Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, has again admitted that Nigerians are faced with serious challenges, including the Boko Haram, tensions in the Niger Delta, herdsmen-farmer clashes, threats of secession, poverty, unemployment and corruption.
Osinbajo spoke while declaring open the National Conference of Nigerian Association of Law Teachers (NALT) at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka on Monday
He said all Nigerians must recognize that a lot of the agitations centered around the alleged failures of the state to create an inclusive society under existing constitutional arrangements, to guarantee the security of lives, liberties by the agencies charged with maintaining law and order and to build trust around the rule of law and the system of administration of justice.
Osinbajo stated: “First, on the matter of inclusion and inequalities, there is little doubt in my mind that the provision of the basics of life to the largest number of our people remains the greatest source of tension in the polity.
“The daily struggles of many, for healthcare, a means of livelihood and the absence of a socially just means of ensuring that many, especially young people, have access to education and jobs provides a constantly replenished pool of young malcontents, ready to be recruited into any sort of Army, whether it be of kidnappers, terrorists, or violent or antisocial agitation for one cause or the other.
“Besides, the constant agitation for share of national resources, is a product of individual-elite- deprivation, taken up by ethnic nationalities and socio-cultural groups. Each group views the other with suspicion when it comes to matters of resources, and government appointments.
“As it is at the Federal level, so it is at the State level. In my state for example, the Egba and Ijebus in Ogun State are constantly arguing over who is getting a better deal in government appointments or infrastructural development.
“Unfortunately, in order to give our campaigns greater acceptability and resonance, we often characterize them as ethnic or religious agitation. The right to a decent existence, to education, healthcare or jobs must not depend on how loudly my ethnic or religious group agitates; no, these are my rights as a citizen of Nigeria.
“It is the failure of the State to deliver on these essentials of life and livelihood that compels our people to run to their tribal and religious camps to seek succour by way of agitation for basic rights and services.
“Unfortunately, it is the same elite especially the political elite, who fail the people by the wastage and embezzlement of their funds who are at the forefront of pretending that their deprivations are caused by other ethnic nationalities.
“Having gone round this nation to its villages and settlements, everywhere in the course of the campaigns, and after, there is no doubt in my mind that poverty has the same character in Bodinga Local Government in Sokoto State as in Ayanmelum Local Government here in Anambra state; poverty on an Ibo man is not more dignified than on a Hausa Fulani man. Hunger is neither a tribal or religious issue.
“So, the question for us is how to resolve these issues. First is to place responsibility where it rightly belongs.It is the business of government, by that I mean the executive, legislature and judiciary to provide the enabling environment for the quality of life that people expect.
“Indeed the constitutional obligation to do so is clear. Section 14(2 ) (a) says that sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through the Constitution derives all its powers and authority ; and assures that (b) the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. This is crucial.
“Whereas the classic overriding obligation of the State is Security our constitution places Security and Welfare on the same pedestal as the primary purposes of government. Coming from this perspective, the fundamental objective must become the founding principle for legislation, executive action and the observance and enforcement of the rule of law.
“However in the current Federal Government the argument is being won by those who believe that government has a central role to play in the provision of social welfare. That extreme poverty is not only immoral, it should be illegal.
“This has led to the largest single provision in our history for social welfare. In the 2017 budget we are providing N500 billion for social investment alone; N100 billion of that is for part of our social housing fund and the total value of that fund is N1 trillion; the provision for cash transfers which is for the poorest and vulnerable is 1 million Nigerians; the N-Power, which is the provision of direct jobs to young graduates for two years is 500,000 and 200, 000 jobs have been created already but certainly we can do more.
“It is important that our budgets are crafted in such a way that we take into account the aspect of social welfare.Like I said, it is an ideological battle. It is a battle that must be contended for and must be contended by all of us especially law teachers. I was speaking to a group of law teachers and I was telling them that we have not engaged government, we have to engage government.
“Take the herdsmen and farmer conflicts. As justice Amina Augie just said, it is first and foremost a struggle for food security, land and water resources. The context of environment and environmental justice sets the stage for meaningful engagement and arbitration.
“We must also admit that these conflicts are not new. But engagement and law enforcement had kept things in check. Law enforcement must move apace with engagement. The President for example had issued a directive to the police to arrest and prosecute anyone found with weapons. This is important not only to assure the citizenry of safety of their lives and property but to prevent resort to self-help. There is a long way to go.
“But the issue of what happens to victims of conflict within society; victims of the Herdsmen clashes with farmers, victims of the insurgency in the North-East, victims of environmental degradation in the Niger Delta; the question of what happens to them is certainly captured in transitional justice.
“I think that these are aspects of law that are developing and are developing very rapidly because people are asking all sorts of questions. What happens to me when my property is destroyed by insurgents or herdsmen or what happens to me when the only source of fishing for me and entire environment is damaged by activities unrelated to me in anyway.
“To go beyond that, there is also the question of communal responsibility, what are the responsibilities for communities, civil society, and non-state actors. For example, in the North-East, hundreds of people have been killed, children have seen horrible violence, some have seen their parents killed and have faced severe hunger, and all kinds of situations that you would not wish for your enemy; how do you reconcile these people to society?
“There are all of these transitional justice vehicles such as truth and reconciliation commission and all of that. There are all sorts of international compensation models that could be adopted to resolve these issues because societies in conflict issues are becoming part of our lives and it is not just in Nigeria, it is across our continent and the globe”.