Army’s ban on okada in seven northern states

ON Sunday, May 5, the Nigerian Army issued a statement entitled “Enforcement of Ban on the use of Motorcycles in Ex-Harbin Kunama Area of Responsibility.” The statement was signed by Colonel Sagir Musa, Acting Director, Army Public Relations. In the statement, the army explained that the ban was part of the efforts aimed at curtailing the murderous activities of armed bandits and kidnappers in northern states. The seven northern states in which the ban is being enforced are Kano, Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina, Kaduna and Niger. The use of motorcycles in these seven states has been outlawed indefinitely. The ban was declared because bandits and kidnappers made use of motorcycles (okada) in carrying out criminal activities. The statement emphasised that “The Nigerian Army (NA) over time has observed the use of motorcycles by armed bandits, kidnappers, criminal elements and their collaborators as enablers to perpetrate their heinous crimes, especially in the states within the North-West geopolitical zone of the country. This informed the decision and directive to ban the use of motorcycles within the hinterland, particularly around the forests where the armed bandits, criminals and kidnappers hibernate and all around where troops are conducting operations alongside other security agencies. While this may cause some inconveniences to some law-abiding citizens in the area, the need to use all means possible to stop the dastardly activities of these bandits across the North-West part of Nigeria needs no emphasis.”

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We recognise the sacrifices the Nigerian Army has made to support the police and other security agencies in ensuring law and order in the Ex-Harbin Kunama areas and other parts of the country. We also acknowledge the increasing challenges posed by the menacing activities of bandits and criminals in the northern part of the country. We believe everything should be done to ensure the safety of life and property in those parts of Nigeria affected. However, we insist that due process be observed in the exercise of authority and power over any parts of the country. This has not been the case in the army’s ban on okada in those seven states of northern Nigeria. It must not forget that it is carrying out activities against bandits and kidnappers in aid of civil authorities in those states. The internal peace and security of the civil population are not the direct and original responsibilities of the army.  The chief security officer in each of the states is the governor. It is his responsibility to make such a statement that proscribes the freedom of citizens on the advice of the security agencies, especially the police. The unilateral ban on okada in those states amounts to the usurpation of the powers of civil authority. This must not be allowed to continue.

Furthermore, the use of the words “the need to use all means possible” amounts to a declaration of a state of emergency in those states. The army has in effect declared that it would deploy extraordinary powers to address banditry and kidnapping in those northern states. We remind the army that the declaration of a state of emergency is a constitutional matter and emergency powers are considered so severe that they involve both the president and the National Assembly. Indeed, Section 305 of the 1999 Constitution makes elaborate provisions on how the powers of emergency are to be exercised. It provides seven conditions under which the president may declare a state of emergency. These are when (a) the federation is at war; (b) the federation is in imminent danger of invasion or involvement in a state of war (c) there is a national breakdown of public order and public safety in the federation or any part thereof to such an extent as to require extraordinary measures to restore peace and security; (d) there is clear and present danger of actual breakdown of public order and public safety in the federation or any part thereof requiring extraordinary measures to avert the same; (e) there is an occurrence of imminent danger, or the occurrence of any disaster or natural calamity, affecting the community or a section of the community in the federation; (f) there is any other public danger which clearly constitutes a threat to the existence of the federation; or (g) the president receives a request to do so from the governor of a state (with the support of a resolution supported by two-thirds majority of the House of Assembly) when situations c, d, and e, exist within but do not extend beyond the boundary of the state.

The constitution in Section 305 (subsection 4) goes further to clarify that the president cannot proclaim a state of emergency in any state unless the governor of that state failed within a reasonable time to make a request to the president. Furthermore, when the president proclaims a state of emergency in a state, the lifespan of such a declaration must not be more than six months. The power to extend the lifespan resides with the National Assembly. The subsistence of a state of emergency declared by the president depends on a resolution of the National Assembly, supported by two-thirds majority of all the members of each house of the National Assembly approving the proclamation. The National Assembly may also revoke a state of emergency by a simple majority vote of all members of each house. The attempts by President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Goodluck Jonathan to extend the state of emergency in Ekiti State and some states of the North were rebuffed by the National Assembly in 2007 and 2014 respectively.

From the provisions of the constitution, the statement issued by the army amounts to an exercise of extraordinary powers. It is a usurpation of the powers of civil authority. The army must recognise this and take immediate remedial measures. This action is made graver by the fact that it has severe consequences for the livelihood of ordinary citizens who depend on okada to make ends meet, either as a means of transport or as a means of survival income. Moreover, intelligence gathering is a vital means of dealing with the issue of banditry and kidnapping. The army must work with other security agencies to strengthen intelligence gathering and sharing in a safe and secure manner to address the issues.

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