Political Governance and Legality of Illegality in Nigeria: Foreign Policy Implications

Geoffrey Onyeama

Geoffrey Onyeama

Bola A. Akinterinwa 

Nigeria has, by force of necessity, become the terra cognita of all manners of illegality, but which political governors consciously try to legalise in different climes.  And yet, the people not only consciously acquiesce to the situation, but joyfully complain about non-development and national disunity. And true enough, political governance is largely predicated on dishonesty in which the gospel of godliness and goodness is preached to the people, but the preachers and governing authorities do exactly the contrary. Look at these two examples.

First is the allegation of southern hostility towards their northern brothers on the matter of open grazing. Northern politicians consciously opted for delivery of economized truths. They are vehemently against southern governors who reportedly opposed open grazing. The untold aspect of the truths is the silence of the use of force by the Fulani herders to acquire titled land of the legitimate owners. It is the silence over the possession of unlawful AK-47 guns while herding. It is also the silence over kidnapping, maiming, killing and mistreatment of local people. More disturbingly, it is the silence over the destruction of farm products and forceful claim of right to operate in any part of Nigeria, in the wrong belief that Fulani own the whole of any land in Nigeria. It is on this basis that the ordinary people, who have been living harmoniously with northerners began to develop unnecessary animosity vis-à-vis one another.

Without any jot of doubt, President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) is on record to have vainly tried to use different ways to acquire land, particularly by manu militari, for the Fulani herdsmen in the southern parts of Nigeria. Various arguments ranging from legality of colonial cattle routes and climatic changes to the 1978 Land Use Act and ownership of land by government have been raised. They forget that such lands are held in trust by state Governors for their people. The question is why the forceful acquisition of land for the Fulani herders? Why is the Federal Government having particular interest in private business of cattle herding? 

Many explications there are, especially the twin allegations of Islamic and Fulanisation agenda. More important is dishonesty and legality of illegalities that has come to characterize political governance in Nigeria. Explained differently, Government and people of Nigeria do know that an act or an action is illegal, but rather than seek to remove the illegality, they prefer to ‘panel beat’ it. The panel beating, most unfortunately, does not always last long. It only creates recidivist tensions that deepen agitations for separation.

Manifestations of Legality of Illegalities 

The foundation of political governance under Nigeria’s Fourth Republic is the 1999 Constitution as amended and it is, most unfortunately, believed by many to be very fraudulent. The fraud is derived from the preambular provision that ‘We the People of the Federal Republic of Nigeria’ have firmly resolved to unite. Questions have therefore been asked as to who are the people of Nigeria that ‘firmly and solemnly resolved to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble Sovereign Nation under God’?

PMB is very happy with this provision that makes Nigeria indivisible and indissoluble. Good enough, but the foundation of the provision is fraudulent. The 1999 Constitution is not a resultant from the people’s will. The people of Nigeria have been complaining about this and have called for the writing of a new constitution because the 1999 Constitution is military in character and origin. It is also manu militari in delivery. Rather than allow for negotiated new constitution, the political stakeholders simply preferred amending, reviewing, and modifying controversial sections of the Constitution. What is more disturbing is that when it is convenient, the Constitution is referred to as the ground norm that cannot be derogated. Any law that is made and runs into conflict with it is frapped with nullity, and yet it is fraudulent in origin. The continuous use of the Constitution is believed to translate into acquiescence by the people and conferment of legitimacy on the Constitution.

When Chief Afe Babalola suggested that the political lull in the country can lead to national disintegration and that there is the need to prevent the imminent disaster, he suggested the establishment of an interim government for about six months, in the hope that there would be room to sort out existing political grievances, the argument of non-provision for such interim government in the Constitution was raised. But the same Constitution is the root cause for the various agitations for separation. 

