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November 3, 2020
By Adebisi Onanuga
A civil society group, Access to Justice (A2J) has said the directive given by some state governors to security agencies to embark on house-to-house search to recover items looted by hoodlums during the #EndSARS protests was illegal and unconstitutional.
The group therefore advised all levels of governments that are pursuing what it described as ”obnoxious and illegal policies” to end them now.
The group in a statement signed by its convener, Joseph Otteh and Project Director, Deji Ajare made the clarification in a statement issued in Lagos State titled: “Unconstitutional and Illegal to Conduct House-to-House Search of Citizen Houses As A Way To Retrieve Looted Warehoused goods.”
A2J noted that many Governors and the FCT Minister have resorted to giving ultimatums to their citizens for the return of property and items removed from government and private warehouses, following widespread raids of those warehouses in the wake of the #ENDSARS protests.
The group noted that most of the looted warehouses housed goods, food stuff mostly which were purposed for distribution to the poor following the measures taken to contain the COVID-19 pandemic but had not, at the time of the raids, been done.
It further noted that some state governors said after expirations of the ultimatums given, they would authorize a house-by-house search of residents’ houses in order to recover looted items and prosecute the looters.
The group listed such governors to include “Governor, Senator Ben Ayade of Ceross Rivers State who ordered security agencies in the state to search houses to recover looted items; Osun State Governor, Gboyega Oyetola, has threatened to commence a house-to-house search by security agents for unreturned loot; likewise, Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai has ordered a house-to-house search for looted COVID-19 relief materials, and the list is growing. In fact, the Governor of Adamawa State Ahmadu Fintiri has threatened to issue an “Executive Order” requesting door to door search of residents’ homes. He further said that he would, upon finding any looted items in any house, in addition, withdraw the Certificate of Ownership of the house(s) and demolish them.
Access to Justice argued: “ house-to-house search for looted relief or other materials, without a valid search warrant duly issued by a court of law, is unconstitutional.
“Under Nigeria’s Constitution, no State Governor has the right to order a house-to-house search of any residential or other building. Nigeria’s Constitution, in section 37 provides that: “The privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and tele graphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected.”
To search a house, the group said the state would need a search warrant issued by a court, in accordance with the various laws of each State. Under the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, for example, section 144 outlines grounds upon which a search warrant may be made.
It said the purpose for using a judicial procedure to obtain a search warrant is to ensure that there is rational and reasonable justification for intruding upon the constitutional right of every citizen to privacy. No Governor can usurp the powers of a court in this respect and no “Executive Order” can confer such a right.
Access to Justice urged all governments, Federal and State, to take the path of the rule of law and resist the urge to ride rough-shod over the Constitution of Nigeria with respect to the said lootings.
It said:”sending security agents to go from house to house in search of looted property is fraught with all kinds of risks, particularly at this time. Officers of law enforcement and security forces may be in the mood for reprisals and want exact a pound of flesh over the unfortunate events of the last couple of days, and can easily scapegoat anyone they find, (capriciously), to fit pre-formed stereotypes of a looter; they may want to exact revenge for other grievances against their adversaries, or simply to use any proxies they find to get back at civil society for daring to mount a protest against police brutality. House-to-House searches are fraught with all of these risks.
“Also, the implementation of such an order will very likely use very discriminatory patterns. It is very unlikely that the domiciles of people with political, economic and social power and status will be searched in this manner; only the habitats of the vulnerable and the poor will likely be subjected to these unconstitutional violations.
“In its implementation therefore, door to door house searches will likely be shown to be a policy judgment against the poor and a government-authorized attack on, and parody of the weak, poor and vulnerable, as well as an invidious stigmatization of that community”, it said.