At the weekend, I got into a very lengthy conversation with my younger brother currently based abroad and who left Nigeria when his life became endangered by open threats made by some Islamists responsible for the spate of violent attacks targeting largely Christian communities in the North of Nigeria.
Our conversations centred around the deteriorated security situations not just in Nigeria but in a lot of regional neighbouring communities making up the West African nations otherwise known as Economic Community of West African states.
There is also no doubt that Nigeria is the epicentre of the expanding frontiers of Islamic terrorism.
But what really triggered these mutual but frank dialogue was the emergence on Sunday noon of the erstwhile vice president Alhaji Abubakar Atiku as the official flag bearer of the largest opposition political party in the sub-Saharan African region – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Other notable Nigerians who are flying the Presidential flags of some of the newly registered political parties include the former Vice President of the World's Bank and erstwhile Education minister Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili; former Deputy Governor of the Central bank of Nigeria and a Professor of Economics in a US based University Dr. Kingsley Moghalu and the former governor of Cross Rivets State Mr. Donald Duke.
Emeka, my very brilliant younger sibling is a philosopher by academic qualification and an illustrious human rights practitioner.
He is one of the intellectuals backing and participating actively and constructively in the agitations for self-determination in Nigeria of the Igbo nationality as coordinated by a completely peace loving and unarmed group of human rights activists – Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). In addition to threats of death from government agents involved in the enforced disappearances of reputable opponents of the political status quo in Nigeria, Nigeria has become polarized alongside Ethno religious faultlines.
This highly cerebral philosopher brother of mine was basically concerned about the re-emergence as president for the second tenure of one of Nigeria’s most divisive and bigoted political leaders- the retired Army General Muhammadu Buhari in the year 2019 general elections. Put differently, Emeka asked to know the post-2019 human right agenda of the President who would emerge if a transparent election is conducted.
His question is how the Nigerian people can basically safeguard the sanctity of the forthcoming election given the notoriety displayed by the central electoral governing and management council known in law as the Independent National Electoral Commission.
His anxiety about the lack of credibility of the current head of the independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is also shared by millions of Nigerians who watched with considerable trepidation as the electoral umpire rigged the recently held Osun state governorship poll.
Two United States senators, Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have raised concerns about the credibility of elections in Nigeria following allegations of political interference in the latest governorship polls.
Coons and Booker said in a joint statement that though the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had been commended by observers for its conduct of the recent polls, concerns remained about the prospects of free and fair elections in the country.
The statement read, “As members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, we are troubled by reports of incidents of political interference and intimidation of voters, journalists, and civil society observers in Nigeria by some security agencies and political party supporters. Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and a key U.S. partner on the continent.
“While domestic and international election observers have credited electoral authorities for their administration of elections thus far, we are concerned about the prospects for a free, fair and credible democratic process in Nigeria in light of recent interference by government security forces on peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, as well as ongoing security threats and communal tensions in several regions of the country.
“General elections in February 2019 will be an important step for Nigeria to consolidate democratic gains achieved in the last two decades since the transition from military to civilian democratic rule. We are watching the parties’ primaries with interest, and we call on party leaders, electoral authorities, security officials, and all Nigerians to respect the political process and safeguard free, fair, credible, and peaceful elections that reflect the will of the people.”
Recall that Governorship elections were held on September 22 in Osun State and won by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) after initially being declared inconclusive by INEC after PDP led.
After the voting on September 22, the candidate of the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Ademola Adeleke, had won the majority of votes. He was followed by the APC candidate, Gboyega Oyetola. But INEC declared the election inconclusive and conducted a rerun on September 27. After adding up the votes, Oyetola was declared winner by INEC. The failure to declare PDP the winner is extra-constitutional because the constitution says simple majority is the deciding factor for electoral victory in that category.
INEC had also awarded the APC victory also in an earlier controversial governorship poll in Ekiti State on July14. In both elections, PDP and other opposition elements alleged foul play and interference by the ruling APC.
