Ruling on a suit filed by Dr Issa Perry Brimah, author and activist, the Federal High Court in Abuja has said the Nigerian Army lacks power to declare citizens wanted.
Dr Brimah had been declared wanted by the army in January 2019 for allegedly raising money for troops and vigilante groups fighting insurgents in the Northeast.
He then sued the body for defamation “on behalf of millions of disenfranchised citizens of the state who have often been intimidated and terrorised by the Nigerian army[’s] … act of wilfully declaring citizens wanted and making arrests within the democratic space in the stead of the police, the formal law enforcers”.
Delivering the judgment, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu said the army has to first report to law enforcement agencies before making such announcements.
“It must be stated here without equivocation that the defendant [Nigerian Army] has no right to declare the plaintiff wanted without following the appropriate procedure,” she said.
“The defendant cannot arrest the plaintiff arbitrarily without making a formal report to law enforcement agency with the mandate to enforce law and order. Otherwise, it would transmute to self-help. The duty of the defendant is to make a formal report to the appropriate authority like the police and await the outcome.”
In his reaction to the judgment, Dr Brimah said he hopes it will reduce cases of abuse of power by the Nigerian Army.
“We are a civil society and a democratic state. The Nigerian Army has no role in arresting civilians, in brutalising us at petrol stations, forcing us to lie on our backs and look at the sun,” he stressed.
“It is time we catch up with the reality of the time. We are not under the military junta authoritarian rule. Under a civilian administration, the army has no right to mount roadblocks and arrest or declare citizens wanted. This is the role of the police –– law enforcers. We all know soldiers are not trained to document arrests and lay out charges in court,” he added.
“Soldiers are not equipped with handcuffs. How then can they make arrests and declare citizens wanted?
“Where the army results to ‘self-help’, as the Honorable Justice Ojukwu declared, and thuggery, it is our civic duty to tame them and bring them to order and account with the aid of the legal system and constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“I hope this judgment will serve as a focal point to outlaw the wanton abuse of power by the Nigerian Army and help free and empower citizens across the nation from North to South who have oft been abused and terrorized by lawless legally armed men on our payroll, whose duty is to obey the law and protect and not terrorise us.”