A Lagos-based human rights lawyer, Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, tells FEMI MAKINDE that the destruction of 30-truckload of beer bottles by the Sharia police, Hisbah, in Kano State is hypocritical and a show of illegality by the State government
The Nigerian constitution does not prohibit the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages but Hisbah, an agency of Kano State Government, recently seized and destroyed about 30-truckload of beer bottles. Is this action lawful?
Section 10 of the constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria states that no state shall adopt any religion as its official religion. What that provision of the constitution means is that Nigeria is a secular state and all religion adherents should be allowed to thrive and cohabit with one another. Nigeria is a country that tolerates Muslims, Christians, herbalists, pagans and even free thinkers, who don’t want to worship anything. As long as Kano State is one of the states operating in Nigeria and bound by that constitution, the government of Kano State cannot enforce a particular religion or religious doctrine. So, the destruction of 30-truckload of beer bottles by the Kano State Government for the purpose of enforcing Sharia Law or Islamic religion is totally unconstitutional. It is illegal and it constitutes a direct usurpation and infringement of the rights of people who live in Kano State that want to consume beer and whose religions are not against consumption of beer or other alcoholic beverages.
Why do you think the state government went ahead to destroy the beer?
The reason is that the action of the Kano State Government is purely hypocritical. It is hypocritical in the sense that it is the destruction in the public that is being enforced. Surely, those who are destroying the bottles have beer and other alcoholic drinks in their private fridges and stores in their various homes. The second hypocrisy is this: by the estimation of Nigeria and NAFDAC, Kano State accounts for the highest consumption of tramadol in all the states of Nigeria. You know that presently, tramadol has been banned and it is a substance consumed especially by the youths engaged in violence and other criminal activities. Kano State also records a high rate of homosexuality in the country presently. In the light of these, why isolate alcohol as an offence against the religion that is being preached. I believe the Federal Government has a responsibility to enforce the constitution and prevail on all states; not just Kano, but all states that seem to be intolerant of other religions and make sure that Section 10 of the constitution is enforced.
Should Kano State benefit from the Value Added Tax generated from the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages?
That is another hypocrisy, and I was coming to that. Kano State benefits from VAT. It is one of the states collecting the highest shares from VAT. The Value Added Tax is a revenue generated from the consumption of beer; sales tax generated by the Federal Government and it is remitted and shared to all states including Kano State. So, if you want to destroy beer, then, you should not collect revenue generated from the production, sales and consumption of beer and other alcoholic drinks. It is purely hypocrisy to be taking the proceeds from beer. I personally do not support consumption of alcohol but that is my own personal decision. It cannot be enforced on others who have nothing against it, whether in their religions or their own personal lives. We have about 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria and all live in Kano. So, enforcing the doctrine of a particular religion on other people is totally condemnable.
Are you saying the companies whose beer bottles were destroyed will get justice against the Kano State Government if the matter is taken to court?
It is not that they will just get justice, there is a precedent. Recently, a Federal High Court in Abuja, in a judgement delivered by Justice John Tsoho, nullified a similar law by the same Kano State Government. So, the government is acting illegally and unconstitutionally and the companies or individuals, who are affected by this excessive show of illegality, can approach the court to enforce their rights. I have no doubt that the court will strike down this action and indeed restrain any government, not just Kano State Government, from proceeding in this illegality and unconstitutionality.
Our law is clear. Section 1 says any law that is contrary to the constitution is illegal, null and void. I have no doubt that the court will uphold the rights of the people in Kano State, which are being trampled upon.
Why do you think some states are bent on implementing the Sharia law despite what you have said about its illegality in the country?
It is purely political. It is not being implemented in the interest of the people of Kano State or other states where it is being implemented. The population of Kano State includes Christians, pagans, herbalists, free thinkers and Muslims. Even among the Muslims in this country, there are different doctrines propagated by the Shiites and other people. Surely, these excesses by the Kano State Government are to gather popularity as the election is approaching. It has nothing to do with the enforcement of the religion of Islam when you look at it very well. It is doctrinal extremism that is meant to garner support for the governor as the election is approaching. It is to show that the government is pro-Islam so that the majority will support the governor. It is about political advantage by the ruling government. The government seems to be losing popularity with all that is happening regarding the video that was shown where the governor allegedly collected bribes. Every time election is coming, a government that is unpopular will look for a means of gaining popularity. That was what this action was meant to achieve. It is not about propagating the true tenets of Islam.
Do you think the anti-corruption agencies are handling this issue of alleged bribery against the governor well?
I think that generally, the policy of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which is the agency saddled with enforcing the anti-corruption law, is that there must be a petitioner and I think so far, the agency said it had not received any petition in this respect. Even if the EFCC receives a petition, by the judgment of a Kano State High Court, it is difficult for anybody to prosecute in relation to this obvious bribery by the governor. But I think we are worried in this country. We are worried in the sense that if the major policy of this present government is anti-corruption, then there should have been a form of investigation even if the governor has immunity. By the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Chief Gani Fawehinmi against the police, the law is that you can gather your evidence; you can investigate a sitting governor for the purpose of prosecuting him when he leaves office. So, I don’t think it is proper for the EFCC to just throw its hands up and not take any step. Even if there is no petition, I think it should be able to use the video tapes, gather information, get statements and preserve them to prosecute the governor after he might have lost election or at the expiration of his second term as the case may be. It can always proceed against him. In our law, the idea of immunity does not cover criminal prosecution.