The establishment of distinct symbols, like flags, coat of arms, and anthems, by some state governments in Nigeria has elicited comments and controversy as to their propriety and legality. Davidson Iriekpen examines the arguments
For some time now, there has been a cacophony over the shape and structure of Nigeria’s federalism. A recent addendum to this debate is the production flags, anthems and crests by states to define their independent identities. Bayelsa, President Goodluck Jonathan’s home state, is the latest in this novel act. The state recently created its own flag and formulated its own anthem.
Even though the development is not new to the country, it has left a lot of analysts wondering if the insignias are reflective of more steps towards true federalism or break up.
It all started in Cross River State in 1999 when democracy was just taking shape in the country. The then President Olusegun Obasanjo was on his first official visit to the state. Standing at attention for the national anthem to be rendered to commence one of the functions of the day, Obasanjo was jolted by the tune he heard. It was not the tune that he as Head of State bequeathed to the nation in 1979, approximately 20 years earlier.
Shocked by what he heard, a livid Obasanjo interrupted the serene ceremony and ordered the immediate stoppage of what was later explained to him was the Cross River State anthem.
Harried by the reaction of Obasanjo the Donald Duke administration for the rest of its tenure made it a duty not to play the anthem whenever Obasanjo visited the state. However, all other functions of the state since the introduction of the anthem in November 1999 have been heralded by the state anthem and the national anthem.
Besides the anthem, the Duke administration also introduced a state flag sometime in November 1999. The flag, which is a strip of blue-white-blue, is hung at most official buildings and public places in the state, while the state song written in two stanzas is sung in most occasions, including public and private schools before, the national anthem.
The seeming innovation by Cross River was in reality not a new phenomenon to the country. Even after Cross River, a handful of other states in the country have also introduced state anthems, flags, seals, crests or coats of arms to give identity to the states. As at the last count, eight other states had introduced flags, crests or other forms of identity distinct from the national coat of arms and national flag recognised by the constitution, bringing the number so far to 10. The states include Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ogun, Ekiti, Kwara, and Rivers.
The logical questions on the minds of many who are concerned about the development are: is it legal for the states to have their own anthems, flags, seals, crests or coats of arms that give them a separate identity. Are the insignias reflective of more steps towards true federalism, break up or what?
Section 24 (a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states, “It shall be the duty of every citizen to abide by this Constitution, respect its ideals and its institution, the National Flag, the National Anthem, the National Pledge, and legitimate authorities.”
Section 5(3) (c) of the constitution states, “The executive powers vested in a State under subsection (2) of this section shall be so exercised as not to – endanger the continuance of a federal government in Nigeria.”
Some observers of the Nigerian project are uncomfortable with the development of state symbols and feel that states should be barred from creating special identities that may signal disintegration. Yet there are those who think adopting individual states’ identities is not altogether new in Nigeria and is not a problem on its own.
Throwback to Regional Times
In Nigeria’s pre-military era, each of the regions had its own symbols and this was not a problem then. Even in the United States, after which the Nigerian presidential system of government is patterned, each state has its own motto and flag. Yet, the U.S. citizens are seen as highly patriotic when it comes to national issues. Few would dispute that the same cannot be said of Nigeria, where things that should ordinarily unite the people are either constantly desecrated or undermined.
Question of Legality
Reacting to the issue of state symbols, the Sokoto State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Nuhu Adamu, and the state chairman of Nigeria Bar Association, Al-mustapha Abubakar, in separate interviews with a national daily, recently, noted the legal implications of the distinct anthems, coats of arms, and flags, especially if not used side-by-side the national symbols. They said it was a violation of sections 24(a) and 5(3)(c) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) for any state to have its own flag, anthem and pledge.
Similarly, the national body of NBA recently condemned the action of the states, declaring it as illegal and unconstitutional for a state to adopt its own flag, coat of arms, and anthem. The NBA also described it as part of “secessionist acts.”
The association, which spoke through its outgoing national president, Chief Joseph Daudu (SAN), stressed, “No provision in the constitution allows or recognises any flag other than the Nigerian flag or any anthem different from the national anthem.” It urged the federal government to promptly nip such secessionist tendencies in the bud, saying such acts are capable of fanning the embers of separation and disunity within the federation.
Dauda said, “It is unconstitutional for any section of the country to seek to break away or to engage in any act suggesting that it intends to declare self-government.
“Nigeria is a federation. If you have a jingle extolling the virtues of your state, I do not consider such as an anthem. Jingles can extol the cultural virtues of a state; it is not illegal for any state to promote what it does or is known for, like farming, however, such must be done within the ambit of the law.
“What was done by Bayelsa State, to the NBA, amounts to acts of secession that promote separation. We should be able to differentiate between things that promote unification of a state and things that promote isolation and independence. The federal government should stand up and nip these in the bud.”
One of the first persons to condemn Bayela State over its recent insignia was Senator Ita Enang, a lawyer who was in the House of Representatives with Governor Seriake Dickson between 2007 and 2011.
Enang told newsmen, “The president should not just think that this is the matter of the state. Agreed it is a matter of the law of the state and persons who are aggrieved should go to court, but coming from Bayelsa State, the state of the president, I think the he should be more concerned about it.
