That call was made out of frustration because the people seem to have lost confidence in the collective security apparatus that we have in Nigeria. You have seen the number of people that have died in Benue State.
Where it becomes clear that the legitimate security agents that we have are unable to do the job, people will naturally resort to self-defence. It is a natural reaction for any human being that if you are attacked, you have to defend yourself.
If there is no feasible, reliable and dependable official state security apparatus to defend the people, it is going to be a natural reaction for people to defend themselves. If we have security in place, the people will not need to do that but where there is none, nobody should die anyhow. Nobody should be a prisoner of war in his own territory.
However, two wrongs do not make a right; this does not mean that people should go about and engage in reprisals. The problem is that, when people engage in reprisals, even the person who called them to action may not be able to recall them when things get out of hand. I think at the end of the day, what the governor should be dissipating his energy on; is to insist on the provision of adequate security for the people of Benue State and all other places where we have these security challenges. It is the duty of the government to ensure that there is protection for lives and property as required by the constitution. I do not think the question is one that should be answered with a yes or a no.
You may ask what is the limit to one’s right to self-defence? There is a limit to self-defence when there is appropriate and proper state security to defend the people. But if there is none, nobody would want to watch and allow an opponent to kill him. It is only when you have an effective state security apparatus defending the people that is when you can talk of a limit to which a man can go. In criminal law, there is what we call excessive use of self-defence. Self-defence must be reasonable.
These are critical issues in criminal law. For instance, if somebody comes to your house and there is nothing in his hand, probably he only has a pen and you use a sledge hammer to break his head, the circumstances surrounding each case is different. The circumstance will determine what the limit will be and the facts will be analysed critically to know whether somebody exceeded or acted within his limits.
Elvis Uhunamure (Social Secretary, Nigerian Bar Association, Benin branch)
It is his personal opinion and within his rights; since people are dying everywhere, every day. You cannot say that because there is a law, the law should do everything for you. The police, soldiers, and civil defence personnel cannot be everywhere. That is why he said that everyone should take care of himself before the police arrive. If someone is armed with a knife to kill you and you say that you want to wait for the police, you would die a useless death.
Defending yourself does not mean taking the law into your own hands. But what the governor is saying is that our security system is not effective enough. If the herdsmen can just bring out AK47 rifles and kill a soldier, policeman and other security personnel, you can imagine what they can do to an ordinary civilian. To me, it was the governor’s personal opinion that no one should allow himself to be killed just like that.
I would even advocate that the Federal Government should legalise the ownership of guns by private individuals so that when they see such attacks coming, they can defend themselves. The law, the way it is, has not helped us. So, that statement should not be seen as offensive. But if a person knowingly kills someone without any cause, then it is a case of murder.
Olusegun Bamgbose (A legal practitioner/public affairs analyst
Yes, the call by Governor Ortom on Benue people to defend themselves in the face of attacks by herdsmen is right. This is because there is no law that forbids self-defence. Truth be told and legally speaking, self-defence has become necessary because the Federal Government has failed in its primary responsibility to protect lives and property.
In such a case, the governor is right to tell the people to defend themselves. What else do you expect him to do since the Federal Government appears to be handling the matter with kid gloves? The law is not against any person defending himself against any attack. If a thief comes to my house and I am a licensed gun owner, should anything happen to that thief, the law will see that I am defending myself from being killed or dispossessed of my property by the intruder.
Even when you charge the man that dealt with a thief to court and the man is able to prove that he did it in self-defence, the law will set him free. My advice to Ortom is that he should ignore any person criticising him for calling on his people to defend themselves. The fact is that the governor has been pushed to the wall.
His people voted for him to protect their lives and property. I know that he is the chief security officer of the state, but the Army, the Navy and the Police are being controlled by the Federal Government. So, there is little or nothing he can do if the Federal Government fails in its primary responsibility of protecting lives and property. The governor cannot just sit down and watch his people die. It is not done anywhere in the world.
Festus Keyamo (Senior Advocate of Nigeria)
I hope the governor is not talking about retaliation. If what he meant is that the people should defend themselves as allowed in the nation’s law; yes they can.
But in defending yourself, you must act within your rights. If a person attacked you and ran away, if you saw him after and attacked him, that is retaliation. Retaliation is not allowed.
Also in defending yourself, you must use proportionate force. You are not allowed to use excessive force. For example, if a person attacks you with a broom, you can’t defend yourself by hitting him with a cutlass. But if the person uses a lethal weapon to attack, you can use a lethal weapon to defend yourself.
This is the right available to you under the defences to criminal liability under the Criminal Procedure Code or Criminal Procedure Act as may be applicable, depending on the part of the country you are. All the states of the federation have this law. But in applying it, you must conduct yourself within the law.
Ifeoma Iheanacho (Lawyer and Executive Director, Advocate of Independent Democratic Forum)
The Benue people have a right to defend themselves, they have a right to life, and they have a right to survival. It is only a tree that would hear that they want to cut it down and it would not resist, so the call by the state governor is constitutionally right. It is only a man who has resigned to death that would watch another man cut him down. The Federal Government has failed to protect Benue people, so they have a right to defend themselves. I don’t think it would lead to anarchy, since the government claimed the attackers are foreign herdsmen, then let us treat them like terrorists. If you see a bomber with bombs strapped to his body, if you have a means of stopping him, why won’t you do so?
Hector Ehiguina (A legal practitioner)
No, I do not think it is right. According to the provisions of the constitution, the right to self-defence is defence of a dwelling and not trying to claim self-defence when you see someone on the road. The governor is the chief security officer of his state. As such, when he has issues that stretch his capacity, the first thing he has to do is to seek the support of the Federal Government.
When you allow citizens to take the law into their own hands, you invite anarchy. We as Nigerians sometimes go to the extreme. Someone could see a harmless herdsman doing his business and attack and kill him. Whoever is involved in such a crime should be held for murder.
When the governor cannot help the situation in his state, he should seek the support of the superior level of government. I feel that telling the citizens to defend themselves is like instigating them to carry out mayhem. I do not support the armed herdsmen but let the rule of law take its course. If the governor moves to the Presidential Villa, help will come. He should also know the flashpoints in his state, he also has adviser; they should advise him well.
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