The Nation (Nigeria)

‘President not required to crush self-determinat­ion agitators’

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In this piece, law lecturer Sylvester Udemezue opposes the view of Nigerian Bar Associatio­n (NBA) 1st Vice President Mr John Aikpokpo-martins, who argued that the President of Nigeria is required by the Constituti­on to quell secessioni­st agitations and that self-determinat­ion agitations were ‘simply unconstitu­tional.’

IREAD a published commentary credited to Mr Aikpokpo-martins, 1st Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Associatio­n (NBA) and National Chairman of NBA’S Human Rights Committee, but who made it clear he was speaking in his personal (not official) capacity.

I believe him that he spoke in his personal capacity and I urge all to learn to separate the office from the person, sometimes. As a Nigerian citizen, Mr Aikpokpo-martins’ freedom of expression is guaranteed by section 39 of the Constituti­on of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

George Washington said: “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter”.

In his work, as expressed in the “Silence Dogood” Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” I may disagree with what Mr Aikpokpo-martins has said, but I will defend to death his right to say it.

Mr Aikpokpo-martins’ commentary as published on June 2, 2021, on June 3, 2021 in Thena ion Newspaper, is titled, “Constituti­on Requires Buhari To Crush Kanu, Igboho, says NBA 1st Vice President, Aikpokpo-martins”._

In the article, Mr. Aikpokpoma­rtins argued, among other things, that (1). There is no room under Nigerian law for agitations for self-determinat­ion, and that (2). the Nigerian President who swore to defend the Nigerian Constituti­on is required by the same Constituti­on to “crush” all and any such agitations for Self-determinat­ion.

With due respect, Mr. Aikpokpo-martins’ said opinion has no support in the extant law, both of Nigeria and Internatio­nally.

First, agitations for Self-determinat­ion are allowed under Nigerian law (see article 20, African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratificati­on and Enforcemen­t) Act Cap A9, LFN, 2004, and even the Constituti­on (as I shall show shorty in my riposte to my Learned friend)

Further, contrary to Mr. Aikpokpo-martins’ erroneous view, the Nigerian constituti­on does not encourage Presidenti­al “crushing” of agitations for self-determinat­ion.

For the avoidance of doubts, my position recognises a clear difference between genuine agitations for self-determinat­ion and perpetrati­on of criminalit­y under the guise of such agitation. It befuddles reasonable imaginatio­n, benumbs civilised senses and beclouds sound legal principles and reasoning, for my brother and great learned friend, Mr Aikpokpoma­rtins, to openly encourage the “crushing” of all promoters of agitations for self-d eterminati­on, without making efforts to distinguis­h the latter from the former.

Mr Aikpokpo-martins’ published opinion deserves a wellreason­ed rejoinder to put things in proper perspectiv­es; yet, it is important to remind my friend that his use of “crush” which is itself unconstitu­tional, encourages criminalit­y and lawlessnes­s in a constituti­onal democratic experiment­ation said to be founded on rule of law; any action, whether by the president or by such agitators, that is not authorised by the constituti­on is either lawless or criminal. There’s no aspect of the Constituti­on that gives a blanket stamp of support to any Presidenti­al “crushing” of such agitators.

Deployment of lawlessnes­s (which “crush” implies) to deal with agitations for self-determinat­ion is itself criminal, not being legally justifiabl­e, unless the agitators are waging a war against the state or are trying to topple existing state institutio­ns by lawless means. My brother’s opinion loses its logical flavour when he gave a blanket endorsemen­t to presidenti­al “crushing” of all agitations for Self-determinat­ion, without any distinctio­n.

Anyway, I can see why the respected learned friend easily fell into such error; he believes, quite erroneousl­y, that the mere fact of agitating for self-determinat­ion is inherently unconstitu­tional, being, as he said (also erroneousl­y), inconsiste­nt with the aspect of the constituti­on that describes Nigeria as an “indivisibl­e country”.

I wholeheart­edly support the unity of Nigeria; this has been my position. But, talking law, with due respect, who told Mr Aikpokpo-martins that Nigeria can’t be legally divided if it chooses to so do? Such an argument (as advanced by Mr Aikpokpo-martins) shouldn’t come from a lawyer because there’s in the constituti­on, a section 9 that spells out processes and procedures for constituti­on amendment. An amendment could be for anything including to divide Nigeria, if the constituen­ts want that. What’s unconstitu­tional in achieving a division through such constituti­onal means? What’s unconstitu­tional if such a constituti­on amendment process is informed by agitations for selfdeterm­ination? How then does it make any sense for anyone to argue that agitations (all agitations without any exception) for self-determinat­ion are unconstitu­tional and accordingl­y deserving of presidenti­al “crushing”?

If all manner of agitations for self-determinat­ion are unconstitu­tional, and deserving of the “crush” attitude, then, likewise, I respectful­ly submit, all calls, suggestion­s, and propositio­ns for an amendment to the constituti­on to include in the constituti­on, anything not previously therein-contained, is illegal, unconstitu­tional and no less eligible to be crushed.

Finally, I have questions for my friend: Presidents swear to defend the constituti­on, no doubt!

Apart from fighting any deviation from the constituti­on, a second aspect of “defending the constituti­on” is (and Mr Aikpokpo-martins failed to address this aspect) for presidents to ensure their own (Presidenti­al) actions are strictly in tune with provisions of the constituti­on. Now, a question, how does a president get crushed, or, should a president get crushed, where his actions go against the constituti­on? Another question, could these presidents (by all their actions that we see) be said to be truly defending the constituti­on? Or, put differentl­y, do they defend the constituti­on in the interest of all Nigerians without any discrimina­tion or segregatio­n? Why didn’t Mr Aikpokpo-martins look at this aspect of defending the constituti­on? Or are Presidents above the law?

In summary, Mr Aikpokpoma­rtins’ commentary failed to interrogat­e material issues; this, I suggest, accounts for the fundamenta­l error into which his opinion fell. A genuine agitation for self-determinat­ion (until it engages in criminalit­y) is in the same category as calls to amend the constituti­on. If my learned friend had looked deeper, and investigat­ed further (he should have engaged in diligent research which is the hallmark of lawyering), he would have seen there is no difference at all, between the two.

A lawyer, in advancing public legal analytical opinions, ought to be holistic, broadbased and disinteres­ted, and not advancing legal arguments as if (s)he is issuing/making political statements calculated to serve or nourish vested interests or targeted at promoting inequity, illegality and unconstitu­tionality, or to cover up or justify victimisat­ion, oppression and suppressio­n in a country where equity, fairness, equality, freedom and oneness ought to be on the front seat. A lawyer’s argument should be based on law, not founded upon prejudicia­l predilecti­ons.

With due respect, Mr Aikpokpo-martins’ opinion is an expression of prejudices, merely dressed up to parade itself as a legal opinion. There is need to respond to Mr Aikpokpo-martins, in order to set the law straight and correct Mr Aikpokpo-martins’ gravely

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•Aikpokpo-martins
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•Udemezue

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