Posted by News Express | 27 September 2017 | 1,677 times
The hallmark of a constitutional democracy is the obedience by government officials to the supremacy of the law.
In a constitutional democracy, such as we claim to be practising in Nigeria, the constitutional powers holistically are not domiciled in a single arm of government. Powers, responsibilities, functions and duties are assigned to the three arms of government - the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary - in such a way as to serve as checks and balances on each other, so that harmonious functioning of the country is properly safeguarded.
In the Nigerian constitution, especially in chapter one, from sections 4 to 6, each of these aforementioned arms of government is assigned its powers.
It, therefore, follows that any attempt or attempted attempts by any of the three arms of government to muzzle each other or to assume the power that the Constitution did not assign to that arm of government is tantamount to rascality, illegality and, therefore if unchecked, the country is irretrievably tilted towards the institutionalisation of impunity.
For instance, the court of law has the judicial powers of the federation, and if any of the other arms of government overtly or covertly clothe itself with the sole function of picking and choosing which of the judicial decisions to obey, it can then be concluded that anarchy has been let loose.
Niki Tobi, a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, as he then was, meticulously pointed all of the above out in his wonderfully researched piece entitled: “Obedience to Court Orders and Judgment: A Panacea for Sustainable Democracy.”
His words: “Obedience, the willingness to do what one is told to do, is good human conduct. It is virtue found in any decent humble human being. The opposite of obedience is disobedience. It is the failure or refusal to obey what one is told to do.”
Disobedience, according to Niki Tobi is generally bad human conduct, which lacks virtue. In the context of orders and judgments of courts, obedience is good and disobedience is totally and completely bad, so he argued strongly with rational and empirical evidences to support his affirmation.
Justice Tobi said court orders and judgments are meant to be obeyed, and must be obeyed by the parties.
“It is the presumption that parties who enter into litigation must obey the outcome of the litigation, by way of orders and judgments.”
That presumption, he submits, is irrefutable in a democracy.
“In other words, parties cannot contract out of court orders and judgments. They are bound to obey them, whether they are given in their favour or not,” he averred, adding:
“A party who fails or refuses to obey court orders and judgments does not only show disrespect to the court, but by his conduct, shows disregard to the Constitution of the land, the fons et origo of the legal system, and the laws of the land.”
Tobi asserted that no one is above the law: “Be he an individual or corporate body, disobedience of court orders and judgments is inimical to democracy. This is because by the conduct of disobedience, the party has brutalised not only the rule of law – the life-blood of democracy - but also the tenets of justice and fair play, in any legal system.
“Above all, it is the most uncivilised and uncouth conduct. While individual disobedience of court orders and judgments is serious, corporate disobedience is not only serious but heinous and devastating. One example of corporate dissidence of court orders and judgments is government.”
My Lord, Justice Tobi’s submission logically leads us to the subject matter of our essay herein, which is the role played so far by select government officials in the executive arm of government on a subsisting matter between Mr Nnamdi Kanu of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government of Nigeria.
In the last 78 hours (when the article was being crafted), many issues have cropped up with dizzying and frightening speed on the matter, even as certain illegal pronouncements and actions have been activated by key players in government, including the Nigerian military.
Sadly, the South-east governors, whose poor performances occasioned heightened agitations for self-determination by millions of citizens of South-East of Nigeria, have joined the bandwagon of illegality by assuming a legal authority that the Constitution or, indeed, any statutory provision does not bestow on them. You can’t give what you don’t have. In Latin, that is what we know as: Nomen dat quod non habet. These misconducts and illegal pronouncements of these officials of government can be termed as cocktails of recklessness and illegality, just as one of those actions adopted, which is deployment of soldiers to South-east of Nigeria, to brutalise members of IPOB, has occasioned many avoidable deaths of innocent people.
Before dwelling on the matter of Nanmdi Kanu, it is regrettable to observe that this same government at the centre is in total violation of the kernel of justice and the principle of rule of law in the fundamental human right procedures successfully initiated and won by the duo of Colonel Sambo Dasuki (retd), erstwhile National Security Adviser and Sheikh El-Zakyzaky of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, otherwise known as Shiites.
Dasuki and El-Zakzaky won many Federal High Court and ECOWAS Court’s bail orders, but the Federal Government blatantly refused to obey.
Officials of the Federal Government, such as the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who is said to be a lawyer, was quoted in the media as defending this flagrant violation of the binding orders of the court on the nebulous ground of national security; and in the case of El-Zakzaky, the minister said he was being detained for his own interest.
The government has transferred this glaring behaviour of lawlessness and rascality to the issue affecting the Indigenous People of Biafra and its director, Nnamdi Kanu. Kanu has in the last few weeks been on bail of the Federal High Court, Abuja on some conditions. He had earlier spent two years in prison awaiting trial.
The Federal Government, which is the prosecutor in the matter felt aggrieved that the defendant, Mr Kanu, was allegedly breaching the conditions for his bail. The Justice Minister headed to the same court to pray for the revocation of the bail, which remains under the full discretionary power of the judge.
The courts have just resumed from vacation, but the resumption of hearing in the matter between Nnamdi Kanu and central government controlled by President Muhammadu Buhari is fixed for some time in October. However, to the consternation of rational beings, some lawless officials of government have refused to exercise decorum and respect for the Constitution by embarking on self-help measures against Mr Kanu, including the illegal pronouncement of IPOB by the Defence Headquarters as a terrorist group.
