“… the Constitution itself is based on a false premise, to wit, “We, The People” when “We, The People” had no hand in its making, directly or indirectly, as it was a product of military fiat which was not acting and did not act on behalf of “We, The People”, even as it unwittingly affirms the Peoples’ sovereignty by so doing.” — Egbe Omo Oduduwa, a Nigerian political organisation.
Year 2016 will witness the expansion of a constitutional crisis that has plagued this country for a long time. This crisis will not be solved in 2016 however, because we are yet to accept that it is a constitutional crisis. Heck, we are yet to even identify it as one, much less accept it as one. It is a crisis caused by the twin monsters of religion and culture.
The 1999 Constitution, in 17:2:a, tells us that every citizen of Nigeria shall have before the law, equality of rights, obligations and opportunities. There is also an entire section, Chapter IV, devoted to the fundamental rights of Nigerian citizens, and this section, includes 41:1 which says that “Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof.” This, is the theory.
However, in practice, what we see is quite different. Nigeria, in practice, subscribes to the Orwellian principle that “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” We saw so many examples of this in 2015, and have seen so many examples in the years since the 1999 Constitution came into effect. However, for the purpose of this discussion, we will dwell on two, which happened in 2015.
In October 2015, the Deji of Akure banned the Eze Ndi Igbo title in the Akure area. Among the Igbo, such a title has no basis, but, the legality of such a title among the Igbo is of no consequence in this discussion. What is of consequence is that the Deji’s action caused a ruckus which became, for a brief moment, a national issue as it caused people to come at each other, and caused some acts of violence in the Akure area. However, the Deji, overstepped his limitations, and no one saw it fit to tell him.
In an ostensibly republican state such as Nigeria, a traditional ruler has absolutely no right to tell people how they can form associations, whom to appoint as head of said associations, and what names the heads of such associations can bear. It does not matter whether the traditional ruler is in Umuaji, my ancestral village, or Kaura Namoda or Akure. The Deji of Akure clearly overstepped the bounds of his role as a ceremonial relic of a bygone age, and entered the legal territory of the local governments and the judiciary as enshrined in Section 7 of the Constitution.
Unfortunately, among “educated” Nigerians, opinion on this matter predictably went along the lines of where the speaker was coming from either an Igbo person, or a Yoruba person. One did not need to have Einstein’s IQ to figure out what most Igbo said, or what most Yoruba said, and no one, spoke about the Deji’s legal right to make the rulings he made. The Constitution, was subverted, and we all watched it happen, thus setting a precedence which will be repeated in other parts of the country in 2016, and will contribute further to fraying our already tenuous unity.
In December of this year, there was a standoff in the compound of Ibraheem Zakzaky, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, the group to which the Shi’a sect of Islam in Nigeria belong. The standoff was between the Shi’a, and men of the Nigerian Army, and it ended predictably with the Shi’a being beaten to a pulp both figuratively, and in reality. A good number of them were sent off to be judged by the Almighty himself as well. Again, like in the case of the Deji, what led to the standoff is academic, and has no bearing on this discussion. What has a bearing on this discussion is that the standoff polarised Nigeria along sectarian lines, with many Sunni Muslims coming out in support of the actions of the Army just for the mere reason that “the Shi’a have been a nuisance.” As a matter of fact, the day after Christmas, some residents of Zaria, spoken for by a chap called Idris Baba requested the FG to ban the Shi’ites. This call, in direct contravention of Section 10 of our Constitution, the only section that has no sub-section, and simply states: “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.”
That section of the Constitution has been violated so many times, by so many people, but it was all started on a sunny day in sleepy Gusau, by Ahmed Sani Yerima, who defines himself first as a Muslim, then as a Sunni, before a Nigerian. Yet, he is a serving Senator of the Federal Republic. If we go a little further in the Constitution, 38:1 tells us in no uncertain terms that “Every person in Nigeria shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom to alone or with others, in public or in private, manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”
If that is the case, and we are talking of preventing the Shi’ites from worshipping, then are we obeying the very Constitution that our public officers, including Yerima, have sworn to protect?
These are the little facts before us: Nigeria is currently standing at a precipice. That precipice, is to a large extent wrought by the fact that our Constitution is full of contradictions. These contradictions come out of the little fact that the 1999 Constitution as is to a large extent (a few amendments have been made since 1999) a copy of the 1979 Constitution which proved so flawed. The 1979 Constitution in itself was copied in large parts from the American Constitution, but tweaked slightly to mandate that political parties and cabinet positions reflect the “federal character” of the nation: political parties were required to be registered in at least two-thirds of the states, and each state had to have at least one member of the cabinet from it.
However, in making that copy, the men who drafted the 1979 Constitution, and inadvertently, the 1999 one, willfully or otherwise, decided not to take our unique history into account. Nigeria, is a highly sentimental country, a barbarous country where old traditional wine continues to fill new bottles, often leading to a breaking of the bottles. On my own part, I have no faith at all, that our constitutional crisis will be solved any time soon.