DSS did not declare war and attack him and his gang of terrorists. Isa Pantami still holds a very sensitive public office in Nigeria despite evidence that proves that he is a sympathizer and sponsor of terrorism. This government sees nothing wrong with that, it pursues and kills peaceful Biafra and Yoruba Nation agitators in the South.
“We now state publicly that, henceforth, any attack against the agitators of Biafra and the Yoruba Nation, will receive an aggressive counterattack.
“We commend the governors of the south for the open grazing ban, and we promise to ensure that it is fully implemented as no Fulani herders will be left here in the south.
“Having said that, we peacefully call on any individual or politician working against the collective interest of the south, to move to north or wherever they believe will be safe because the south will no longer be safe for such people.”
The Attorney-General is wrong on open grazing
Days ago, Abubakar Malami (SAN), the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) granted an interview to Channels Television in which he faulted Southern Governors’ ban on open grazing. The AGF is wrong; Southern Governors are right, and here’s why:
Before one can graze, he must be a cattle rearer or a herdsman. The herdsman would have to enter another person’s land. If the herdsman is grazing on his own land, it does not implicate any legal, safety or economic issues because the land belongs to him. But when he goes upon another man’s land to graze without permission or some leave and license, he commits trespass, civil and criminal trespass to boot.
Conversely, there is no written law in Nigeria that permits herders to enter into another man’s land without the owner’s permission. Not even the Nigerian Constitution cited Malami. The part of the Constitution he relied on allows freedom of movement of persons, not animals, whether goats, pigs or cattle. And such freedom must be exercised in a peaceable and legal manner, not by force, not by trespass, not by terror.
Most people think that trespass is only a civil wrong in which you go to a civil court to claim monetary damages and have the trespasser expelled from your property through a civil court order. It is much more than that.
In Northern Nigeria where the Attorney-General and these herdsmen hail from, Section 342 of the Penal Code (applicable to Northern Nigeria) provides that ‘Whoever enters into or upon property in the possession of another with intent to commit an offence or to intimidate, insult or annoy a person in possession of that property, or, having lawfully entered into or upon that property, unlawfully remains there with intent thereby to intimidate, insult or annoy such person or with intent to commit an offence, is said to commit criminal trespass’.
Open grazing intimidates, insults and annoys. And in this era, it terrorizes, kills and destroys properties. What more do you need before understanding that it’s a crime in all its ramifications.
Criminal trespass is punishable by arrest, arraignment, prosecution and imprisonment. Again, this is northern Nigeria where these herders hail from. There are other laws of Nigeria that border on assault, manslaughter, murder, malicious destruction of property, disorderly conduct, breach of the peace and laws on land use that are violated whenever herdsmen graze without permission and oftentimes with violence.
So, without any new law banning open grazing, Southern Governors can assert their authority under these extant laws, including particularly under Section 1 of the Land Use Act, which provides that “Subject to the provisions of this Act, all land comprised in the territory of each State in the Federation are hereby vested in the Governor of that State … ”.
Additionally, AGF Malami appears to be unaware of the highly celebrated 1969 ruling by Justice Adewale Thompson. That the ruling was never set aside or varied makes it part of the laws of Nigeria when it comes to open grazing. It’s pertinent to state that the ruling was made in the context of the ‘farmer-herder conflict’ of that era. That is what we used to have then. What we have now is ‘herder-terrorism’ that requires new measures that should more drastic than the purports of that ruling.
In the ruling, Adewale’s court heard that it is the custom of the Fulani to move cattle from place to place and graze openly. The judge ruled that if that is the custom, it is a bad one because it is against public policy; that the custom has the tendency to lead to breach of law and order and unconscionable destruction of another’s property. You might add that, in this day and age, it has gone from mere destruction of property to destruction of lives.
That judgment is sound because it is consistent with the common law of Nigeria that says that any custom that is against public policy shall be set aside. A custom is not cast in stone. Nigerian laws only allow good customs. Bad customs like killing of twins are no longer allowed. In the same vein, bad customs like open grazing that destroys properties and human lives should be banned.
That something is a custom does not automatically make it legal. Therefore, that open grazing is customary to the Fulani does not make it legal or permissible, especially if it comes with the prospects of criminal trespass or terror. And in comparison to the spare parts dealers Malami mentioned, he forgot that they rent their shops and they conduct their business sans trespass, violence, rape and terror.
Further, as a Northerner and a high-ranking government official with access to intelligence, AGF Malami should not pretend that he doesn’t know that a significant number of these herdsmen are foreigners. Some notable Northern leaders (including the Presidency) have publicly confirmed as such. On this score, did AGF Malami consider what happens to Nigeria’s sovereignty when he argued that banning open grazing is unconstitutional? Is he suggesting that foreigners now have more constitutional rights than Nigerians, especially Southern Nigerians?
Not just that, these foreign herdsmen come into Nigeria with a swag to graze on Nigerian lands without permission and they are ever prepared to kill their host if he dares resist such brazen criminal trespass. And the federal government does nothing to check it. But once the herders get in trouble, such as now with Southern Governors, the same federal government jumps to their defense, as AGF Malami just did.
That’s unfair because you are stoking a situation where States (especially Southern States) will be propelled to resort to self-help, which is exactly what Southern Governors have done by banning open grazing.
Ejimakor, a lawyer wrote from Alaigbo
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