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Prof. Wole Soyinka is eminently qualified to co-chair the Lagos @50 anniversary committee, By Femi Falana SAN

By News Express on 13/04/2016

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Professor Wole Soyinka’s parents were from Ogun state. His father hailed from Isara, an Ijebu community while his mother was an Egba woman. Even though ours is a patriarchal society, the Nobel Laureate has always described himself as “Ijegba”, a word coined by him from his Ijebu and Egba roots. But the Ijegba man has lived in Lagos and made it a home like many Nigerians and foreigners alike. As a young lecturer he began his teaching career at the University of Lagos. On account of his involvement in the struggle for social justice he has read poems and delivered speeches in Lagos to arouse the Nigerian people to fight tyranny and oppression. He has also led protests on the streets of Lagos against the dictatorial tendencies and excesses of the civilian and military wings of the ruling class.

To stop the carnage on our poorly maintained roads he inspired a group of road safety corps of volunteers to manage a chaotic traffic situation in the 70s. The federal government bought the concept and set up the federal road safety commission. In adopting the concept the Bola Tinubu administration established the Lagos State Transport Management Agency (LASTMA). But for the strident opposition of a group of artists led by Professor Soyinka against the privatisation of the National Theatre at Orile Iganmu in Lagos the edifice would have been sold to a business tycoon who might have converted the historical monument to a shopping mall!

Several years ago, the Lagos state had rightly acquired the site of the colonial prison along Broad street in Lagos for a public purpose. As the government was thinking of what to do with the site it was Professor Soyinka who convinced the Babatunde Fashola administration to turn it into a centre for the promotion of arts and culture. The beautiful arts theatre erected by the state at the site is now known as the Freedom Park. The theatre which is patronised by local and foreign artists has become a popular entertainment centre in Lagos state. In spite of his very busy schedules Professor Soyinka superintends the management of the theatre.

Having regard to his contribution to the development of Lagos state the appointment of Professor Soyinka as a co-chair of the 50th anniversary committee of the creation of the state by Governor Akin Ambode was hailed in many circles. However, it has not gone down well with the members of the “Eko Foundation” who have said that the temporary appointment ought to have been allocated to an indigene of Lagos state. Incidentally, the press release issued by the group was jointly signed by two senior lawyers-Professor Wole Smith SAN and Kunle Uthman. While appreciating the primordial sentiments raised by the group in the context of the country’s politics of exclusion it is pertinent to examine the legal validity of the appointment.

Since the people of Nigeria are entitled to residency rights the discriminatory treatment meted out to non-indigenes and settlers in many parts of the federation cannot be justified in law. In Lafia Local Government v. The Executive Governor, Nasarawa State & Ors (2012) 17 NWLR (PT 1328) 94, the Court of Appeal struck down a policy of the Nasarawa State Government which required all local government staff to serve in their local governments of origin. According to their lordships,“The Nigeria democratic constitution in its language exhibits how much value it places on the worth of each and every one of its citizens. It does not and will not condone indeed (will) not tolerate class or ethnic, etc discrimination whether by any law of the land or way action on the part of any executive or administrative authority or person or the state sharing advantages and even advantages based on sex, race, place of origin, ethnic, religious or political affiliation”. 

On further appeal to the Supreme Court Rhodes Vivour JSC said that the policy was “discriminatory and unconstitutional and clearly offends the provisions of section 41 (1) which guarantees freedom of movement and section 42 (1) which guarantees the freedom from discrimination. It is contrary to the spirit and intendment of relevant sections of the Constitution”.  In his contribution to the judgment Fabiyi JSC also stated that “the policy infringed and/or eroded the constitutional rights of the 3rd-36threspondents relating to discrimination, ethnicity and place of origin syndrome. That should not be the position in a democratic setting guided by fundamental human rights as duly imbued by the Omnipotent”. 

The misleading understanding of the concept of indigene has led to violent communal clashes among many people in the various parts of the country. Whereas the word “indigene” means a native or a person born in a particular place or an inhabitant it has political and legal connotations in Nigeria. Under the Federal Character Commission Act, an indigene of a State is said to be “a person who is an indigene of one of the local governments in that State, provided that no person shall lay claim to more than one State or to a State and Federal Capital Territory”  while an indigene of a local government is a “person either of whose parents was or any of his grandparents was or is an indigene of the local government concerned or accepted as an indigene by the local government, provided that no person shall lay claim to more than one local government”.

It is submitted that the authorities of local governments are under a legal obligation to accept as an indigene every person who decides to live in any community other than their place of origin. In other words, Nigerians citizens who have chosen to reside outside their states or local governments of origin are entitled to be fully assimilated into the way of life of their place of residence. In Director-General, State Security Service v. Olisa Agbakoba 1999) 3 NWLR (PT 595) 314, the Supreme Court upheld the right of Nigerian citizens to reside in any part of the country when it held that “It is not in dispute that the Constitution gives the Nigerian citizen the right to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof.”  

In view of the clear provisions of Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution it is submitted that discrimination meted out to a Nigerian citizen on the basis of ethnicity or place of origin is unconstitutional. In order to end the dichotomy of indigenes and settlers in the country, not a few people have suggested that the rights of an indigene be conferred on any settler who has resided in any community in Nigeria for a period of not less than 10 years. The suggestion flies in the face of sections 41, 42 and 43 of the Constitution which have guaranteed the fundamental rights of every Nigerian citizen to move freely throughout Nigeria, reside, own and acquire property in any part thereof and not to be subjected to disabilities or restrictions on account of their ethnic group or place of origin.

By way of digression, permit me to recall an interesting experience. I was in Nairobi, Kenya to attend an international human rights conference in 2008 when Mr. Barrack Obama had just been elected as the President of the United States of America. Since his father was a Kenyan, Obama’s election was celebrated all over the country. Even the the Kibaki regime which had annulled the result of the presidential election in the country declared a national holiday to celebrate Obama’s election. In the course of reviewing the American election I was compelled to ask some of my Kenyan friends if Barrack Obama could have won a presidential election if he had contested in Kenya. The friends were unanimous in saying that it would have been impossible since his father was of the Luo tribe, a minority ethnic group in Kenya.

Regrettably, the political class in each of the African countries has failed to draw any lesson from Obama’s election. Hence, African politicians have continued to campaign and woo voters on the basis of ethnicity and religion to the detriment of development. As a centre of excellence Lagos cannot continue to live in the past. Because of its cosmopolitan nature Lagos cannot afford to play the politics of exclusion. To that extent the appointment of Professor Wole Soyinka as a co-chair of the 50th anniversary committee cannot be said to be anomalous in any material particular.

•Photo shows Prof. Soyinka.

Source News Express

Posted 13/04/2016 8:37:02 PM


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