By Robert Egbe

Federal High Court in Lagos has fixed November 28 to hear Nigerian Army’s preliminary objection to a suit seeking to stop the controversial Operation Positive Identification (OPI).

Justice Mohammed Aikawa, on November 5, 2019, ordered the military to suspend the operation, pending the determination of a suit filed by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr Femi Falana.

The activist-lawyer filed the suit on October 25, seeking, among others, an order stopping the operation.

The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), the Army and the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) are first to third respondents in the suit.

When the matter came up for the first time on November 5, the judge ordered both parties to maintain status quo ante.

When proceeding resumed yesterday, the counsel to the Army and the COAS, Mrs. Olayemi Badewole, drew the court’s attention to a November 14 motion, seeking to regularise her clients’ notice of preliminary objection.

In the absence of any opposition from other parties in the matter, she moved the motion, and her prayer was granted by the court.

The Solicitor-General of the Federation, Mr. Dayo Apata (SAN), who represented the Attorney General of the Federation (third respondent), had informed the court that necessary processes in respect of the suit had been filed and served on the plaintiff.

Responding, a lawyer from Falana’s chambers, E. E. Olawale, acknowledged the receipt of the processes and sought an adjournment to enable him to respond appropriately.

Justice Aikawa adjourned till November 28 for the hearing of all preliminary objections to the suit.

In the suit, Falana is contending that the planned nationwide operation, which was scheduled to run from November 1 to December 23, 2019, by which Nigerian citizens would be required to move about with means of identification, is unconstitutional, illegal, null and void.

He insisted that the operation violates his right and that of other Nigerian citizens to liberty, “as encapsulated in Section 35 respectively of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as Amended, and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, (Cap A10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004”.

In an affidavit in support of the suit, Falana averred that by virtue of Section 215 (3) of the Constitution, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) “has the exclusive power to maintain law and order and secure public safety and public order in the country” and not the army.

He further contended that the President could only deploy military to suppress insurrection or restore law and order when such need arises, in line with Section 217(1) of the Constitution.

The silk averred that there is no insurrection in every part of the country, which is beyond the control of police, to warrant the deployment of armed troops all over the country from November 1, 2019 to December 23, 2019.

According to him, the Nigerian Army under the leadership of Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai is not empowered to take over police duties while the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces also lacks the power to deploy members of the Armed Forces in the maintenance of internal security in any part of the country by virtue of Section 217 (a) (b) and (c) of the Constitution.

He added that neither the Constitution nor the Armed Forces Act Cap A20 LFN, 2004, empowered the Nigeria Army to arrest any citizen who is not subject to service law.

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