The Constitution is fraudulent, but it is still used to govern. How do we then explain the contradiction? Is it the military that came up with the 1999 Constitution that can rightly say that Nigeria is indivisible or indissoluble? Arguably, General Yakubu Gowon adopted a war doctrine in 1967: ‘to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done.’ Additionally, he asked Nigerians not to sit on the fence but to join the defence. Comparatively speaking, the approach of PMB is completely different in that he wants to enforce national unity without carrying the people along.

And most unfortunately, he always acts contrarily to what has the potential to enhance national unity. Unbelievable, but true, PMB preaches the principle of Federal Character but acts contrarily to it. PMB is on record to be the most nepotistic president Nigeria has ever had. He does not care about any complaints about nepotism, mainly because of this argument of legality of illegality. In other words, it is lawful for him to appoint whoever he desires to appoint. There is no problem with legality here. But when, in his position as the Minister of Petroleum and as the President of Nigeria, how do we explain the fact that the 20 topmost officials of the NNPC are people of his ethnic stock? How do we also explain his submission that he only works with people he knows? If PMB is openly and unnecessarily northernizing the public service with his people, people cannot but begin to complain. This is illegality of the worst order.

PMB’s governance creates unnecessary tension amongst peoples in the country. There is currently a north-south dichotomy in political governance. At the level of religion, there is serious misunderstanding between Muslims and Christians. Muslims have generally been attacking Christians in the North but there are also very fantastic, very godly Muslim who have saved and assisted Christians in trouble. There was the case, for example, of Imam Abdullahi Abubakar in Plateau State who kept about three hundred Christians in his own personal house and in the mosque when there was a terrorist herdsmen invasion of Nghar village, Gashish District in the Barkin Ladi Local Government, on June 24, 2018. 

Imagine the good quality of this type of Muslim? Imagine his Nigerian personality? Imagine his altruism and patriotism. Imagine the goodness of his character. Why will anyone want to fight any Muslim or any Northerner bearing in mind this story of a Northern Muslim saving the lives of other compatriots? PMB really did well by asking Governor Lalong to bring Alhaji Abdullahi Abubakar, aged 83, to Abuja for Presidential Handshake and National Honour. In fact, the international appreciation of Alhaji Abubakar’s good gesture prompted the award of the 2019 International Religious Freedom Award to him in the United States.

Admittedly perhaps, this may be one isolated case. However, there is no disputing the fact that there are many others living harmoniously and peacefully with other Nigerian peoples. But many are the cases of religion-driven brutalities. In fact, Nigeria under PMB is playing host to religious fanaticism with Islamic adherents taking the lead.  Religion extremism has now become a major threat to national security, but it is being carelessly left to the religious leaders to handle. 

Even though the 1999 Constitution as amended provides for secularity, or no state religion, the Federal Government has completely ignored this constitutional provision by sponsoring people to Mecca and Jerusalem. Thus, political governance is always visibly in the breach. As it is today, religion has the great potential to disintegrate Nigeria voluntarily or otherwise. 

It is not simply because of the fears arising from the prescriptions of Muammar Gaddafi, who said that there would not be peace in Nigeria until the country is divided into Muslim North and Christian South, but particularly because of the recent manifestations between and among Nigerians, young and old, who are faced with the challenges, and who apparently and ridiculously often condone religious hatred. 

In 2016, a 74-year-old Christian, Bridget Abgahime, was beaten to death by a Muslim mob because she allegedly blasphemed in front of her shop in Sokoto, which was said to be under Sharia law, and which sanctions any blasphemy with death. 2021 witnessed the killing of other people by a Muslim mob in the Darazo district in Bauchi State, while a teacher suffered the same fate when his secondary school students beat him to death allegedly for not respecting the Quran. 

 Again, the example of Deborah Samuel, a Christian and 200-level home economics student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto State is very heart breaking. She was killed brutally based on allegation of blasphemy. When she was being burnt to death, the killers were reported to be shouting ‘Allahu Akbar.’ She was first beaten to death and then her corpse was burnt to ashes. This is an unacceptable gruesome murder. 