“Although, the governor may have a reason for playing up the federalism in Nigeria, that being a state within the federal constituency of Nigeria he can do certain things within the limits of statism without compromising the integrity of Nigeria. He may be practising federalism at an advanced stage.”
As Enang said, the proclamation of a state anthem and coat of arms may be part of the schemes by agitators of true federalism to advance their cause.
But a renowned constitutional lawyer, Professor Itse Sagay, disagrees with the assertion that creation of state symbols infringe on the constitution, saying “It is absolutely constitutional.”
He said in a recent interview, “One thing I see about Nigerians is that we are insecure, Nigerians like uniformity. Everybody wants one flag but that is not uniformity. Once any federating unity tries to express its individualism, people begin to quiver and shake that Nigeria is going to pieces and yet, that is the only way Nigeria can survive if there is diversity.
“There is nothing in the Nigerian constitution which prohibits states from having their own flags. In fact, the issue of flag is not even mentioned in the constitution, nor is the issue of coat of arms mentioned. It is in the residual list which enables states to legislate on the matter.
“So, they are absolutely free to have their own flags, to have their anthems, to have their own coat of arms, provided they are not rejecting the national one. You can see the two side-by-side. In Lagos State you can see the Lagos coat of arms, nobody can challenge it.
“I think most of the states in the South have it; it is an exercise of a right under federalism, which expresses individuality and autonomy of the state and that it is not a unitary system in which only the federal government has personality. The federal one is for everybody and apart from that, the states are entitled to have their own.
“Not only that, I think it is very healthy because it emphasises the federal nature of Nigeria, giving room to escape from the suffocating uniformity which is killing this country, promoting individuality. So, it is good as a concept and it is perfectly valid legally.”
Professor Auwwalu Yadudu who was legal adviser to then Head of State, General Sani Abacha, and currently Professor of Law at Bayero University, Kano, agrees with Sagay on the legality of state symbols.
“For me, there is nothing wrong over states adoption of flags, coat of arms and anthems. As far as I know, there is no law barring any state from having its own anthem, flag or coat of arms,” he was quoted as saying. “Historically, there were states that did so in the past. In 1967, when 12 states were created under Gowon, Kano State then had his own flag. So, a state having its own coat of arms, flag and anthem might be a means of recognition for such state.”
While the above experts viewed the development from a legal and constitutional perspective, there are others who see the issue of state symbols from its divisive implications. Sampson Imose of the Department of Political Science, University of Benin, said: “The threat to Nigeria’s survival has manifested in the handiwork of religious bigots, regional champions, tribal warlords, anarchists, militants and home-grown terrorists who are busy provoking the citizens to take arms against one another.
“Nigerians would be better off if they searched for the things that bind them together. Our various cultures and customs should be laid on a scale and the best blended for the good of all of us. Nigerians have more to gain from a united nation than from a balkanisation that will result in inconsequential fragmented entities.
“For all of us, what unites us should be celebrated – not ethnic, regional or religious sentiments. As a nation we must work hard in one accord to eliminate corruption, nepotism, mediocrity and other vices that have led us to the present situation.”
First Among Equals
But the director general of National Orientation Agency, Mr. Mike Omeri, seems to put the issue of state symbols in a more apt perspective. He told THISDAY recently, “What we said was that if you have a symbol, it must not be given more prominence than the national symbols.
“People can have state songs and other symbols that are unique to them, but it is not right for people to have flags and emblems and give them recognition far above the national symbols. There is one Green-White-Green, there is one coat of arms with the two white horses, the red eagle, and the river depicting Rivers Niger and Benue. That is what we actually mean.
“The national anthem is the primus inter pares. This is the fundamental representation of the independence of our country, the strength, power and authority of our country. So it should be given prominence.
“In fact, I have seen a lot of flag displays that are wrong and I don’t blame the people because they lack adequate information on how to display flags. If you have two or three flags, the Nigerian national flag must be given prominence, that is flown higher above the other flags. If they are two countries’ flags, they are equal. But you cannot bring a state flag or an organisation’s flag and give it the same status as the national flag.
“The pole for the Nigerian flag should either be higher or the flag is put in front. If the flags are on one line, the Nigerian flag should be on the right.”
In Defence of Bayelsa
Meanwhile, the Bayelsa State government has continued to defend its insignias and anthem, saying it is “a decision taken to forge a common identity for the Ijaws,” which is not different from what obtains in other nine states that have toed a similar path.
A statement signed by the Chief Press Secretary to Dickson, Mr. Daniel Iworiso-Markson, said the decision was taken by the state executive council “In line with the vision of the founding fathers of our dearly beloved state and given this administration’s stand on Ijaw mobilisation, Ijaw integration and the need to promote Ijaw fundamental interest, which clearly is not subordinate to any other interests. The government of Bayelsa State has given its approval to have a state-owned emblem to mark and strengthen our sense of identity as a state.”
As the arguments rage for and against the establishment of distinct state symbols, one thing that seems clear is that Nigeria is under intense pressure from its diverse parts to move away from its present pseudo-federal structure towards adoption of more doses of the basic principles of federalism. In the absence of a national agreement on a review of the federal structure, the growing tendency for distinct identities seems only a way of escape by the states from the frustrations of what many consider a counterfeit federalism.