The Challenges of a New Nigeria and Democratic Governance: The NSIL Approach 

Bola A. Akinterinwa 

The Nigerian Society of International Law (NSIL) held its 44th Annual Conference on 24th -25th January, 2023 at the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) Auditorium, Abuja. The 44th Annual Conference was meant to have taken place in November 2022, but rescheduled for reasons of force majeure, including threats of insecurity. The conference was held in collaboration with the ICPC and had as its theme, “Realizing the Nigeria of Our Dream in Global Governance: The Challenges of Institutional Corruption, National Insecurity, International Law, and Democratic Governance.” For three main reasons, the Conference was of major concern in terms of the quest for a new Nigeria that will be powerful, great and free from toga of irrationalities and political chicanery.

First is the structure of the paper presentations. The opening session was declared open by Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, former Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations, and former UN Under-Secretary General, Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) and Patron of the NSIL. In his keynote address, Professor Gambari set a very thought-provoking challenge for all the participants: how do we address institutional corruption? How do we achieve the Nigeria of our dream?  One answer: Professor Gambari simply observed that ‘corruption thrives nationally and internationally when there is No Rule of Law…’ True, he cannot be more correct. However, if we admit that Nigeria is fantastically corrupt in the mania of David Cameron, if we accept that corruption is thriving in Nigeria, in light of the fact that Professor J.S. Cookey had traced the origin of corruption and indiscipline to 1967, otherwise since 55 years ago, in the Report of the Political Bureau, how do we then explain the deepening of institutionalized corruption in Nigeria? 

Secondly, the first working session took the format of a brainstorming symposium which focused on “Russia-Ukraine War in the context of Global Governance and Threats to Democracy.” Seasoned diplomatists, including Ambassadors Joe Keshi, Christy Mbonu, Layi Laseinde, Jaiyeola Lewu, and Usman Sarki, who all presented papers. Many other ambassadors also attended the opening ceremony: Clara Pulido, Embassy of Cuba; Ali Asomani, DRC; Lindi Mminelle and Biolo L., South African High commission; Claudia Nontes, Embassy of Spain; and G. Balasubramanian and Vipul Mesariya from the India High Commission, etc.

Thirdly, the pupils of the Kanulim Academy, Life Camp, Abuja, were invited to the conference in the belief that the young shall grow. Amb. Christy Mbonu, the MD/CEO of the academy, admitted that the exposure of the children at the conference will shape the choice of their future career. Same is true of the impact of the brainstorming symposium on others.

Paper Presentations and Issues Raised

On Russo-Ukrainian war, global governance and threats to democracy addressed in the first working session, four issues attracted concentrated attention: deepening institutional corruption, self-determination and secession, prospects of Russo-Ukrainian war, and challenges to nation-building, with particular emphasis on the role of international law, and the rights of aviation passengers and air users.

As regards corruption, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, SAN, the Chairman of the ICPC, ‘corruption is a global and national problem…’ Corruption is evil as internationally so far acknowledged. The costs of corruption are not only huge, but also remain ‘a primary cause for loss of revenue by developing countries in quantum yet to be accurately articulated… Corruption is increasingly now recognized as “a global threat to national and international peace and security.’ And perhaps more importantly in this regard, Professor Owasanoye agreed with the Supreme Court postulation in the case of Attorney General of Ondo State versus the Attorney General of the Federation (2002), that ‘corruption is not a disease which afflicts public officers alone but society as a whole. If it is to be eradicated effectively, the solution to it must be pervasive to cover every segment of the society.’ In the eyes of the ICPC boss, ‘fighting corruption is therefore not the business of government alone but part of the obligation of citizens. Without any jot of doubt, both the Supreme Court and Professor Owasanoye are right, but the fundamental truth is that the Federal Government is only fighting corruption at the top, and for that matter very selectively. My experience as the Coordinator of the Lagos State chapter of the National Anti-Corruption Volunteer Corps (NAVC) has clearly shown lack of political will prompted by a wrong policy of one offence of one State Chapter also amounting to an offence that should warrant sanctions against another State Chapter that is completely innocent.

The Lagos NAVC’S method of fighting corruption in Lagos State is to focus on the bottom-up approach, with emphasis on public enlightenment that corruption is very evil and detrimental to national growth and development of the whole country. In the strong belief that the Government under PMB is serious about neutralizing corruption, the NAVC Lagos State empaneled a supervisory board approved by the ICPC. It swung into action, but only to be stopped thereafter because there were some state chapters using the name of the ICPC, not only to commit crimes, but also to embarrass the good name of the ICPC. Based on this, the policy decision has been to suspend the activities of the NAVC nationwide. This has been the situation since more than two years now, while the suspension has not in any way stopped the engagement in sharp practices. The basic challenge for the ICPC remains how to reshape the public perception that Government truly wants to fight corruption as corruption is galloping from bottom to the top on daily basis, which is most unfortunate.