If the offence is blasphemy, who has responsibility to sanction the offence? Is it any Muslim who discovers a breach that should kill? When there is an allegation of blasphemy, is there no process of confirmation before jungle killing? When is an act of blasphemy considered committed? Is it every Muslim faithful that has the competence to determine when blasphemy is committed? If yes, where is the role of the Sharia Court? Must the killing be jungle-like? Why should any Muslim faithful take laws into his or her hand? 

Whatever is the case, a growing Christian-Muslim animosity cannot but emerge if this situation is not objectively brought under control. It is already gradually becoming an issue in Nigeria. Muammar Gaddafi may after all be right by suggesting that Nigeria cannot have peace unless the country is partitioned into Muslim North and Christian South. In the event of such a partition, and to ensure sustainability of peaceful coexistence, there should not be any good reason for a non-Muslim to go and live in the North and similarly, no good reason for non-Christians to go and settle in the Christian South. There should be a clear distinction between Christians and Muslims as their cultures are perceived to be very conflicting. 

In the southern parts of Nigeria, many older men have both Christian and Muslim wives who happily co-habit and celebrate Christian and Muslim holidays together. Why is religion a reason for killing one another? How do Muslims understand Chapter 109 and its six paragraphs in this regard? Why is whatever comment made by someone a pretext for jungle killing? The

current situational reality of Nigeria does not present Nigeria in good light internationally.

The Foreign Policy Implications

Without iota of doubt in my mind, the international perception of political governance in Nigeria cannot be good. Nigeria is no longer simply a country of fantastic corruption but a country of fantastic lawlessness and insecurity, and most disturbingly of impunity. Crimes are regularly committed and regularly too, Government sympathize with the relations of the victims, while promising to arrest the culprits. Beyond presentation of condolences and meaningless promises to deal with the criminals, Nigerians are often kept in the dark. This cannot but be a herculean task for Nigeria’s plenipotentiaries in projecting a good image in their host countries. 

One serious way of deterring inhuman and gruesome killings, either by armed bandits, boko haramists, or religious fanatics, in Nigeria, is to always ensure the apprehension of the killers and ensuring that they too are killed in the same way they had killed other compatriots. Criminals in Nigeria are very hardened, and they are even presented as foreigners. If foreigners engage in brutal killings in Nigeria, they should be found and given a reciprocal brutal killing.

Although there are international campaigns against death penalty in global governance, the campaigns do have logical limitations because of their inability to provide punishment for the initial aggressors and murders. If murderers do not respect international law or the human rights of their victims, why should anyone be asking for human rights protection for criminals? Laws providing for reciprocal brutal capital punishment for gruesome murders should be a welcome development in Nigeria so that the larger community can learn and appreciate the need to protect the sanctity of any human life which the international community takes very seriously. Nigeria must not become a land for any type of religious extremism and impression must not be given that any individual, any group or cabal has a monopoly of knowledge or violence. It is by promoting mutual respect and tolerance that an indivisible and indissoluble, vibrant, and self-reliant Nigeria can be built and that, more significantly, a Nigerian nation can be feasible and that a new foreign policy perception can begin to emerge.

Another foreign policy issue is the legality of illegality of political actions in Nigeria. There is the current controversy over the timing of resignation from office of public officials seeking to contest in the 2023 elections and the timing of when such resignation takes effect.  As regards resignation from office, there is conflict between the provision of the 1999 Constitution and that of the Electoral Act, 2022. While Section 84(12) of the Electoral Law of 2022 says ‘no political appointee at any level shall be a voting delegate or be voted for at the Convention or Congress of any political party for the purposes of the nomination of candidates for any election,’ Section 84(13) adds that ‘where a political party fails to comply with the provision of this act in the conduct of its primaries, its candidate for the election shall not be included in the election for the particular position in issue.’ The main implication here is that resignation from public office is a desideratum to be eligible to contest for elective positions or to vote during party primaries. In this case again, what is the timing for such resignation?

