Justice Rilwanu Aikawa of the Federal High Court in Lagos on Tuesday ordered the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) to suspend the ongoing Operation Positive Identification initiatived by the army pending the determination of a suit filed by human rights lawyer, Femi Falana
Justice Aikawa ordered both parties to maintain status quo ante after counsel to the federal government, Dayo Apata asked the court for an adjournment to enable him appear personally in the matter.
Falana, who filed the suit on October 25, is seeking, among others, an order stopping the operation because its violate the fundamental rights of Nigerians.
The lawyer joined the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), the Army and the Attorney-General of the Federation as respondents in the suit.
Falana told the judge that the respondents had been served the processes and the proof of service was in the court’s file.
This was confirmed by a Principal State Counsel from the Ministry of Justice, who prayed the judge to grant an adjournment to enable the Solicitor-General, Dayo Apata, to appear to handle the matter personally.
Falana did not oppose him.
Justice Aikawa granted his application.
Justice Aikawa in a short ruling held that, “In view of the agreement between counsel, I hereby order the first and second defendants to maintain the status quo, pending the determination of the case.”
He then adjourned the matter till November 18.
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In the suit, Falana argued that the planned nationwide operation which will run from November 1, to December 23, 2019, by which Nigerian citizens would be required to move about with means of identification is unconstitutional, illegal, null and void.
The human rights lawyer argued that the operation violates his right and that of other Nigerian citizens to liberty, “as encapsulated in Section 35 respectively of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as Amended and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, (Cap A10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.”
He filed along with the suit an order seeking an interim injunction restraining the three respondents from going on with the plan pending the hearing of the substantive suit.
In a supporting affidavit sworn to by a lawyer in his team, Taiwo Olawanle, the plaintiff recalled that on October 8, 2019 the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai disclosed that the Operation Positive Identification, said to be ongoing in the North East theatre of Boko Haram insurgency would be extended to cover the entire nation.
He said the operation required Nigerian citizens to move about with legitimate means of identification such as the National Identification Card, Voters Registration Card, Drivers’ Licence and passports or other valid official identification.
He noted that the increase in deployment of security forces nationwide would be with potential of movement disruption, and the army had thus advised Nigerians to ensure that they always carry valid means of identification.
Falana argued that by virtue of Section 215 (3) of the Constitution, the Nigerian Police “has the exclusive power to maintain law and order and secure public safety and public order in the country” and not the army.
He contended that going by section 217(1) of the Constitution, the Nigerian President of could only deploy the armed forces for the suppression of insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore law and order.
But he said, “There is no insurrection in every part of the country which the Nigeria police cannot contain to warrant the deployment of armed troops all over the country from November 1, 2019 to December 23, 2019.
“Neither the Constitution nor the Armed Forces Act Cap A20 LFN, 2004 has empowered the Nigeria Army to arrest any citizen who is not subject to service law.
“The 1st respondent (the Nigerian Army) under the leadership of the 2nd respondent is not empowered to take over police duties and the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces lacks the power to deploy members of the armed forces in the maintenance of internal security in any part of the country by virtue of Section 217 (a) (b) and (c) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.”