Nigerians Have Constitutional Right to “Self-Defence”, Section 33 of the Constitution – Nwabueze Backs Danjuma
Renowned constitutional lawyer and elder statesman, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, threw his weight behind the call by a former defence minister, General T.Y. Danjuma (rtd), for Nigerians to defend themselves against the marauding Fulani herdsmen who have killed hundreds of people nationwide, owing to what Danjuma blamed on as the collusion of the military with the killers.
According to Nwabueze, Nigerians should rise up to defend themselves, noting that Danjuma had only re-echoed Section 33 of the Constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to self-defence.
Section 33 of the Nigerian Constitution, which deals with the right to life states: (1) Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.
(2) A person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his life in contravention of this section, if he dies as a result of the use, to such extent and in such circumstances as are permitted by law, of such force as is reasonably necessary –
(a) for the defence of any person from unlawful violence or for the defence of property:
(b) in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; or
(c) for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny.
Nwabueze, in a statement issued Tuesday in Enugu, further cautioned that anarchy and consequent ethnic cleansing were imminent should Nigerians resort to self-defence in the face of the federal government’s failure to effectively checkmate the activities of the rampaging killer herdsmen in parts of Nigeria.
He warned that the attacks, killings, destruction of properties, and displacement of people by Fulani herdsmen would ultimately force communities at the receiving end to resort to self-defence as guaranteed under Section 33(1-2) of the Constitution.
He noted that in the event the situation degenerates to that level, the blame should be entirely heaped at the doorstep of President Muhammadu Buhari whom he accused of failing to disarm the killer herdsmen at the early stages of the conflict.
The constitutional lawyer said the resort to self-defence, which he prayed would not happen, would culminate in indiscriminate killings on both sides, ethnic cleansing and anarchy, adding that such a terrible situation must be viewed from the prism of an extraordinary situation created by the Fulani herdsmen.
He said had the Buhari-administration handled the issue at the beginning, the killings, destruction of properties, and the displacement of persons might not have occurred to the point of their escalation to a national calamity, and the point where self-defence becomes a national issue.
“Still armed with AK-47 guns, the Fulani herdsmen were thus enabled to kill people in Kaduna State on 29 March, 2018, and even on the very days the president was on a visit to some of the affected states – Plateau, Taraba, Zamfara and Benue,” he said.
According to the legal luminary, Danjuma was only re-echoing what was guaranteed in the Constitution when in a statement on March 24, 2018, he called on Nigerians to rise up and defend themselves against the murderous attacks by Fulani herdsmen and against the larger design at ethnic cleansing.
He said in the statement: “The action which the aggrieved individuals may take in self-defence, guaranteed by the Constitution, must be viewed in the context of the extraordinary situation created by the Fulani herdsmen insurgency and the means they employ – AK47 and other sophisticated weaponry.
“Faced by an attack by such means, self-defence using sticks, bows and arrows is futile and meaningless. What is the value in guaranteeing a person the right of self-defence and then denying him the appropriate means to exercise the right effectively when the need to do so arises?
“Self-defence, to be effective and meaningful in the prevailing context, must be by means proportioned to the means employed by the attackers.
“Disarming the citizenry and leaving them unprotected against the killer Fulani herdsmen would only render nugatory, to a large extent, the constitutional guarantee of self-defence, viewed again in the context of the extraordinary situation created by the Fulani herdsmen armed insurgency and the failure or inability of the federal government to stop it.
“Danjuma did not just get up one happy, glorious day to make the call. He was moved to do so by the extraordinary situation, with its tragic effects, created by the Fulani herdsmen and the federal government.”
Continuing, Nwabueze also made reference to the United States Constitution, explaining: “The U.S. Constitution, adopted with effect from 1787, underwent its Second Amendment in 1791.
“The Amendment provides: ‘A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.’
“The provision of the Amendment is predicated on the concept of Freedom on which the American Federal Republic is founded, and which postulates ‘a free state’ as requiring a well regulated Militia and freedom of the people to keep and bear arms; accordingly, the Amendment prohibits infringement of that freedom.
“The constitutional guarantee of the right of the American people to keep and bear arms may have resulted in a trigger-happy society, but it has not given rise to anarchy or ethnic cleansing from 1791 to the present day (March 2018).”
He further lamented that Nigerians must come to terms with the fact that the country has not been, and is not being, conducted with a due sense of responsibility as well as a due sense of shame.
“Is it not a shame that the Fulani herdsmen should have been allowed to inflict so much slaughter and havoc on innocent, law-abiding citizens without being disarmed at the initial stages of the conflict and without the wrath of the law being brought down on them?
“And we unashamedly castigate Gen. Danjuma for calling on Nigerians to rise up to defend themselves?” he contended.