Friday, 2nd June 2023

Sleep well, Musa Baba-Panya: Who got justice for Abuja indigenes… 

By Martins Oloja
26 March 2023   |   5:30 am
This is a fitting tribute to a significant lawyer, an original inhabitant of Abuja who fought and conquered even President Muhammadu Buhari in Court and got justice for his people on human rights.

Musa Baba-Panya

This is a fitting tribute to a significant lawyer, an original inhabitant of Abuja who fought and conquered even President Muhammadu Buhari in Court and got justice for his people on human rights. He joined his ancestors at 54 last week after battling that evil deposit called sickle cell anemia. I am sure when Musa Baba-Panya gets to his Creator, he will report Buhari to Him and his bitter complaint will be: My Father, my Father, what are you going to do to that man, our leader, Buhari who has since January 15, 2018 failed to abide by a Court of Appeal declarative judgment that the FCT should be regarded as a state and so an indigene of the Federal Capital Territory should be appointed as a member of the Executive Council of the Federation?

Indeed, the lawyer, Musa Baba-Panya may not appear to you as one of the prominent lawyers in the country, but there is a sense in which I can report that he is one of the significant lawyers whose services to his people in Abuja would not be hastily forgotten. And here is the thing, were Musa Baba-Panya to be characterised by that pastor of purpose, Rick Warren, he would say yes, the selfless fighter might not have been prominent as the media never focused on him but he is significant in the eyes of God the Almighty. As I have cited him several times here, the author of that classic, The Purpose Driven Life, Warren avers that some people are prominent without being significant while some people are significant without being prominent. And he concludes that God the Almighty isn’t in the business of seeking prominent people, in this regard as He is interested in only significant and impactful people who may not be prominent in the eyes of men, after all. I would, therefore, like to call on President Buhari to redeem his name and time is now by carrying out the January 15, 2018 judgment before leaving office on May 29, 2023. That will serve as a glowing tribute to the memory of Musa Baba-Panya. Besides, the President will still be regarded as law-abiding. The President has the power now to nominate an indigene of FCT to replace that Minister of State who has shirked his responsibility to the nation by joining the Campaign Council of the ruling party as a prominent spokesperson who has also specialised in taking opposition figures to Court. The overzealous minister is the only member of the cabinet who abandoned his beat as a minister since August 2022. That office is technically vacant, after all.  

Not even the complex logistics of my everyday life, as a journalist will make me forget deconstruction of the significance of Baba-Panya, the lawyer who knew how to manage compassion and enthusiasm without losing balance and focus. Despite the debilitating effect of the health challenge he faced, he fought for his people till the very end (last week). He sued the FCT/FCDA several times about his people’s rights. It will interest you to note that when Baba-Panya filed a suit against Buhari’s Federal Government on the rights of his people to be included in the federal cabinet, most of the prominent indigenes were angry with him. They, in fact, left him alone. He fought from a Federal High Court to the Court of Appeal alone. When he noted that President Buhari wasn’t going to respect the 2018 declarative judgment while making his second term cabinet in 2019, he sought for a court declaration to stop the swearing-in of the cabinet in June 2019, because of its illegality – failure to respect the January 2018 Court judgment. The Court artfully dodged Baba-Panya’s bullet by adjourning the case till after court’s vacation at the time.

My friend and Baba-Panya was good man, full of love and spirit for his people. He believed that the land grab through the Murtala-Obasanjo administration’s Decree No.6 of 1976 was a blight on the rights and welfare of his people. Baba-Panya was persuaded that the compensation and resettlement advertised by that administration some 47 years ago was a fraud. But he never resorted to self-help. He, like the late Gani Fawehinmi believed in the power of the Courts as the last hope of the common man. The Hurricane Baba-Panya even wrote to the United Nations Human Rights body about the devastating effects of the 1976 land grab and non-inclusion of his people in the FCT administration and of course, the undemocratic nature of the nation’s capital with an unelected leader, an FCT Ministerial nominee of the President.  

As we bid this Abuja’s peculiar brand ambassador farewell, there is one inescapable fact: whenever the authentic story of the nation’s capital is written the name of that gallant fighter, Baba-Panya would occupy a significant chapter as the one who despite all odds fought an Army General and President and defeated him in a Court of law for his people to enjoy some rights as citizens of Nigeria. What is more remarkable, the case law the lawyer’s (Baba-Panya’s) suit established in 2018 already has jurisprudential significance. The case has been copiously cited by the Senior Advocates who are currently in Court to argue for a petitioner that for anyone to be President of Nigeria, the constitution provides that you must obtain 25 per cent in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. They are saying that Baba-Panya’s case reiterates the old saying that you cannot draw the map of Africa successfully without including Madagascar, which appears so far away but has to be drawn nearer.  

