Nigeria, USA: A People Dehumanised, a Country Diminished

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 THE ADVOCATE BY Onikepo Braithwaite       Onikepo.Braithwaite@thisdaylive.com

 

The two most repeated words in Nigeria last week were, NIN (National Identity Number), and Trump.

The NIN Issue

Personally, I find the NIN issue rather bizarre. It is obvious that the security and welfare of the people is of no concern to Government, nor does it seem to be a purpose of Government at all, let alone its primary purpose (Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)(the Constitution). If it was, whatever deadline had been set for all to obtain a NIN – inter alia, in order to make them available to the telephone operators and avoid disconnection of telephone lines; it should have been extended until further notice as soon as Nigerians started to descend on the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) in their multitudes, to beat the deadline, thereby turning the registration exercise to the most fertile ground for the spread of Covid-19. Even the staff of NIMC downed tools recently, one of the reasons being that a few of their staff had been infected with the dreaded virus, and Government had put nothing in place for their protection or treatment, during the subsistence of the pandemic.

Is having the NIN more important than staying alive? We are in the thick of a pandemic where many, even in Nigeria, are dying on a daily basis. While other Governments are putting restrictive measures in place to curb the spread of the virus, the Nigerian Government believes that this is the most appropriate time to enforce NIN registration, instead of encouraging all to stay home and isolate as much as possible.

What is so urgent about the NIN, that it cannot wait? I perused the National Identity Management Commission Act 2007 (NIMC Act) which establishes the NIMC (Section 1 NIMC Act) to inter alia, create, manage, maintain and operate the National Identity Database (Sections 5 & 14 (1) NIMC Act).

Section 15 of the NIMC Act sets out the objectives of the database, and even though Government may believe that these objectives are important, they are definitely not vital or imperative. Nigeria will not collapse, if this exercise is postponed to a more conducive time. For example, Section 15(a) of the NIMC Act provides thus: “use fingerprints and other biometric information as unique and unambiguous features of identifying registrable persons; 15 (c) enable the harmonisation of existing identity card schemes in Nigeria”. Pray tell, what is so pressing about these objectives, so much so that Government has no reservation about putting the lives of the people in jeopardy? Even if such registration was a constitutional requirement, in the interest of public health’s during safety, it could be suspended (Section 45 (1)(a) of the Constitution). After all, Section 33(1) of the Constitution guarantees our right to life, which we cannot be deprived of, except in the execution of a sentence of court in respect of a criminal offence which a person has been found guilty of in Nigeria. Going to any Registration Centre now, is like having a death wish or playing Russian Roulette with one’s life. It is obvious that the proper thing for Government to do is, if it does not suspend the registration exercise completely for now, to extend the deadline, in order to reduce the pressure and desperation for registration. Presently, it seems that our ailing healthcare system cannot cope with the rising cases of infection, with stories of inadequate beds for the sick, lack of oxygen etc flying around. So, why is Government aggravating an already dire situation, by promoting the spread of the virus?

At this juncture, one cannot but ask what Government hopes to benefit from providing a propitious environment for the spread of Covid-19, instead of curbing it. The Minister for Communications and Digital Economy in a television interview last week, blamed the rush on NIMC on the failure of the people to do their registration timeously, in view of the fact that the NIMC Act has been in existence since 2007, and the people failed to do their registration all this time, and/or the deadline had been given months ago. While this may very well be so, let us not forget that the one month lockdown in 2020, plus the skeletal services subsequently offered by government establishments, upon resumption from the lockdown, and the #EndSARS period, all disturbed the registration exercise as time was lost, since nothing could have be done during these periods. We are in the throes of a health emergency, with a highly infectious and dangerous virus spreading and killing thousands all over the world, including Nigeria; is the NIMC Act superior to Sections 33(1) & 45(1) of the Constitution? By virtue of Section 1(1) & (3) of the Constitution, the answer to the latter question, is clearly no.