Ambassador Layi Laseinde held similar view: ‘Nigeria’s approach to fighting corruption is not the best. Corruption is generally a sign of weak government and governance. Corruption is a symptom of many underlying inadequacies, such as weak institutions, indiscipline in the judiciary, lack of strong civil society and media, non-enforcement of anti-corruption laws and regulations and lack of transparency and freedom of information.’

On the prospects of the Russia-Ukraine war, Ambassador Laseinde identified three profound dynamics of the war as follows: ideological differences between the United States and the former Soviet Union. It was then capitalism versus communism. Essentially, it was not only ideological, it was also a stiff competition and manoeuvers for military supremamacy; the quickening of the former Soviet Union due to the policies of glasnosts (openness and political liberalization, with a dose of democratization) and perestroika (economic liberalization); and the hostility of the fifteen States carved out of the former Soviet Union vis-à-vis the Russian Federation. 

And perhaps most importantly, Ambassador Laseinde recalled the dynamics of longevity of the war: United States policy on Russia, which, as adopted since the time of Henry Kissinger, is to neutralize Russia militarily by weakening Russia economically. In the words of the ambassador, ‘this is what is behind the barrage of sanctions unleased on regular basis by the United States, the EU countries and the so-called civilized world.’ In essence, Ambassador Laseinde said ‘the Russian-Ukraine war will have significant economic effects on Nigeria in the area of gas and crude oil sales and grains supply. It is not impossible that it could re-ignite cold war rivalries with concomitant proxy wars springing up all over the place. Africa is likely to experience these proxy wars.

Drawing from the postulations of Professor Gambari, Ambassador Joe Keshi argued that Russia violated the UN Charter and therefore cannot but have its international responsibility called to question. And contrary to the conspiratorial arguments of many sovietologists and Russian studies scholars who focused on the accidental and coincidental dynamics of the war, Ambassador Keshi, former Consul General of Nigeria in Atlanta, US and former President of the Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria, Abuja Chapter, rightly argued that the genesis of the war is rooted in history and to the time when there was advocacy for Kiev to become the epicenter of all the cities of the whole empire.

Ambassador Keshi noted further that the objective of Putin is to reunite the old union or the fatherland. However most of the fifteen States carved out of the former Soviet Union have not been quite friendly with the Russian Federation. They see less economic prosperity from the Russian side and more prosperity from the Western European side, hence the quick urge to seek membership of the European Union. And perhaps more significantly, argued Ambassador Keshi, one reason for Russia’s special military intervention in Ukraine is to prevent Ukraine from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, or to prevent the nearness of NATO closer to Russian international borders. However, with the current situation of the war in Ukraine, the NATO has actually be drawn very closer than ever before to Russia. In the eyes of Ambassador Keshi, there is the need for the US-led western coalition against Russia because a weakened Russia appears to be more dangerous to political stability in the near future. 

The causal factors of the war from the perspective of Ambassador Christie Mbonu include Vladimir Putin’s successful annexation of Crimea which only emboldened him to move on to the level of special military intervention in Ukraine; the quest to restore the lost empire; Putin’s abhorrence of budding democracy near Russia and the need to contain American influence. As she further put it, Putin does not want Ukraine to join the NATO. ‘He’s bent on thwarting it. Unfortunately, the reverse might be the case as many Scandinavian nations are all preparing to join the NATO to avoid Russian attack.’ Consequently, she recommended that the international community should support Ukraine and make sure Russia does not succeed in this misadventure.

Self-Determination and Secession

Two critical issues that generated much interest during other working sessions were the question of rights of aviation passengers and air users and the issue of self-determination and secession. The paper on aviation passengers was authored by Dr. Chiowa Orizu Uchendu, who explained the different rights which air passengers and air users are to enjoy. Apart from the rights of way, both in motion in the air and at the point of converging, as well as overtaking in the air and in cases of emergency landing, there are many rights of general interest to air travelers. These include the right to compensation in case of death or right to life; right to be promptly informed about changes in scheduled flight, rights in cases of cancellation of flight and right to compensation for delayed, lost and damaged baggage; rights of passengers in case of delays; and rights in cases of cancellation of flight.

As regards cancellation of flight, Dr. Uchendu noted that ‘Section 19.7.1 of the NCAA Regulatory Act, 2015 specifies that,  in case of cancellation of a flight, the passengers concerned shall be offered assistance by the operating air carrier in accordance  with Sections 19.6 and be offered assistance by the operating air carrier in accordance with Sections 19.9.1 (i) and 19.9.2 as well as, in the event of re-routing when the reasonably expected time of departure of the new flight is at least the day after the departure as it was planned for the cancelled flight, the assistance specified in Sections 19/9/1 (ii) and 19.9.1 (iii).

