A judge of the Lagos State High Court, Justice Gani Safari, has said three quarters of Nigerians deliberately break the law.
Speaking at a one-day symposium titled: The constitution, law enforcement agencies and you, organised by the Human Rights Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Ikeja Branch, Justice Safari, who represented the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Funmilayo Atilade, as the guest of honour, noted the difficulty law enforcement officers face in carrying out their duties.
“Three quarters of Nigerians are lawless,” he said, “I have to say it the way it is. Unless he is compelled, the average Nigerian does not want to obey the law.
“This is something we all know, and that is why I personally don’t envy our law enforcement agencies, because they have a job to do to enforce the law, against people who are not willing to obey the law.
“In doing so, they are also enjoined to have respect for the rights of fellows.”
He continued: “Somewhere along the line an officer gets caught up in the line of duty and gets accused of overstepping his bounds, like the instance where a police officer was charged to court for murder for misusing his firearm which led to the death of a citizen.
“There was also a time when a Divisional Police Officer was charged for misuse of his firearm during a riot. If you look at your environment, we all go out on a daily basis, you’ll realise that the average Nigerian does not comply with simple instructions, until he is made to do so.”
Justice Safari’s views were echoed by B. J. Fasopin, a Deputy Route Commander of the Federal Road Safety Corp (FRSC).
Fasopin, who represented the FRSC’s Corp Marshall, said Nigerians are difficult when it comes to obeying the law.
“I stopped a lawyer for not wearing a seatbelt, and he said he was going to court he had a case and it was his right not to wear a seatbelt.”
The event, which was held under the chairmanship of Justice I. Buba of the Federal High Court, Lagos, also featured speeches by Professor Lanre Fagbohun of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (UNILAG Campus), Mrs. Omotola Rotimi the Director of the Lagos State Office of the Public Defender, Mrs. Gloria Egbuji of the Crime Victims Foundation as well as representatives of the Nigerian Police, the Nigerian Civil Defence Corp, Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) and the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA).
Prof Fagbohun, who identified violations of human rights among all levels of society, urged law enforcement agents to see themselves as guardians of human rights.
Mrs. Rotimi identified the government agencies who are most culpable in the infringement of human rights, based on the statistics available to her agency.
She said: “Of all the enforcement agencies that operate in Lagos State, statistics show that the officers of the Nigerian Police Force take the lead in the infringement of the rights of the citizens. Next in line is the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority.
“The officers of the Kick Against Indiscipline, and the Federal Road Safety Corp are other major law enforcement agencies that take pride in infringing the rights of the ‘bloody civilians’ in the state.”
The first Vice Chairman of the Ikeja NBA’s Human Rights Committee, Mrs. Gloria Nweze, said the programme was in response to several complaints received by the Committee daily from the public about their unpleasant experiences from Federal and State law enforcement agencies including the Police, FRSC, Civil Defence Corps, LASTMA and KAI.
Mrs. Nweze said: “We investigated many of these complaints and the Committee came to the conclusion that there is a need to organise a programme of this nature to enlighten both the public and officials of these agencies on their rights and powers under the law.”
A former chairman, the Ikeja NBA, Mr. Dave Ajetunmobi, presented plaques of appreciation to the speakers on behalf of the branch.