Justice At Last For Abuja Indigenes: The Gospel According To Baba-Panya
THIS is the way, I did the contextual reporting of the landmark judgment here on Sunday, January 21, 2018: 
“After 42 years of complicated relationship with federal authorities that grabbed their land for the purpose of building a capital for the nation, Abuja original inhabitants last Monday got some significant justice that will change their national profile for ever. It is puzzling most news media organs were unaware of the ruling on the status of the Abuja original inhabitants that has some jurisprudential significance. This is the story even most judicial reporters either curiously missed or did not consider newsworthy: The Court of Appeal in Abuja on that Monday declared in a landmark judgment that indigenous inhabitants of Abuja are indeed entitled to a ministerial representation in the Federal Executive Council as provided by the combined provisions of Sections 147 (3), 299, 14 (3) and 42 of 1999 Constitution….”

The Court had on January 15, 2018 declared that persistent denial and refusal of past and current presidents to so appoint an indigene of FCT Abuja as a minister in the Federal Executive Council (FEC) since May 1999 was tantamount to a gross violation of the said constitutional right against discrimination. Accordingly, the Court directed the President to immediately make the said appointment. N100, 000 was awarded against the President and the Attorney General of the Federation as first and second respondents.

Expectedly, some FCT indigenes had then expressed delight over Court of Appeal’s Jan. 15 judgment that entitled them to ministerial representation in the Executive Council of the Federation. The natives of Abuja said the decision would give them the opportunity to fully participate in governance in the nation’s capital of their forefathers donated to the nation more than four decades ago.

I then added that while congratulating the originals inhabitants, it was also important to implore President Muhammadu Buhari to implement the judicial decision without delay. I had also noted then that implementing the judicial decision would enhance peace and stability of the permanent capital of the federation. The (federal) capital was legally moved from Lagos to Abuja on Thursday, December 21, 1991 by the then General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) military regime. The proclamation of Abuja as nation’s capital was done by the military regime of General Murtala Mohammed on February 3, 1976.

The battle for this judicial recognition and victory had been a long drawn one. The natives have been agitating for political recognition and other rights since creation of the capital. Even the 1999 constitution has long been identified as unfair to the citizens of Abuja who actually have no other state of the federation to claim. Section 299 of the Constitution provides the ambiguity successive governments have been exploiting to cheat the people. They have political representation at the level of civil service up to the office of permanent secretary, National Population, among others, but specifically, representation at the cabinet level has been a huge challenge despite peaceful agitations. For instance, in October 2015, when the Buhari administration was concluding cabinet making, the Abuja indigenes protested for their right to nominate their own representatives too. But as usual, no one listened to them.

Specifically, yours sincerely had in the last three decades written more than 45 articles on the plight of the original inhabitants of Abuja, especially within the context of the ambiguous provisions in various extant laws on the Federal Territory that have always discriminated against them. What is worse, the Federation (and Federal) Capital has no democratic institution beyond its only six (local) Area Councils. No State Legislature as the Constitution makes the National Assembly the Assembly for the Natives. The Senate is made up of three Senators from each of the 36 states of the Federation. But Abuja has only one Senate slot. The House of Representatives of 360 members have only two representatives from Abuja’s (two federal constituencies). Besides, the Constitution, which makes the President and the Vice President their Governor and Deputy Governors respectively, enables the same President (their governor) to nominate a Minister to represent the FCT in the federal cabinet. But the President, their governor is not mandated to name a representative from among the natives. This has been the tragedy of the ambiguity of the controversial Section 299, which has been the main issue for the natives of Abuja. The section states specifically that Abuja should be treated as if it were one of the states of the federation… That was the main provision in the nation’s organic law the natives approached various courts to interpret. The main victory over this darkness came so clearly that Monday January 15, 2018 when the Abuja Court of Appeal ruled unanimously that Abuja should indeed be treated as one of the states of the federation. This massive victory came as a thief in the night and the news media “comprehended it not” for recognition as a prominent news item for the front pages and prime time.

Let’s continue with the remarkable legacy of Musa Baba-Panya next week, as we plead with the outgoing President Buhari to nominate an Abuja indigene to fill the only vacancy in his cabinet. That presidential gesture will be a fitting tribute to the memory of iconic Baba-Panya of the FCT.  

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