For peace to reign, government must respect extant laws – Ezike
National President of Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), Mr Ibuchukwu Ezike, in this interview with LAWRENCE NJOKU, bares his mind on the lingering crisis between the Anambra State government and the Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion.
The Anglican Church is up against Anambra State government over the ownership of Bishop Crowther Memorial Primary School. What do you have to say about this?
Under then Governor Peter Obi, the state government enacted a law, which led to the return of schools originally owned and managed by churches and missions to the original owners. I understood that Bishop Crowther Memorial Primary School is one of the schools that have not been returned to its original owners and I think that is wrong. I do not know what government intends to achieve by maintaining hold of this property when documents have been unveiled indicating that that property belongs to the Anglican Church.
However, what is playing out gives credence to rumours that the state government is actually in favour of a particular denomination. So, if there is protest today by the church, then what the church has done is right because the state government has failed to abide with an extant law.
Disobedience to the law is sacrilegious and punishable. If it were to be a citizen that has fouled the law, he would have been prosecuted and kept in prison, so a state government that contravened the law that it made should be held accountable. What the church did is right and the CLO supports any person, or group of persons protesting that this marginalisation should stop and the right thing should be done in accordance with the law.
But many are of the view that the incumbent administration should not be held responsible for the non-implementation of the law returning schools to their original owners?
I don’t agree with them because government is a continuum. There are things that this government has inherited from past administrations that are good. So, if they have inherited assets, they should also inherit liability, therefore, the issue of blaming past governments for not implementing the law holistically after it was enacted is neither here nor there; it is not obtainable and should be discarded as a wrong notion. The government is not about Peter Obi; not about Chris Ngige or Mbadinuju, but about continuity and the good of the state. So, whoever is in the saddle should continue to serve the state. The government set up a committee, which has submitted its report on the matter. So to me, as much as there are recommendations, these recommendations should be implemented for the benefits of the state.
Some are of the view that the way the church is going about the matter could lead to break down of law and order
If law and order is breached, the state government should be held responsible because since the Muhammadu Buhari administration came to power in 2015, the government will do a different thing after a court of competent jurisdiction has given an order. This amounts to acting beyond the powers of the president, and that is what the Anambra State government is doing. I would advise that if the government of Anambra State feels uncomfortable with the law passed by the state House of Assembly, it should send back a bill to the Assembly for an amendment of the law. That is the order and rule of law. But as much as it has failed to do this, and the law remains active, it will be counterproductive to start working against it.
What do you make of the clergymen’s threat to return to block the entrance of the Government House?
That is what I am saying. There are many ways to fight a matter. What the clergymen have done is part of enforcement of their rights, and that is to say that what the government has done is not good. They have the right to protest; they have the right to write letters, and they have the right to send delegations to government. I am not aware that the church has not written a letter to the government over this matter. They may have waited for a response, and seeing that government appears not ready to act, they decided to protest.
One thing you must know is that, from what we heard, the same government went into the place and chased worshippers away and started mounting billboards and rebuilding walls, an indication that it was not ready to dialogue with the church. That is not fair because you don’t use force all the time to achieve a end. There are instruments of force that can cause crisis and this is what this one is tilting to because it looks like beating a baby and asking the baby not to cry.
Why is the church and government always in contention over property?
I think it is abuse of due process of rule of law that has given rise to this. Why don’t we allow things that we inherited to be? I do not buy into the idea that the church is fighting the government because it couldn’t have risen just one day to protest against the government. The church and government should work together to build a just society because no single government can do this alone, no matter how powerful. The government should stop treating Nigerians as if they don’t know anything. The law should be respected by all and sundry, and with this, we can minimise these issues.
How true is the allegation of favouring denominations in the state?
Our laws abhor discrimination. The African Charter on Human Rights equally abhors discrimination. So, what the government has done, if it is true, it is an abuse of the Constitution and abuse of human rights. If these people have gone to court to protest this, they would have got justice. It is a serious matter that should be condemned by all and sundry.
Advise to the church
I call on the church to follow due process in asking for the return of the property. If it has gone to court, it should wait for judgment to be delivered. But where that seems to be unnecessarily delayed, it should move to possess that which is its right. The church has the power to make the state ungovernable for the governor and it is only by doing this that those in power will know that power belongs to the people. It is the government that is inciting crisis by the parochial approach.