By Dele Sobowale
Decency, security and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy – US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, 1856-1941.
Justice Brandeis was the first Jew to sit on the US Supreme Court after decades of discrimination by anti-Semitic whites in an America where the Founding Fathers hypocritically pronounced that “all men are created equal”. Brandeis remains one of the most widely quoted justices anywhere in the world – ranking with Felix Frankfurter, 1882-1965. He provides the basis for the request to President Buhari to bow to the rule of law and release the three individuals on the bails granted them by various courts. Rumours have it that the President is acting on the advice of the Directorate of State Services, DSS. But, in no democracy, worthy of being so called, can the security agencies have the power to overrule a court of law. The Nigerian constitution has not established the DSS or the Presidency as a court of last resort to determine the fate of individuals charged with any offence whatsoever. So, bowing to the alleged dictates of the DSS is a violation of the rule of law and Buhari is setting the sort of bad example which Brandeis cautions governments and their leaders against.
A situation like this invariably calls for more background information before examining the issues pertaining to the three individuals concerned. Much earlier than Brandeis in the US Supreme Court, and before the world was led by Presidents and Prime Ministers, kings and queens reigned wielding absolute powers over the lives of the citizens. That changed with time. The details of the Magna Charta, which in 13th century Britain, brought an end to the “divine rights of kings” brought an end to the maximum power of kings and queens.
“The king himself ought not to be subject to man [or men and women], but, subject to God and to the law, because the law makes him king.” Bractor, English philosopher, 13th century. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p 120).
Buhari is President, not only because people voted, but, because there is a constitution and a set of laws which led to his proclamation as President. Former President Goodluck Jonathan, God bless him, bowed out gracefully because the same constitution and set of laws say he must. He did not decide to pick and choose which laws to obey; he probably never even asked his National Security Adviser, NSA, or the Director of DSS. He subjected himself to God and the law. Had he not, it is quite possible we would be engaged in a civil war now. The truth is, there are some decisions that are private and personal and not subject to the opinions of advisers. Most top officials are self-seeking; they want power and would not allow ethical or legal considerations from getting in the way of their ambitions.
At any rate, on May 29, 2015, it was “I Buhari” alone who took the oath of office. He sought no advice from anyone about agreeing to the terms of holding office. The constitution does not recognise the role of the DSS in whether or not the President will obey the law as laid down by the courts. So, it amounts to passing the buck to point to “security advice” as reason to break the law. During the Watergate case which resulted in the resignation of President Nixon from office, the charge of “Executive lawlessness” was personal to Nixon – not shared with any one else. The President, like any Chief Executive Officer, CEO, takes responsibility for any advice that is offered and implemented by him.
“A precedent embalms a principle.” William Scott, 1745-1816. (VBQ p 198).
Politicians are invariably short-sighted. They think only of the next election. Statesmen are more visionary. Nigeria is in a mess because we have a huge surplus of politicians and no statesman in sight. They establish precedents by their actions which will later boomerang against them. Three examples will prove the point – the 1976 decree promulgated by Obasanjo, defection by elected officials and Federal allocation withheld from a state. The eternally self-righteous but seemingly unwise former President was involved in all three and we have all lived to see the boomerang.
The decree General Obasanjo signed in 1976 aimed at nailing Gowon but which got only Dimka and Bissala was later slightly amended by Abacha and it would have sent Obasanjo to the firing squad if the entire world had not begged for his life. In 2001, late Senator Wahab Dosumu became the first member of the newly-elected Senate to defect from the Alliance for Democracy, AD, to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, without resigning first and seeking a fresh mandate from the people of Lagos State who elected him. Instead of acting like the Father of the Nation and asking Dosumu to go and do the right thing, Obasanjo joined others in welcoming him with open arms. He had since been joined by others. When Vice President, Atiku, deputy to Obasanjo decamped to the Action Congress in 2007, without resigning and still kept his post of VP, it was another example of how immoral and illegal precedents might come to haunt those who promote them.
