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House -to-House search of looted goods unconstitutional, illegal, says Group

Ayodele Olalere

A group, The Access to Justice(A2J) has described as unconstitutional and illegal moves by some state governors to begin house to house search of looted goods in the aftermath of EndSARS protests.

In. a statement co-signed by the group’s Convener, Joseph Otteh, and it’s Project Director, Deji Ajare, it condemned the plan by the governor’s, stating such is against the constitution of the country.

“Some state governors have said that after the ultimatums given, they would authorize a house-by-house search of residents’ houses in order to recover looted items and prosecute the looters. More specifically, Cross River State Governor, Senator Ben Ayade has ordered security agencies in the state to search houses to recover looted items; Osun State Governor, Gboyega Oyetola, has threatened to commence a house-to-house search by security agents for unreturned loot; likewise, Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai has ordered a house-to-house search for looted COVID-19 relief materials, and the list is growing.

In fact, the Governor of Adamawa State Ahmadu Fintiri has threatened to issue an “Executive Order” requesting door to door search of residents’ homes. He further said that he would, upon finding any looted items in any house, in addition, withdraw the Certificate of Ownership of the house(s) and demolish them,” the statement stated.

Quoting Section 37 of the Constitution, the group argued that the search violates the privacy of the citizens as enshrined in the Constitution.

 

“A house-to-house search for looted relief or other materials, without a valid search warrant duly issued by a court of law, is unconstitutional. Under Nigeria’s Constitution, no state governor has the right to order a house-to-house search of any residential or other building. Nigeria’s Constitution, in section 37 provides that: “The privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and tele graphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected.”

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To search a house, the state would need a Search Warrant issued by a court, in accordance with the various laws of each State. Under the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, for example, Sec. 144 outlines grounds upon which a search warrant may be made.

The purpose for using a judicial procedure to obtain a search warrant is to ensure that there is rational and reasonable justification for intruding upon the constitutional right of every citizen to privacy. No Governor can usurp the powers of a court in this respect and no “Executive Order” can confer such a right.”

It therefore urged all state governments concerned jettison the moves and avoid actions that could lead to disobedience to the law of the land.

“Access to Justice urges all governments, Federal and State, to take the path of the rule of law and resist the urge to ride rough-shod over the Constitution of Nigeria with respect to the said lootings. Sending security agents to go from house to house in search of looted property is fraught with all kinds of risks, particularly at this time. Officers of law enforcement and security forces may be in the mood for reprisals and want to exact a pound of flesh over the unfortunate events of the last couple of days, and can easily scapegoat anyone they find, (capriciously), to fit pre-formed stereotypes of a looter.

They may want to exact revenge for other grievances against their adversaries, or simply to use any proxies they find to get back at civil society for daring to mount a protest against police brutality.”

It further stated: “Also, the implementation of such an order will very likely use very discriminatory patterns. It is very unlikely that the domiciles of people with political, economic and social power and status will be searched in this manner; only the habitats of the vulnerable and the poor will likely be subjected to these unconstitutional violations.

In its implementation therefore, door to door house searches will likely be shown to be a policy judgment against the poor and a government-authorized attack on, and parody of the weak, poor and vulnerable, as well as an invidious stigmatization of that community.
Access to Justice urges all the governments that are pursuing these obnoxious and illegal policies to end them NOW!”

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