Since he assumed office over two years ago, President Goodluck Jonathan, rightly or wrongly, has been the butt of criticisms as weak in or clueless to solving Nigeria’s myriad of problems. He, therefore, could not be luckier than now to prove his critics wrong by discharging his constitutional responsibilities. Tied down in the North with the Boko Haram insurgency, it is not clear if Jonathan is abreast with the state of insecurity in the entire South over uncontrollable cases of kidnapping and attendant anger of the ordinary citizen. Owing to the helplessness and inaction of state governors, kidnapping has now, overnight, boomed as a growth industry for extorting millions of naira for the release of the victims. Even after extorting such, the kidnappers still kill their victims.
Consequently, at the mere mention of security or insecurity, instant blame is heaped on President Jonathan. Oh yes, overall security in the country is the main but not the sole responsibility of a Nigerian President any more than overall responsibility in the United States rests with the White House in Washington. But then, in such situation, the President (in our own case, Jonathan) is no more than the supreme co-ordinator, with initial responsibility devolving on state governors and down the line to local government chairmen or in United States, the city mayors. This fact is essential in view of the anarchy gradually descending on every state (thirty-six of them) with the governors unwilling and unable to arrest the situation on the convenient and circumstantial excuse that they (the governors) do not control the police. Consequently, the situation in the country today is that crimes of murder, arson, armed robbery and kidnapping mostly resulting in death are committed on free will by the culprits.
These crimes have become so routine that newspapers no longer allot their front pages to such reports and where they do, the reports are completely compressed into second or third insignificant space in the front page or otherwise now tucked in the inside pages. The latest in the banditry of these criminals was the widespread rampage in Auchi, Edo State, which was an irony. An irony in the sense that among the 36 state governors, only Adams Oshiomhole has displayed the guts that he would sign the death warrant of any convict of capital punishment. Oshiomhole knows better. Not long ago, his Special Assistant, Olaitan Oyerinde was murdered by criminals inside his house. It is not tenable for state governors to excuse themselves from responsibility for near total insecurity on the ground that they do not control the police, or that state commissioners of police always insist on clearance from their boss, Inspector-General before carrying out any order directed by a state governor.
Whenever a state Commissioner of Police insists on clearance from his boss, Inspector-General at Abuja before carrying out an order of a state governor, it is usually because such orders are controversial or dicey, in most cases tainted with the governor’s political interest. It is only reasonable for a Commissioner of Police to be cautious in such situations. Such will not apply in all matters concerning detection or arresting of crimes like kidnapping or armed robbery, as may be directed by a state governor because on the contrary, the main duty of state governors through state commissioners of police is the maintenance of security. On his part, the president’s (Goodluck Jonathan) duty on security matters is to guard against or repel any external aggression or suppress any domestic insurgency such as Boko Haram’s. Today, Nigeria is not facing any threat of external aggression.
Boko Haram is being contained through security forces like the army and police. Hence, governors of states under siege by Boko Haram are not being blamed. Tackling Boko Haram insurgency is taking time but nobody can deny the fact of containing the misguided elements. The same cannot be said of murder, armed robbery, kidnapping etc. The responsibility for combating these crimes is that of state governors and not Jonathan’s. When last time the wife of Deputy Speaker of Osun State House of Assembly was kidnapped, Osun State government assumed responsibility for alerting the nation until some patriots in nearby Ogun State nabbed the kidnappers and their victim. But has there been any action since then? Failure of state governors to take drastic punitive action in such cases is the very reason the crime of kidnapping has been on the rise in recent months.
The consequent threatening anarchy is the fault of state governors and state Commissioners of Police. Yet, there are existing laws stipulating death penalty for armed robbery and even kidnapping. At least Rivers, Ebonyi and Enugu states have passed laws carrying death penalty for kidnapping. Such law is not for President Goodluck Jonathan to enforce. That is the duty of state governors. Where a state governor fails or is unwilling to enforce laws on security of lives and property, especially federal laws, such governor would be vulnerable to charges of dereliction of duty, in clear violation of the oath of office to which he swore to be eligible to assume office.
In the present state of lawlessness on account of armed robbery and kidnapping in most parts of the country, Jonathan should assume charge. For example, armed robbery and financial crimes largely committed in the states are now federal offences under federal laws. Such federal laws were enacted because state governments were weak and unwilling to tackle the crimes. With the existing federal law on armed robbery stipulating death penalty, Jonathan should equally seriously consider a bill to make kidnapping punishable by death. Such a bill will not generate controversy either at home or abroad. Foreigners in our midst have been easy targets for these kidnappers. In many cases, Russians, Britons, Italians, Filipinos, had been killed by these kidnappers even after collecting the ransom running into millions of naira, much to the embarrassment of Nigerian government. In any case, it is an international obligation for any country to guarantee the safety of not only its citizens but also the security of foreigners in the host country. Why is a federal law necessary for kidnapping?
The crime, which began on a seeming restricted scale in only some parts of the country, has now spread to virtually every part of Nigeria. Furthermore, the existing law of some three or four states carrying death penalty for kidnapping has turned out to be mere decorations in the statutes of the states concerned. A federal law carrying death penalty for kidnapping will provide security throughout the federation against the criminals. Relatives of members of the National Assembly had also fallen victims of the kidnappers. It is therefore in their interest to allow smooth sail for the proposed bill into law. At that stage, no state governor will allow kidnappers free rein. Such a law against kidnapping should not be a licence for police to shoot suspects dead. Dead suspects will serve no purpose or lesson. Instead, suspects should be subjected to full criminal procedure of law courts throughout which they will experience the rigour, agony and eventually reject, when sentenced to death.
That will deter other potential kidnappers. The death warrant of any convict facing death penalty even under federal offence, is signed by state governors and not the President of Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is a constitutional responsibility devolving on state governors. Afterall, Jonathan does not sigh the death warrant of convicted armed robbers. A state governor may feel strongly against signing the death warrant of convicted armed robbers or kidnappers. While maintaining such principle, the state governor concerned should be prepared for the consequences by resigning since the society cannot be thrown into anarchy because a state governor refuses to perform his constitutional duties. Governors are responsible for security in their states.
Where insecurity persists and threatens law and order, which may eventually engulf the whole country, President Jonathan has the constitutional responsibility to declare a state of emergency in the state(s) concerned, suspend the governor for six months and extend the emergency for another six months if necessary. By the time two or three state governors are so alerted on their dereliction of constitutional duties, others will sit up. A year or two ago, we were not under this threat of anarchy by kidnappers and armed robbers.
Accordingly, unless tackled frontally, these criminals will convulse the nation. Then, the man to be blamed is President Goodluck Jonathan and not any of the state governors. At what stage will Jonathan adequately assess the threat posed by these criminals? So far, state commissioners, university vice-chancellors and even Chairman of Lagos State chapter of Nigerian Union of Journalists had been kidnapped. Never mind any claim of improved economy or inflow of foreign investment.
These are mere illusions. Only a failed, as distinct from a stable state, allows anarchists to thrive. Insecurity and foreign investment are perpetual and uncompromising enemies. When next the Council of States gathers, President Jonathan must confront the state governors with his obligation to invoke his constitutional responsibility to ensure law and order in any of the state currently under siege of armed robbers and kidnappers creating doubts on the existence of governance in the states concerned.