And perhaps most importantly, the passengers, ‘in respect of domestic flights, have the right to compensation by the operating air carrier in accordance with section 19.10 unless they are informed of the cancellation at least twenty-four hours before the scheduled time of departure.’ This right is quite interesting because these rights meant absolutely nothing for the Overland Airways. On Thursday, 26th January 2023, I was checked in on flight no. OF1198 with a PNR no.299FF4AO en route to Akure from Abuja. My allocated seat number was 6C. It was issued to me at 8.27am, that is, 3 minutes after the opening of the counter for check-in. Scheduled departure time was to be 10.15 am. When it was 10 am, and particularly because announcements at the airport were unnecessarily too loud in such a way that the announcement of arrivals and departures are hardly audible, and with boarding announcements conflicting with actual boarding, I went directly downstairs to inquire about when the flight would take off. The answer was announcement would soon be made.

 At 11 am, I repeated the inquiry and the answer this time was ‘in the next twenty minutes.’ At about 1.35 pm the awaited announcement came, not for boarding but on cancellation of my flight to Akure.

Akure was certainly not my final destination. A brother colleague, Professor Samuel Olabanji Aje, former Director of the Nigeria-French village and the Vice Chancellor of the Achievers University, Owo, was to be buried. I and Professor Ademola Popoola of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, were travelling on the same flight to Akure and then to Owo. The flight cancellation was announced more than three hours after the scheduled time. Rationale given was ‘operational reasons. I asked for re-routing either Akure-Lagos or Lagos-Akure but such routes do not exist. Air Peace was to fly the next 30 minutes to Akure but Overland Airways does not have any contractual agreement with the Air Peace. The type of ticket I bought was said to be valid until April ending. Transport to and from airport was N18,000=. What really is the essence of any law that provides for cancellation without compensation in the event of force majeure that is ill-defined? The truth of the matter is not far-fetched: non-available aircraft. Operational excuse is the standard reason often given to passengers who do not have time to read the information about their rights. They do not even have time to fight for their right. This is one major reason why institutional corruption, societal indiscipline, and bad governance continue to remain the hallmark of political governance in Nigeria.

On the issue of self-determination and secession, Ambassador Jaiyeola J. Lewu kick-started the debate with the case of Ukraine.  He first noted that Russia joined the United States and Britain to sign the 1994 Budapest accord which guaranteed the independence of sovereign and territorial integrity of Ukraine for giving up its nuclear arsenals. In the eyes of Ambassador Lewu, the Russian intervention in Ukraine was in contradiction of the 1994 agreement and UN Charter because the intervention does not fall within the exemption provided for under Article 51 which allows the use of force in self-defense and in cases of collective security.

The causal factor for the Russian intervention was non-acceptance of NATO’s quest to surround Russia by establishing itself in the Northeast of Ukraine; Ambassador Lewu argued that Russia cannot lay claim to self-defence argument because there are no NATO troops along the Russian-Ukraine border. More interesting is the argument of self-determination. Russia says that it is giving support to the people of the breakaway Donbas region of Ukraine, that is the Donetsk and Lugansk, in response to the request ‘for assistance to exercise their right of self-determination from the oppressive regime in Kyiv by applying the UN Charter, Article 51 of Chapter VII’; Russia argued the case of ‘genocide against Russian-speaking people of Donbass and claimed that it was liberating the people from drug-addicted government of neo-Nazi by fraudulently relying on Article 51 of the UN Charter without the mandated authorization of the UN Security Council.’

As Nigeria has a case of self-determination to address, Ambassador Lewu says ‘Nigeria’s vote in favour of the resolution asking for the withdrawal of Russia from Ukraine is very apt, as it would have been inconsistent with its principle of non-interference in the internal affairs and inviolability of other countries sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity had Nigeria voted against the resolution. The Biafran issue is a case in point, particularly as Nigeria does not want any breakaway state from the country.’

One missing point here is the reported information on NATO-Ukrainian nuclear cooperation on the basis of which Russia has attempted to neutralize the base. If it is true that there is a secret nuclear collaboration with the US-led NATO somewhere underground in Ukraine, the argument of non-presence of American troops in Ukraine may not really hold waters. As a matter of fact, the Russo-Ukrainian war has created a politico-strategic and economico-militari lull that may not be resolved by strengthening Ukraine to fight Russia. Increasing military support for Ukraine can only prolong the war rather than compel Russia to accept surrender. As rightly pointed out by Ambassador Usman Sarki, former Deputy Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the UN, ‘applying sanctions and supplying weapons to one side in a conflict not only prolong the conflict, but also engenders bitterness that will linger long after the war between the antagonists has ceased. Sanctions and taking of sides in wars also attract recriminations, reprisals, retorsion and mutual disregard, that also contribute to the unsettling of the international order and undermining of international law, especially its aspects that pertain to armed conflict.’ But more interestingly on the Nigeria of our dream, Professor Ibrahim Gambari says ‘promoting a Nigeria of our dreams must begin with a commitment to democratic governance. We have to someway create consensus on a rational way of governing ourselves. This requires…establishing the rule of law, evolving from representational democracy to participatory democracy, and building a just society. Nigeria of our dream is realizable, and it is not different from those of our founding fathers which is a united, peaceful, prosperous and just country. An African giant which is respected in the international community.’ This is good but Nigeria as a true nation-state must first be evolved.

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