How Not to be Government Publicists

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Oftentimes, I wonder about many of the people who are in Government or the Opposition, Spokespersons and high ranking Officials, and I marvel at many of their actions and utterances. Many of them come out and make the most mindless, bizarre comments and pronouncements on television and other forms of media while the world watches, or they are economical with the truth, or they simply tell outright lies. Do they not realise that we are now living in an age in which people are much more knowledgeable, and even if they are not well informed, they can always “google it”? Additionally, with the advancement in technology, their unintelligent statements can remain emblazoned in the “cloud” or wherever for all time, and may possibly come back to haunt them in future when they least expect it, or when they themselves may not be too keen on identifying with their witless statements of the past.

Recent Examples of Faux Pas/‘Boo-boos’

A ‘faux pas’ means “a slip or blunder in etiquette, manners or conduct; an embarrassing social blunder or indiscretion”. When Alhaji Lai Mohammed was the Spokesman of the Opposition, he said it was unconstitutional to proscribe the terrorist group, Boko Haram. About five years later, he was part of a government which proscribed IPOB, a group which cannot be described as a terrorist group, but a separatist group that was fighting for self-determination/secession of the Igbo people from Nigeria, a recognised and accepted international legal right – a ‘jus cogens’ rule, that is, a core principle of international law guaranteed by Article 1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Presidential Spokespersons

Last week, I watched a television interview in which Presidential Spokesman, Mr Femi Adesina stated that the Federal character provisions contained in Section 14(3) & (4) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)(the Constitution), do not apply to the appointment of the Service Chiefs! I was shocked to hear him say that, and I absolutely beg to disagree with him. The Spokesman had started off by saying that the appointment of the Service Chiefs was based on their performance – exemplary performance I would imagine, and not Federal Character. It was when he may have realised that he had shot himself in the foot with his statements (since the clamour for the removal of the outgoing Service Chiefs was based on non-performance), that he then switched gear and said that the appointments were the President’s prerogative, based solely on his choices.

The Federal Character provisions apply to all Government Agencies, whether Federal, where positions must distributed between all States/Zones of the country, or State, where all positions must be distributed across the various Local Government Areas within the State. Contrary to what Mr Adesina said in that interview, the Federal Character provisions go beyond Ministerial appointments which are distributed throughout the 36 States of the country – they are highly applicable to all Government Agencies, which the Police and Armed Forces are definitely a part of.

First of all, Section 217(3) of the Constitution provides that the composition of the Armed Forces of the Federation ‘shall’ reflect the Federal Character of Nigeria. The word ‘shall’ in legal parlance is a command; it is mandatory. In Animashaun & Anor v Ogundimu & Ors 2015 LPELR-25979 (CA), the Court of Appeal cited the case of Nwankwo v Yar’ Adua 2010 12 N.W.L.R. Part 1209 Page 513 at 589 in which Adekeye JSC stated that the word ‘shall’ is a mandatory provision, and when used in a statutory provision, imported that a thing must be done.

Secondly , Section 219(b) of the Constitution goes as far as providing that “with respect to the powers exercisable by the President under Section 218 of the Constitution” (which includes Section 218(2) covering the appointment of the Service Chiefs), a statutory body “shall’ be established to ensure that the composition of the Armed Forces ‘shall’ reflect the Federal Character of Nigeria. As if the foregoing provisions are not encompassing enough, Section 1(2) of the Constitution prohibits any person or group of persons from taking control of the Government or any part thereof (the Armed Forces being the security part of the Government of Nigeria, having a good measure of control in governance).

How then could Mr Adesina or anybody say that the President, in making the Service Chiefs’ appointments, is not bound by Federal Character provisions, as the President has the prerogative to choose anyone he likes? If the Presidential Spokesman’s assertion was indeed, true, that it’s the President’s choice alone, why then did the President write to the National Assembly (NASS) to seek for the confirmation of his nominees? See Section 18(1) & (2) of the Armed Forces Act which makes the appointment of the Service Chiefs subject to the confirmation of NASS, and the 2013 case of Festus Keyamo v President, Federal Republic of Nigeria in which the Federal High Court also decided that the appointment of the Service Chiefs without the approval of the Senate and the House of Representatives, is null and void. To the best of my knowledge, the Armed Forces Act has not been repealed, nor has this decision of the Federal High Court been overturned by a higher court.

My point? it is absolutely embarrassing, for a Presidential spokesperson to state categorically, as a matter of fact, such a blatant misrepresentation of true facts of an issue that concerns the primary purpose of our Government (the security and welfare of the people – Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution). Federal Character is applicable, while confirmation of the nominees by NASS is required to complete the Service Chiefs’ appointments and make them lawful.

Mr Adesina’s colleague, Mr Garba Shehu, had also misrepresented the statement of the Governor Akeredolu on the issue of the alleged expulsion of Herdsmen from Ondo State, just a few days prior this. While these two may not be Lawyers, one would imagine that because it is one of their duties to address Nigerians on behalf of the President on many crucial issues, they would take their time to ascertain their facts, before they speak out.

However, it is even worse when the Minister of Information, a Lawyer by training, makes statements that have no bearing on the law which we all studied. One then begins to wonder what the role of these Spokespeople are – whether it is simply to whitewash the image of the President and the administration that they serve even if it involves manipulating facts here and there, without consideration for Nigerians in general, without whom they would not be in those positions they presently occupy, in the first place.