Security more important than rule of law, human rights — Nigeria’s Customs chief

Comptoller-General of Nigeria Customs Service, Hamid Ali, addressing the agency's personnel

Hameed Ali, the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, has said that Nigerians should forget the rule of law and constitutional protections of their fundamental rights where matters of security are concerned.

Mr Ali’s position appeared to reinforce the position of President Muhammadu Buhari and Attorney-General Abubakar Malami — both of whom have separately expressed the belief that security takes precedence over the rule of law.

“When it comes to security, all laws take back a seat,” Mr Ali reportedly said at a press briefing on border closure Monday, the Nation reported.

“We want make sure that our people are protected. You must be alive and well for you to begin to ask for your rights. Your rights come when you are well and alive.

“Go and [ask] the people in Maiduguri when Boko Haram was harassing their lives, the only question was survival, there is no question of right. This time Nigeria must survive first then before we begin to ask for our rights,” the Lagos-based paper cited the Customs chief as emphasising at length.

Mr Buhari drew controversy when he said at a conference of the Nigerian Bar Association last year that his government will continue to prioritise national security over the rule of law in relation to allegations of a crackdown on political opponents by his government.

Shortly afterward, Mr Malami, the nation’s chief law officer, also said in an interview that the government would continue to detain former national security adviser Sambo Dasuki on national security and alleged corruption grounds, despite several court orders for his release from custody.

Mr Dasuki has been held in detention since 2015 on charges that he mismanaged money allocated for defence procurement during his days as former President Goodluck Jonathan’s national security adviser.

The Buhari administration has come under criticism for holding citizens in perpetual custody despite court orders. In recent months, several Nigerians have been arrested and charged for treason over comments they made that lawyers argued are protected speech under the Constitution.

Wole Soyinka also condemned the approach by Mr Buhari’s government to the rights of Nigerians. Last month, the Nobel laureate lampooned Mr Buhari for exhibiting traits of “paranoia” amidst isolation of his government by Nigerians.

During his Independence Day speech, the president threatened further crackdown on people making statements considered by his government as hateful and inciting. Civil liberties advocates sharply disagreed with the government’s definition of what constitutes dangerous speeches, saying only the speeches that are not favourable to the administration are being increasingly criminalised.

Mr Ali insisted at Monday’s briefing that all land borders will remain shut as a continuation of a closure that began in August.

He said the measure was to improve Nigeria’s economic situation and reduce further exploits by neighbouring countries, the Nation reported.

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