The worries expressed by these two United States' parliamentarians cuts across the feelings of millions of Nigerians who have similar sentiments that there is no assurance that the electoral panel will be transparent and ready to conduct a free, fair, peaceful and transparent general election come 2019.
As observed by these Americans, the interferences into the election come majorly from the security forces.
The apprehensions that the current heads of the internal security team will compromise the election finds supports in the fact that almost all the current heads of the different armed security institutions owed their unmerited retention to the current president who is desperate for a second tenure.
There is therefore the imperative demand that the fuller intents of section 158 (1) of the constitution is respected which means that whatever measures that are needed to be enforced to guarantee the independence of the electoral commission should be put in place.
Whereas the fundamental concern of my younger brother was on who is best suited to restore national stability and the security of lives and property of Nigerians, it is as clear as the early morning sunrise that the president Muhammadu Buhari – led administration has failed in the discharge of the primary duty of government.
The primary duty of government as enshrined in section 14 (2) (b) of the constitution is as follows: “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”
It is a fact that hundreds-of-thousands of Nigerians have left the shores of Nigerian since the emergence of the current government just as those who had earlier left due to security threats have found concrete, genuine, verifiable reasons to remain where they are or risks their lives by returning at this material time.
In Benue state alone, more than 1,500 persons have been killed in the last three years due to the bloody insurgency of armed Fulani herdsmen who enjoy the protection of the current administration. Plateau state has been in turmoil due largely to the violent insurgency of armed Fulani herdsmen. Southern Kaduna and Nasarawa neighbouring Abuja has had their shares of these murderous and targeted killings of Christians.
Both in words and action, key functionaries of the current government have clearly backed the activities of the armed Fulani gangsters.
The minister of Defence was quoted as blaming the anti-open grazing laws in Benue state for the bloody attacks by Fulani herdsmen.
Dan-Ali the Fulani born minister of Defence had told state house reporters that the blockage of cattle routes across the country is the remote cause of the killings by herdsmen.
“Whatever crisis that happens at any time, there are remote and immediate causes. Look at this issue (killings in Benue and Taraba) what is the remote cause of the farmers’ crisis? Since the nation’s independence, we know there used to be a route whereby the cattle rearers take because they are all over the nation. If you go to Bayelsa or Ogun, you will see them. If those routes are blocked, what do you expect will happen? These people are Nigerians. It is just like one going to block the shoreline; does that make sense to you? But the immediate cause is the grazing law.”
Mansur Dan-Ali, in the aforementioned thoughtless statement, has demonstrated the callous insensitivity of the Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to the violence unleashed on Nigerians by armed Fulani herdsmen.
This also shows why the major organization backing the Fulani herdsmen known as Miyetti Allah cattle owners Association, has yet to be declared a terrorist group even when they back the killings.
I agree with my younger sibling that restoring national security is the most fundamental human right agendum of any serious candidate running for the office of the Nigerian presidency come February 2019.
Another salient human rights challenge for the presidential candidate is the need to tell Nigerians clearly in a written form backed up by the court’s affidavits, to abide by the tenets of the constitution.
This has become tangential in this campaign given that the current president has failed to respect section 14 (3) and section 6 of the constitution in both his strategic appointments and also has disrespected several binding orders of the courts of competent jurisdiction.
Section 14 (3) say that: “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few State or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.”