Third, it was the same Obasanjo who withheld Federal allocations to Lagos State despite Supreme Court order. The PDP applauded the action. Why is Governor Fayose, PDP, of Ekiti State, is now complaining that the Federal government is withholding N1 billion from the state? A stupid father will sooner or later get his children into trouble by the precedents he sets. The point of all these is to issue a warning to President Buhari about establishing precedents regarding executive lawlessness. You never know who might be the victim of the boomerang.
Let us now turn our attention to the three Nigerians who are now being detained by the government despite court approved bail. The last two are the easiest to deal with. So, we start with Kanu.
“Let my people go” is a demand that had been made, since the dawn of history, by those who in any country or community have felt they were unjustly treated by others. The most famous was the rebellion by the descendants of Abraham against their Egyptian overlords with Moses leading them. Since the Second World War ended, India after gaining independence broke up into India and Pakistan and later East Pakistan went its way and became Bangladesh. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR, broke up under President Gorbachev into fourteen separate countries. The skies did not fall.
Nigeria today was not the same Nigeria the British amalgamated in 1914. The original Nigeria included Southern Cameroun. But, on account of incessant agitation by the people to rejoin their kit and kin in the North, a plebiscite was organized. The people were allowed to vote to decide whether to remain in Nigeria or go. They elected to go. Again the sky did not fall.
Right now, in California, USA, signatures are being gathered by people who want the State to get out of the United States and become a separate country. That might happen if they collect enough votes. It might also trigger similar demands by other states. So, it is quite possible that by the end of the century the USA will have less than forty-five states constituting it. There is no need to list all the examples of nations that had been established for a while and had split up to form new nations.
The truth is that the right to self-determination is one that people have always claimed down the ages and will continue to assert despite the usual opposition of those in government to it. Agitators for the creation of Biafra are doing nothing different than all the others in the past and present. At any rate their demand for autonomy is among the rights covered by the United Nations and other international bodies where Nigeria is a member. To deny people within our borders rights we uphold in the UN places us among lawless and hypocritical nations which operate on the principle of might is right. It shouldn’t be.
Buhari is not the first President or Head of State to assert that the “unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable”. From Gowon’s “to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done” to the present policy of officially authorized massacre of protesters in the South East, Nigerian governments had adopted force as the instrument for resolving an issue which elsewhere had been settled without any head being broken – talk less of somebody dying.
Lest anybody reading this should assume that the support for peaceful resolution and the rights of Biafra people is new, let me quickly point out that when President Obasanjo made the same claim about the indivisibility of Nigeria, I reminded him that neither his father, nor my father, both born before 1900 were born Nigerians. They became Nigerians because Lord Lugard and his girl friend said so.
To be continued
The poser to all of us is this: if an imperialist could tag us Nigerians without our consent, why can’t we freely re-examine the situation and determine whether or not we still want to remain together as Nigerians.
The bloodless way to approach this matter is the referendum giving all the parties the right to decide their fates. Instead of killing innocent Igbos, we should organise a peaceful referendum for all Igbos old enough to vote. We should let them decide if they really want to leave the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Those for and those against should be allowed to campaign freely and there should be none of the tricks we play in other elections. At any rate, this is not a party affair.
But, first the Federal Government should eschew executive lawlessness in this matter. Mr Kanu had been arrested and charged to court. To be quite candid I don’t know what for? If Kanu is a criminal, so were people like Pa Michael Imoudu, the Labor leader who used the weapon of national strike to promote the demand for our independence. So was Musa or Moses who we adore for leading the revolt against constituted authority. Perhaps, it has never occurred to us that nobody rebels against any authority based on justice and fairness. Agitators for Biafra have a solid point. The rest of us have not fully accepted them as equals when political leadership is at stake. The failure of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to field Dr Alex Ekwueme, the leading candidate and the substitution of Obasanjo by the military robbed the nation of a golden chance to actually prove “no victor, no vanquished”. We are paying for it.
Finally, the FG will lose at last. You can’t kill ideas with guns. Another Kanu will rise until we face the truth and let justice reign. The fellow might be an irritant to some, but, that is democracy for you. Holding him is worse and will go down in history as one of the rapes of our democracy.