The Nation (Nigeria)
‘President not required to crush self-determination agitators’
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