But section 6 states that: “(1) the judicial powers of the Federation shall be vested in the courts to which this section relates, being courts established for the Federation. (2) The judicial powers of a State shall be vested in the courts to which this section relates, being courts established, subject as provided by this Constitution, for a State. (3) The courts to which this section relates, established by this Constitution for the Federation and for the States, specified in subsection (5) (a) to (1) of this section, shall be the only superior courts of record in Nigeria; and save as otherwise prescribed by the National Assembly or by the House of Assembly of a State, each court shall have all the powers of a superior court of record. (4) Nothing in the foregoing provisions of this section shall be construed as precluding: - (a) the National Assembly or any House of Assembly from establishing courts, other than those to which this section relates, with subordinate jurisdiction to that of a High Court; (b) the National Assembly or any House of Assembly, which does not require it, from abolishing any court which it has power to establish or which it has brought into being. (5) This section relates to:- (a) the Supreme Court of Nigeria; (b) the Court of Appeal; (c) the Federal High Court; (d) the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; (e) a High Court of a State (f) the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; (g) a Sharia Court of Appeal of a State; (h) the Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; (i) a Customary Court of Appeal of a State; (j) such other courts as may be authorized by law to exercise jurisdiction on matters with respect to which the National Assembly may make laws; and (k) such other court as may be authorized by law to exercise jurisdiction at first instance or on appeal on matters with respect to which a House of Assembly may make laws. (6) The judicial powers vested in accordance with the foregoing provisions of this section - (a) shall extend, notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this constitution, to all inherent powers and sanctions of a court of law (b) shall extend, to all matters between persons, or between government or authority and to any persons in Nigeria, and to all actions and proceedings relating thereto, for the determination of any question as to the civil rights and obligations of that person; (c) shall not except as otherwise provided by this Constitution, extend to any issue or question as to whether any act of omission by any authority or person or as to whether any law or any judicial decision is in conformity with the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy set out in Chapter II of this Constitution; (d) shall not, as from the date when this section comes into force, extend to any action or proceedings relating to any existing law made on or after 15th January, 1966 for determining any issue or question as to the competence of any authority or person to make any such law.”
In a lecture at the 2007 All Nigeria Judges Conference titled: “Towards Strengthening Judicial Integrity: The Nigerian Experience”. Justice Dahiru Musdaher JSC, CON stated thus: “In order to safeguard the rights of the citizenry; promote accountability, transparency and other essential virtues of a decent and just society; to ensure the subsistence of a functional state under the Rule of Law; it is necessary to promote, strengthen and protect the integrity of our judicial system as well as the integrity of the individual adjudicator that is charged with the onerous responsibility of the dispensation of justices.”
“The judiciary is the arm of government that is responsible for the determination of the rights of the citizenry; amongst themselves and between them and the state. In your words of wisdom you affirmed that the judiciary is saddled with the constitutional responsibility of providing essential checks on the executive arm by reviewing its actions to determine whether or not they are in line with the standards established by the constitution.
Niki Tobi is one of the finest justices to have sat at the bench of the highest court in the land.
In a paper titled: “Obedience to court orders and judgments: A panacea for sustainable democracy” delivered at the 2007 all Nigerian judges conference, he stated that: “The judicial powers constitutionally vested in our courts include all the inherent powers and sanctions of courts of law. This involves the power to regulate its proceedings, punish for contempt and regulate the exercise of its discretion. The court in the regulation of its proceedings, protection of its dignity and the effective administration of impartial justice is entitled to and indeed oblige to say that it will not allow a process issuing out of the court to be treated with indifference, levity and disdain”.
“The common law rule precluding persons in disobedience of the orders of court against them from being heard in respect of the matter which they stand in disobedience permits of an exception where the party in disobedience is challenging the validity of the order.”
“Disobedience to orders of court is fundamental to the good order, peace and stability of the nation. The ugly alternative is a painful recrudescence of triumph of brute force or anarchy – a resort to our old system of settlement by means of bows and arrows, machetes and guns or, now, even more sophisticated weapons of war. Disobedience to an order of court should, therefore, be seen as an offence directed not against the personality of the judge who made the order, but as a calculated act of subversion of peace, law and order in the society. Obedience to every order of court is therefore a duty which every citizen who believes in peace and stability of the nation owes it.”
These two items namely abiding by the Constitution and restoring national security in line with the principle of rule of law are central to the human right blueprints that voters should ask their Presidential candidates to swear to oaths of court through affidavits to comply with or be sanctioned for breach of the social contract agreements.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head, HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and blogs @ www.emmanuelonwubiko.com; www.huriwanigeria.com; [email protected]