The extant anti-terror law does not empower the Defence Headquarters to make such a decision without a valid declaration by a competent court, based on a complaint officially filed by the Federal Attorney General (which came after the proscription and public condemnation).
This illegal declaration of IPOB as a terrorist organisation, as made by the military came on the same day the Nigeria Army, without any clear authorisation of the competent court, forcefully invaded the premises of Nnamdi Kanu, who is validly enjoying his bail granted by a competent court in a matter instituted by the central government. Unfortunately, in the course of attempting to use military might to invade the premises of Kanu in Afara-Ukwu, Umuahia, in Abia State, many unarmed members of IPOB were gunned to death. Kanu and his father had earlier raised alarm of a plot by the Federal Government to kill Nnamdi Kanu before the next court’s date.
These cocktails of illegality and rascality with reckless abandon has even got messier by the illegal proscription of the IPOB by South-east governors, under a platform called Forum of South-east Governors, which is unknown to any legal entity.
How, on earth, can a non-existing body make pronouncement about the life or death of a registered entity?
Recall that document reportedly tendered by IPOB before the Economic Community of West African States’ Court and the Federal High Court shows that IPOB is validly registered in many European jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom, whose common law Nigeria extensively borrowed.
Commencing the cocktails of illegality on IPOB was the Director, Defence Information, Maj-Gen John Enenche who, in a statement, last Friday stated: “Independent (instead of Indigenous)People of Biafra (IPOB) is henceforth a terrorist group.”
Enenche listed reasons for the declaration of IPOB as a terrorist group to include, the formation of a Biafra Secret Service, claimed formation of Biafra National Guard, unauthorised blocking of public access roads; extortion of money from innocent civilians at illegal road-blocks, and militant possession and use of weapons (stones, molotov cocktails, machetes, and broken bottles, among others) on a military patrol on September 10, 2017.
Hardly had the dusts raised by this strangely illegal pronouncement not supported by law had died down before another illegal proscription order by an unregistered ‘Forum of South-east Governors’ echoed from Enugu.
The chairman of the forum and Governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, had said the forum decided to proscribe the activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra, to stop the rising tension in the zone. Umahi, who briefed journalists in his office in Abakaliki, said the leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, was gradually losing control of the situation and his members, prompting the governors to wade in to prevent further bloodshed.
These cocktails of illegalities and governmental rascality at national and sub-national levels have received widespread condemnation by those who should know. Senate President, Bukola Saraki, announced that the declaration of IPOB as a terrorist group by the Nigerian Army is unconstitutional. The Senate president also noted that the proscription of IPOB by South-east governors is unlawful.
In a statement by Saraki, he urged all parties involved to allow peace reign, while he and the National Assembly begin a thorough investigation of the crises.
He said: “Following the clash between the military and members of the Indigenous People of Biafra, I hereby call for calm and restraint by all Nigerians so that we would all jointly find the right solution to the current problem, rather than worsening the crisis.
“Our brothers and sisters in the South-east, in particular, should continue to maintain peace and tranquility and go about their lawful business. This crisis will not benefit anybody, but would only expose innocent people to unwarranted danger. At this point, Nigerians outside the South-east, who have worked to ensure that the crisis does not spread to other parts of the country, deserve our commendation. I, therefore, call for continued efforts to sustain peace, unity and stability in all our communities so as to ensure that all residents, no matter their religion, tribe and creed remain protected and safe under the law.”
Saraki, while stating that the Army’s decision to declare IPOB a terrorist group did not follow due process, added that he is sure President Buhari will do the needful, by initiating the right process.
He said: “It is also important that commentators and purveyors of information on all media platforms should be conscious of the need, at all times, to maintain the unity of the country. Therefore, they must refrain from circulating information that has the potential for aggravating the crisis.
“We should all realise, as individuals and as a collective, that Nigeria is all we have and it is in our individual and collective interests that we do not stoke the fire of crisis and fan the ember of discord through the message we are spreading. We must all protect and strengthen our country, rather than contributing to her collapse and disintegration.
“I also wish to state that the announcement of the proscription of the group known as Indigenous People of Biafra by governors of the South-east states and the categorisation of the group as a “terrorist organization” by the Nigerian military are unconstitutional and does not follow due process. Our laws make clear provisions for taking such actions and, without the due process being followed, such declaration cannot have effect.
“I am sure the President will do the needful by initiating the right process. This will go a long way in demonstrating to the world at large that we are a country that operates by laid down process under every circumstance. So, those who have been hammering on this point should maintain their cool.”
The voice of reason as raised by the Senate president and most learned minds, that the Defence Headquarters and the South-east governors erred in law, by their pronouncement of IPOB as a terrorist organization, should serve as the stepping stone towards restoring respect for the rule of law by all governmental and non-governmental individuals. The Nigerian military is subordinated to civil authority and those who constitute the civil authority are elected by the people who gives them legitimacy and authority. It is, therefore, an act of rascality and illegality for the military to deploy crude and unconstitutional methods to quell any sort of disturbances, especially when in the case of IPOB, it is demonstrably clear that they don’t carry arms.
Any attempt to plant fake evidence to the contrary to justify the monumental crimes against humanity already committed by operatives doing the so-called Operation Python Dance 11, will not stand the test of time. How do you, an armed military invade a man's home shooting sporadically and killing, maiming many persons and, everyone fleeing to different directions, only for some stories to be planted in some propaganda-carrying newspapers to demonise the man, Nnamdi Kanu, whom you nearly killed?
•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). He can be reached via 08033327672 (sms only) or via email@example.com
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