At the level of the 1999 Constitution as amended, it is required that public and civil servants have 30 days’ notice to give going by the combined effect of Sections 66(1)(f), 107(1)(f), 137(1)(g) and 182(1)(g) of the 1999 Constitution, that make a nonsense of the candidacy of a person employed in the Civil or Public Service of the Federation or of any State and has not resigned, withdrawn, or retired from the employment, at least, thirty days before the date of the election’ (theCable.ng).

As per Section 318(1) of the 1999 Constitution, political appointees are not public servants who must give a notice of resignation of at least thirty days to be eligible to contest, going by the principle of unius personae vel rei, est exclusion alterius, that is, ‘the express mention of one person or thing is the exclusion of another or the inclusion of one is the exclusion of another.’ In this regard, the mere fact that the 1999 Constitution has clearly defined who public servants are, means that political appointees are excluded and therefore not public servants’ (ibid), In terms of direct implications, for any cabinet member to refuse to resign his or her appointment, either in non-compliance with the directive of PMB or in non-compliance with the Electoral Act, 2022 Section 84(12), cannot but be at best illegal.

What is noteworthy here is that the Appeal Court has said that Section 84(12) of the 2022 Electoral law is unconstitutional because it violates the rights of some people. It has also set aside the judgment of the High Court in Umuahia, the Abia State capital, which on March 18, 2022, ordered the Attorney General of the Federation to delete Section 84(12) because it violates the Constitution. The Appeal Court, in setting the judgment aside said the High Court had no jurisdiction to hear the case because Nduka Edede, the plaintiff and a member of the Action Alliance (AA), does not have the locus standi required to have gone to file a case in the court to begin with.

Concerning when a resignation takes effect, Femi Falana, SAN, a human rights activist, and Chair of the Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB) noted on Friday, May 13, 2022 that after the farewell meeting with PMB, it is illegal for Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation to have withdrawn their letters of resignation because Section 306(2) of the Constitution says ‘the resignation of any person from any office established by this Constitution shall take effect when the writing signifying the resignation is received by the authority or person to whom it is addressed or by any person authorized by that authority, or person to receive it.’

The point of emphasis here is that, the moment PMB has received letters of resignation and has not only thanked Mr. Abubakar Malami and Dr Chris Ngige for their services to the country, but has also commended them for seeking to contest and complying with his directive that all cabinet members seeking to contest in the 2023 elections must resign before or on May 16 2022, Femi Falana has rightly posited that ‘the resignation of the former Ministers has taken effect, they cannot return to the cabinet either on their own volition or on the directives of the president. The resignation of the Ministers is not a cabinet reshuffle. It is akin to the removal of the former Ministers by the President.’

Explained differently, we can talk about legality of the judgment of the High Court in Umuahia that Section 84(12) of the 2022 Electoral Act conflicts with the 1999 Constitution. Submission of letters of resignation to PMB is also legal but the withdrawal of the same letters of resignation after their official acknowledgement is an expression of illegality, the foreign policy implications of which do taint Nigeria’s international image. In the same vein, while PMB’s ultimatum to cabinet members to resign not later than May 16, 2022, may be consistent with his right as President to hire and fire, it is politically incorrect for any cabinet member to have declared non-preparedness to resign in the first place, then decide to resign, and finally opting to withdraw their resignation. Do Nigerian politicians, particularly cabinet members, think deeply before acting? Why is the governance of Nigeria like that of a Banana Republic? How is Nigeria perceived regarding party disregard for zoning policy which was adopted to ensure equity, fairness, and justice? Can there be free and fair elections in 2023? Time will tell but without first removing the attitude of legitimizing illegality in the governance of Nigeria, that there will still be a Nigeria playing host to any 2023 election is, at best, a dream.

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