Court says army lacks power to conduct ‘Operation Positive Identification’
THE Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on Friday sustained a lawsuit filed by Femi Falana, human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) over the planned implementation of the “Operation Positive Identification’ by the Nigerian Army.
Falana had filed the Fundamental Rights Enforcement suit on October 25, 2019 against the planned exercise by the army scheduled to hold from 1 November to 23 December 2019.
He listed the Nigerian Army, the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, and the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, as the respondents to the suit.
While ruling on the case, Justice Rilwan Aikawa stated that the Nigerian Army has no power under the Nigerian constitution to subject civilians to such positive identification process adding that the fundamental rights of the Nigerian people to liberty and freedom of movement would be breached by the planned positive identification.
Aikawa insisted that Falana has the locus standi to have instituted the suit as he dismissed the objections of the Attorney General of the Federation and the Nigerian Army to the applicant’s suit.
Falana in his suit emphasized that it is illegal and unconstitutional for the court to uphold an act that would require Nigerians to move around with a valid means of identification such as the National Identification Card, Voters Registration Card, Drivers’ Licence and passports or other valid official identification pleaded the court to dismiss the idea behind the exercise.
He argued that it is unconstitutional for the military to mount checkpoints on highways anywhere in the country as he cited several authorities.
The human rights lawyer added that that is the work of the police arguing that the respondents have not given valid reasons why soldiers must take over the duties of the police.
He also stated the his plea before the court pertains to his right to life, liberty, and freedom of movement just as every other Nigerian who could get shot by soldiers if they fail to produce any means of identification on demand adding that the appellate courts have ruled severally that the army has no business in civil actions neither are they allowed to get involved in elections.
Falana therefore urged the court to grant his fundamental rights application which he emphasized are completely backed by Chapter 4 of the Constitution.
But the three respondents to the suit filed a preliminary objection challenging the suit.
The Nigerian military had launched in October 2019 “Operation Positive Identification” to demand identity cards from citizens across the country stating that the operation would combat the threats of criminal insurgency and terrorism, armed banditry, kidnapping, herdsmen-farmers clashes, cultism, and communal crises across the country.
The idea attracted ciriticisms and calls to drop it by the Nigerian Army.
However, in November the House of Representatives gave the Nigerian army the approval to carry out Operation Positive Identification (OPI) in conjunction with other relevant security agencies, after it had initially kicked against the operation.
The House in its initial criticism of OPI said it would strip Nigerians of their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of movement.