A lawyer, Femi Falana, has asked the Lagos division of the Federal High Court to stop the Nigerian army from continuing the “operation positive identification” exercise which was scheduled to commence across Nigeria Friday.
Mr Falana is also asking the court to declare the exercise illegal.
The exercise entails the demand of valid means of identifications from Nigerians by military officials across the country.
Mr Falana described this as an outright violation of the people’s right to freedom of movement.
The Nigerian Army had said in September that it would commence the exercise on November 1.
It said it would “checkmate bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers, ethnic militia, cattle rustlers as well as other sundry crimes across the various regions of Nigeria.”
The exercise would see soldiers accosting citizens on the streets or highways and asking them to produce means of identification on the spot.
Soldiers had been taking similar measures to separate citizens from terrorists in the Boko Haram-ravaged northeastern part of Nigeria.
According to the military, citizens in the North-east had been cooperating with troops to make the exercise successful.
Addressing a panel of the house committee on army, on Friday, Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, said the exercise will continue, despite opposition.
However, in his suit filed on Thursday at the high court in Lagos, Mr Falana argued that the army is only empowered by the constitution “to disperse its officials for the purposes of suppressing insurrection, which is not the case at the moment”.
“There is no insurrection in every part of the country which the Nigeria police cannot contain to warrant the deployment of armed troops all over the country from 1st November, 2019 to December 23rd, 2019.
“Neither the Constitution nor the Armed Forces Act Cap A20 LFN, 2004 has empowered the Nigeria Army to arrest any citizen who is not subject to service law,” Mr Falana said.
Mr Falana said the intervention of the court was immediately necessary “to prevent what he described as irreparable damages that may result from the exercise”.
The Nigerian army is the first respondent while the Chief of Army Staff is the second respondent.
The Attorney General of the Federation is the third respondent in the suit.
NBA wades in too
Also in a statement, the Nigerian Bar Association condemned the exercise.
It warned that the federal government has a duty to protect the liberty of Nigerians.
“The Nigerian Bar Association has confirmed that the Nigerian Army has started preparations to commence what it termed ” Operation Positive Identification” in some parts of Nigeria.
“This is in spite of the fact that the National Assembly and prominent Nigerians have advised suspension of this exercise.
“The Nigerian Bar Association views the insistence of the Nigerian Army to continue with the exercise with great concern,” the NBA said in a statement on Friday.
The NBA said it was important to first educate the Nigerian people about the exercise.
It added that the “Nigerian army is a product of the law and must act in accordance, only to the law”.
“The failure of a Nigerian to have or produce a means of identification is not an offence known to Nigerian laws. There must be evidence of such a person having committed or reasonably suspected to have committed an offence which would necessitate the person being questioned by the security agencies.”
The NBA called for caution on the part of the army to ensure that the exercise “does not become a tool for antagonising Nigerians”.