Of law, history and national policy options
Far-reaching questions of law, history and national policy have been thrown up by the events leading to and culminating in the #EndSARS protests imbroglio. They touch, in the main, on the vexed issue of official attitude to policy objection by the citizenry. The sensibilities of idealists and of realists alike were rudely jolted or aroused by the sponsored gruesome ending of presumably the most rationally-organised mass protests anywhere in the world. How, for instance, is objection to be expressed or sustained in a situation of serially broken official promises or assurances to relieve the subject matter of the objection? Is policy objection a constitutional right to dissent or a privilege to be officially dispensed at will? Could a state or government agency arbitrarily or peremptorily reverse or terminate a practice hallowed by cherished and long observance?
How much force is permitted the state for breaking a protest of peaceful policy objectors whose gathering has been hijacked by feared sponsored interlopers?
It is to be observed that the rights of conscience were once considered to be beyond the “just reach” of any human power. They are deemed given by God and therefore not encroachable upon by human authority. Some have argued, rather puzzlingly, that good citizenship will permit of no reservation to surrender one’s will or conscience to “the general good”. Our austere conventional backgrounds and the exemplary reputations of certain non-conformist but conscience-guided icons among us ought to induce an official review of issues raised in the general attitude to objection or dissent. Even as Nigerian citizens are reputedly religious, it should not be difficult to find convergence between faith in God and the freedom to exercise conscience; the ethos of upholding the principle of the belief in the centrality of God in the affairs of men should willy-nilly coalesce into conscience-led actions or conduct among the people.
In the almost two weeks of the #EndSARS protests, tension continued to rise even as many people who identified with the protests’ demands insightfully expressed their concern or anxiety for a continuing orderly pursuit of the goals of the struggle. The organisers who were stoically committed to the ideals of the peaceful conduct of the process held on conscientiously to the raison d’etre of the protests. Unexpected as it was un-intelligible however, is the suspected official interference in the peaceful process. The attempt to ungainly turn the ties against an orderly, disciplined, and yet aggrieved body of protesters is today the unresolved hubris of an overweening administration or of a crop of insensate wielders of governmental power. Befuddled government apologists have not been able to hide their difficulty to grasp the fine distinction between freedom to object to a stifling socio-political order on the one hand, and the requirement to discriminate an onslaught on it from a narrow, formalistic definition of good citizenship which thrust tends to come dangerously close to prescribing an extra-constitutional test for citizenship.
Many of Nigeria’s national policy positions are afflicted by the absence of an underlying good faith. They thereby necessarily excite serious objections from the citizenry. Policies are generally conceived to attain certain wrong-headed set of goals. They are obstinately positioned to achieve a perverse or schemed distortion of the advertised object. Convenient policy options on a number of constitutional stipulations e.g. the federal character principle, the quota system on public job placement and of admission into educational institutions or for enlistment into the services are the bane of an ordinarily peace-loving, self-satisfied and sentient citizenry. There is a general perception of the Buhari presidency that is palpably at odds with what the people expect a national administration to be.
The government has refused to acknowledge that the country under its watch is not working as a result of its faulty structure. The requirement to return the country to a true federal entity is, for instance, not shared by the president going by his rebuff of the many attempts to resolve the nagging issue. The 2014 National Conference and the El-Rufai Committee on restructuring Nigeria into a true federal state have been mischievously interpreted as positioned to fragment the country or hamper her development. Further, the glaring abuse of the federal character principle is evidence that the President is not using his position as the nation’s chief coordinator to strengthen national cohesion. His appointment of key security, intelligence and defence officers who are decidedly from his section of the country is tacky. The president, in spite of loud protestations from leaders of other sections of the Nigerian community, has refused to correct the public perception of himself as sectional or parochial.
National unity is not promoted in a situation where as much as 75% of federal appointments into sensitive national positions is held by persons from the North. The situation is further made hopeless by the president’s insistence that he could only work with people who are loyal and trustworthy to work closely with him. To know that loyal and trustworthy persons could only be found in the president’s region defeats the verbiage and spirit of s.14(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). To the extent of the inconsistency of the president’s posture with this directive principle of state policy, the president has breached the constitution in that regard. He has ignored “the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty…” It is, for instance, inexcusable that the three arms of government in this country namely, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary are headed by citizens from a particular section of the country who are also of the same religion. The President’s appointments have been noted elsewhere as “ethnically discriminatory and lopsided and therefore unconstitutional, illegal and ultra vires” Opinions have compounded the irony of a once vigorous, placard-carrying and policy-dissenting opposition now decrying or, in fact, derogating the appropriateness of protests as an effective tool of policy change.
The APC, as an opposition party, had in 2014 bemoaned the “clueless” policies of the Jonathan administration by organising, among other efforts, a dawn-to-dusk mammoth rally for close to three weeks at the Gani Fawehinmi Park. These champions are today missing in action. They have become dumb to the clear abuse of the basic law of the land and of the yearnings of the people for a regime of peace and plenty. This is one clear example of how politicians may not be trusted to be firm on principles and policies as they dither and waver in aid of a projected private goal or predilection.
The question is moot whether poor old Stare Decisis could be awakened to lead us to follow the law, history and national policy.
Rotimi-John, a lawyer and commentator on public affairs, wrote vide email@example.com.
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