Government should postpone the NIMC deadline, because if more people become infected as a result of this ongoing exercise, it will be impossible for this administration to blame the PDP or anyone else but itself, for the negative outcome of the spread of Covid-19. However, Government may have started to see the folly of their directive, as it has been reported that, at least in Abuja, an attempt has been made to decentralise the registration centres and spread them to various locations. This move must be replicated all over the country. Be that as it may, it is obvious that, the deadline set by Government is not feasible for millions of Nigerians.

President Trump’s Impeachment

It seems as if the Nigerian Government is not alone, in its thoughtless and uncaring attitude towards its people. The same can obviously be said for President Trump, vis-a-vis the American people. Though the American Constitution only seems to have a general welfare clause stated in its preamble, and another in Article 1 Section 8 Clause 1 in relation to taxes, it goes without saying that the main purpose of any democratically elected government, is to take care of its people.

President Trump has made history, for being the only President to be impeached twice in American history. His second impeachment which occurred last week, was for “Incitement of Insurrection” – with his speech of January 6, which urged his supporters to “fight like hell” against the election which he falsely claimed and communicated to them, had been stolen from them!

Even though President Trump may be able to defend himself by claiming that he did not incite his supporters to violence, since he said: “…..I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard”, can it be argued against him that he certainly knew that there were people in his crowd of supporters who would be anything but peaceful, and that, in any event, even if he believed that his supporters marching to the Capitol Building for a tea party or a prayer meeting, five people subsequently died as a result of that incident?

Disqualification from Holding Public Office

The latest argument now, is that having been impeached twice, can the Senate vote to disqualify President Trump from ever holding public office again, since that process will be ongoing after he has left office, and the new administration, inaugurated tomorrow? The American Senate has rightfully rejected the argument, that they cannot disqualify Trump after he leaves office.

While some argue that Article 1 Section 3 of of the American Constitution provides inter alia, for the Senate to try all cases of impeachment of the “… President, the Vice President, or other civil officer of the United States”, and that technically, as of January 20, Donald Trump will no longer be President, and therefore, no longer qualifies under this provision, those on the other side of the argument, use the same provision as the basis for the continuation of the disqualification process even after Trump leaves office, especially seeing as he was impeached for the second time while he was still President, and the consequence of the double impeachment is/can be the disqualification process which is distinct from impeachment; that no constitutional provision precludes the Senate from continuing with the process. Examples to support the the position that Trump could even be impeached after he leaves office and the disqualification process continue, are the cases of Senator William Blount and Secretary of War, William Belknap who were both impeached in 1799 and 1876 respectively, after they were no longer in office. In fact, Blount was expelled, and also impeached.

Legal Consequences for Trump?

The Senate is not a court of law, and therefore, the burden of proof for impeachment etc in the Senate, is certainly different from that of a court of law. Another argument is that, if Trump is not disqualified from holding public office, he may go scot free if the burden of proof required to convict him in court, cannot be discharged – that he incited his supporters to violence/violence against Congress/seditious acts and so on. Legally, it must be proved that President Trump sought to persuade his supporters to commit the offences that they committed, and/or to be violent. Proving this against Trump in a court of law, may be an uphill task. Even if what he said is classified as hate speech, hate speech is protected under the First Amendment to the American Constitution. In Brandenburg v Ohio 395 U.S. 444 (1969) the Supreme Court upheld the rights of free speech of a member of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) white supremacist racist hate group, Clarence Brandenburg. And, even if those who actually perpetrated the criminal acts are convicted for the offences which they committed, that may not be enough to indict President Trump.

Conclusion

It may not be much of a punishment, for an outgoing President to be impeached a few days to the end of his tenure. Even if it may be disgraceful, Donald Trump is not given to feelings of shame. If the Prosecution is unable to make any criminal charges stick, Trump would only use his shallow victory for more propaganda, profession of his innocence and buttressing the allegations of an imagined witch-hunt against him. But, if Trump is prohibited from ever holding public office again, it will serve as a good punishment for him, especially if he has his eye on the office of President again, come 2024. It will also serve as a good lesson to people like him in public office, that even if these impeachment proceedings may have been used only sparingly, they can, and will be invoked when the need arises; hence, the need to tread with caution and sense! Hopefully, the disqualification will also make it clear to President Trump that, not only did he do the American people wrong, he diminished his country in the eyes of the world.