Safety of people is the Supreme Law

The welfare of the citizens of Nigeria is the cornerstone of the country’s national security. The safety of the people must essentially be adequately protected to enable them to cherish their beliefs and values and their differing cultural ways of life.

Through its armed forces, police and security services, the protection of Nigeria from foreign attacks is guaranteed while from within the country, active measures are put in place to ensure peace and stability. If law is a system that regulates the actions of its citizens for social harmony, national security should be an essential component of the law game. Success can thus be achieved through the rule of law.


The fear of unforeseen threat or sudden danger which can crop up without notice and can be catastrophic, on probable loss of lives and damage to property and valuable infrastructure, God forbid, is what informed the empowerment of the Head of State as Chief Security Officer of the nation, to authorize the detention of persons considered as security risks. Such power of detention is preemptively to avert dangers as well as transiently to allow thorough investigations preparatory to prosecution. With the advent of democracy, the decree which allowed for security detention in Nigeria during the military administration was abrogated.

It will not be out of place to recall that in 1958, the Ghanaian Parliament passed the Preventive Detention Act permitting its Prime Minister Nkrumah to detain security risks for a period not exceeding five years without trial. The circumstances surrounding this dent on civil liberty in a democracy must have been weighed sufficiently seriously and treated the way the Government acted in the overriding public interest.


It is however rather curious to note that under section 401 of the Nigerian Criminal Procedure Act, the President is empowered to detain at his pleasure for a period that is not stated persons suspected to have committed crimes believably to the detriment of public interest. I am not sure whether it is under the Act that the continuing incarceration of Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky and Colonel Dasuki is based. It will certainly be of interest to know the basis upon which this judicial arrangement is arrived at.

The President also exercises the power of granting prerogative of mercy to those imprisoned for violating national laws. Death sentences will not be carried out without his endorsement and  can be commuted to life imprisonment at his sweat will. The President enjoys wide ranging and far reaching judicial privileges.

Other powers which the President enjoys are on the deployment of troops to trouble areas at home in his capacity as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. He can exercise also emergency powers on wars if and when the need arises. He routinely issues executive orders which have the effect of law. The National Assembly at times in the course of enacting legislation create rooms for the executive discretionary powers.

The President has an onerous responsibility in discharging his constitutional duties particularly in adhering to the tenets of the rule of law and civil liberties regarded as basic in a free democratic society. Where national security is threatened, appropriate counter measures will have to be determined to neutralise all harmful effects.


Ambassador B. M. Sani, mni, Kano


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