The fundamental duty of the state and any responsible government is the protection of lives and properties. It is about maintaining basic law and order as the foundation for citizens to go about their daily activities to facilitate economic growth and development. This informs the existence of the apparatus for the maintenance of law and order and organised violence strictly controlled by the government, to the exclusion of every other entity in the state. Laws, regulations and policies are made and are bound to be obeyed by all citizens at the pain of punishment for disobedience. Sanctions and retributions follow the disobedience of the law.
It is in this context that Austinian positivism, as a jurisprudential school of thought, posits of the law as the command of the sovereign backed by sanctions. Other schools of thought discuss the primacy of natural laws, the sociological concept of law as an instrument of social engineering and resolving social conflicts to the advantage of society. There are also scholars who view the law within its contribution to the overall happiness and welfare of society and those who construct a hierarchy of norms leading to the grundnorm which is the most fundamental of the laws, and validates other laws. Laws which are inconsistent with the grundnorm are void to the extent of their inconsistency. In all these positions, no one disputes that law has to be enforced and be made to work for all in society.
In the Nigerian context, our constitution is supreme and provides for fundamental human rights. The first of these fundamental rights is the right to life which is only derogable within narrowly defined prisms. It is this right that provides the fulcrum for the enjoyment of other rights, because human rights are only for the living. The same constitution recognises the right of citizens to defend themselves against unwarranted attacks to their lives. Indeed, the right to self-defence is an inseparable part of the right to life.
It is imperative to point out that the violations of human rights (with the right to life as the premier right) whether directly perpetrated by the state (action) or by private entities which could have been prevented by the state (omission) engage the state’s responsibility. The state is obligated to prevent, investigate and punish any human rights violation carried out in its territory, not only by the acts of public officers but also directly resulting from acts not directly imputable to officers of the state. This has been aptly captured in the following words in the Velasques Rodrigues case- Inter American Court of Humanas follows: “…to take reasonable steps to prevent human rights violations and to use the means at its disposal to carry out investigations of violations committed within its jurisdiction, to identify those responsible, to impose the appropriate punishment and to ensure the victims adequate compensation”. The above obligations are captured within the concept and attributes of statehood which is expected to have a government in firm control of its territory with a monopoly of the instruments of the legitimate use of force and coercion.
The killing of human beings over disputations on animal (cow) grazing “rights” which has become accentuated since the Buhari administration is very disturbing. Hundreds have lost their lives from Benue State to Plateau, Kaduna, Taraba, Enugu, Delta, Edo, Adamawa states, etc. What has been the response of the Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal government that controls all the security apparatus and instruments of organised violence? The government has simply looked the other way when killings are going on. After each round of violence and killings, government reads prepared speeches, deploys security officials after the dastardly act has been committed and the perpetrators have left the scene. After a few weeks, the dead are buried and the noise settles down and life continues like a jolly train ride. No one is ever held accountable and prosecuted to the end so that Nigerians can see and understand that there is penalty for murder and mass killings.
The Buhari government refuses to take any preventive action or respond to any information and warning about possible attacks to nip them in the bud. This is affirmed by the recent attacks in Benue State. It is recalled that the Governor Samuel Ortom has since the enactment of the bill against open grazing in Benue State been alerting the security authorities that attacks by Fulani terrorists were imminent but the security agencies pretended they did not hear or see anything. Indeed, the killers have publicly come out to state that they killed because their cattle were stolen and the government pretends it never heard anything. After the first killings in Benue, another round of killings followed including policemen who were sent to keep the peace; then in Taraba and yesterday in Kaduna State. Yet, no big deal for the Buhari government.
In civilised climes, the President calls off foreign trips or any other official assignment to return home if a few citizens died in any mishap. Not in Nigeria. President Buhari was in Abuja when the Benue massacre took place; he neither visited the state to commiserate with the people nor did he send any high powered delegation during the burial of the over 70 innocents who were murdered by the herdsmen. Instead, he onlysummoned the grieving state governor to Aso Rock to give him instructions! This is simply insensitive, uncaring, condescending and shows a lack of fellow feeling and contempt for human lives. No broadcasts, no period of national mourning was declared by the President; just a few press releases by media aides who displayed wanton irresponsibility by comparing the number of persons “killed” during the Jonathan administration and the ones who died in the current administration. To compound matters, some governors from the President’s party gathered a day after the burial in Benue State to urge him to run for a second term in office. Indeed, without anyone asking them for any apologies, they indicated that they had no apology to anyone (read – no apology to the Benue people and all who had lost their lives in different parts of Nigeria) for supporting his re-election bid!
A government that promised security as one of its major campaign promises now presides over a nation where human life is equated with cows and President Buhari believes he has done so well in terms of security. While the people have done their bit by electing a government, they expect that their lives and properties will be safe with the government doing its part of the bargain. A government that cannot secure lives and property and perpetually allows blood to be shed with impunity simply needs to throw in the towel. It is like salt that has lost its saltiness. It is of no more use and should be thrown away.
It is not even a lack of capacity in the government of the day because the same security forces that were deployed in the South-East during the IPOB crisis are still in existence. The same Attorney General of the Federation that rushed to court to declare IPOB a terrorist organisation has not abdicated the seat. It is the lack of political will and government’s refusal to act and recognise all members of the Nigerian family as full citizens that is at stake. Time is running out and it is imperative for President Buhari to retrace his steps.