The Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB) has urged the Nigerian government to leverage Article 4 of the ECOWAS Free Movement Laws to combat the influx of killer herdsmen into the country.

The development comes after the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, blamed the insecurity situation in Nigeria on ECOWAS laws. 

The minister had in a recent statement claimed that the protocol allows for the influx of AK-47-bearing herders and bandits from neighbouring countries into Nigeria. 

He had said: “ECOWAS Protocol allows trans-human movement between all the ECOWAS countries. That is why we are thinking of seriously reviewing the ECOWAS Protocols in that respect. What we find out today is that a lot of criminalities have been introduced through the herdsmen and trans-human.” 

But reacting on Wednesday, ASCAB, in a statement signed by Femi Falana, its interim chairman, said the ECOWAS Protocol A/P.1/5/79 relating to Free Movement of Persons, Residence and Establishment (Free Movement Protocol) does not permit any form of trans-border banditry and illegal possession of arms and ammunition.

According to the group, rather than seeking a review or an amendment of the Protocol, the Nigerian government should take advantage of Article 4 of the legislation which stated that "Notwithstanding the provisions of article 3 above, member states shall reserve the right to refuse admission into their territory any community citizen who comes within the category of inadmissible immigrant under its laws." 

ASCAB stated that the article quoted above gives Nigeria permission to apply domestic laws to deal with the menace of trans-border criminality traced to armed herders and bandits. 

“One of such domestic laws is the Animal Diseases (Control) Act (Cap. A17) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 that provides for the importation and exportation of animals, surveillance of importation, seizure or destruction of animals, control of trade animals etc., among other things," it said.

“Specifically, the Act states that the importation of any animal, animal products or biologics into Nigeria from any other country by land, sea or air is prohibited except under a permit granted by the Director who in each case shall state the conditions under which the animal, hatching eggs or poultry may be imported. 

“It also provided that imported animals may be subjected to such examination, disinfection, inoculation and quarantine at the risk and expense of the owner thereof as the Director may deem necessary and any animal, animal products, the biologic or infectious agent which is not imported in accordance with the provisions of this Act shall be seized or caused to be destroyed immediately on arrival by the Director, or by an authorized officer. 

“Another relevant legislation is the Firearms Act (Cap. R11) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 which provides that no person shall have in his possession or under his control any firearm except in accordance with a licence granted by the President acting in his discretion or except in accordance with a licence granted in respect thereof by the Inspector-General of Police.

“Any person who contravenes any of the provisions of the Firearms Act is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a minimum sentence of ten years or five years imprisonment depending on the provision(s) breached.”

ASCAB, however, said security forces have contravened the law and rather allowed herders to bear arms and deploy same to commit all manners of criminal offences including criminal trespass, culpable homicide, abduction and rape.

The group emphasised that the ECOWAS Free Movement Protocol does not permit the uncontrolled influx of armed herders and bandits into Nigeria.

“Contrary to the Federal Government’s claim, the bane of Nigeria’s problem is the ostensive lack of enforcement of extant laws. It is the height of dereliction of duty to allow ‘foreign criminal herdsmen and bandits’ to invade farmlands,  destroy livelihoods, kidnap, maim and kill citizens unchecked while also crippling the country’s fragile economy. 

“Instead of blaming the ECOWAS Free Movement Protocol, the Federal Government should prohibit the movement of cattle and herders into the country pursuant to section 20 of the Act of the Animal Disease Act.”

The group also urged the Nigerian government to direct immigration officials to prevent armed herders from entering the country while the police should be allowed to arrest and prosecute herders caught with arms without licences. 

ASCAB also said state governments should invoke the provisions of the relevant laws to curb the menace of attacks by local and foreign bandits and armed herders. 

It added: “Since the Federal Government and the state governments have embraced ranching, the Commissioners of agriculture or the appropriate authorities in each of the States of the Federation should issue regulations, ban open grazing and movement of cattle in line with the provisions of Animal Laws, Animal Disease Laws, Forestry Laws etc.”

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