ON CONSTITUTIONAL POLICEMEN AND UNCONSTITUTIONAL LAWMAKERS | by Ayo Sogunro

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Mr Suleiman Abba seems to have settled fine into his new job. More importantly, he is making it into the headlines quite splendidly. Such notoriety comes with the territory—being the Inspector General of Police of Nigeria and all.

However, his recent order to withdraw the security aides of the Speaker of the federal House of Representatives seems to have caused some political uproar and general indifference. Frankly, I opt for the indifference option, because, you see, I don’t think Mr Aminu Waziri Tambuwal—or any current Nigerian politician—deserves any better protection than I do. Not because I lay any claim to some special considerations, but just because I believe that if basic security is still unavailable to a Nigerian citizen in 2014, then why should the politicians rest easier?

To pursue that subject a bit, I would be quite happy if all policemen were withdrawn from individual politicians and added to the general patrol—there is more hope of the security personnel adding more value to the society this way. If a politician feels threatened, he or she should examine his or her handiwork. The only protection a politician deserves should be the protection of the people they serve—but let us reserve that discussion for now.

So, back to Mr Abba and the Speaker: if the news reported the policeman correctly, he claimed to be enforcing the provisions of the 1999 constitution, and considering that, to him, the Speaker had breached the Constitution, he was constrained by his oath of office to sanction the Speaker immediately. This was quite an overreaching decision.

All this moral outrage is admirable, and it is a conscientious interference of a type that one hopes would be emulated on even worthier causes. But (sad as it may seem to many in the armed forces) we do not run a police state; instead, we are, somehow, running a constitutional democracy. And, flawed as this system may seem, we still have to abide by its fundamental principles if we are not to make a total nonsense of it.

Now, what does this constitutional democracy have to say about these problematic circumstances? Let’s start with the granddaddy of our laws, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which says, in s. 109(1) that a member of the House should “vacate” his seat if, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of his term. Now, since “vacate” is a rather individualistic decision when it comes to practical terms, s. 109(2) requires the Speaker of the House to give effect to the vacating process after he provides satisfactory evidence on the matter.

Now, this is awkward.

And you can see why: because, in this case, the Speaker is also the person who requires vacationing. And he only can give effect to his own vacationing. In short, the Constitution dropped the ball on that one.

Personally, I would have suggested that such a member be “lifted up and bundled out by citizens from his constituency” or such other exciting procedure. But, for now, we are stuck with the Speaker being required to give effect to his own removal. Which leads us to three other possibilities.

One, the House elects a new Speaker and, once the old Speaker is an ordinary member, he is summarily vacated or bundled off as required. But, this is a political solution and we know how tricky that is.

Two, the Speaker does the honourable thing and vacates himself from office without ado—but we know the chances of that happening. Zero, just to be clear.

Three, the Attorney General of the Federation goes to court, on behalf of “we the people”, and asks for an judgement declaring the Speaker’s seat vacant and removing Mr Tambuwal by force—which would then justify using the police to execute the court order. That is, if the AGF or the President cares that much.

Now, to make matters worse, the Constitution proceeds to offer an escape route by permitting legislators to defect if there was a split, merger or factional dispute in the political party. And because everyone knows every party in Nigeria is constantly suffering from identity crisis, a lot of legislators have based selfish defections on this particular excuse.

Not unexpectedly.

And so, the law and the facts have made a right mess of things. And when the law goes messy, we ought to turn to the lawyers and the judges to straighten things out. We don’t call the police to sort it out. Every police action in a constitutional democracy has to be traceable to either a direct order from the president, or a direct provision from the enabling law of the police force.

Otherwise, no sir, it is not the duty of the Nigerian Police Force to interpret the law for Nigerians. The alternative scenario, if we were to push it to the logical conclusion, would then result in policemen marching into homes and offices to enforce provisions of the Constitution directly—and we will have to skip that pesky process known as litigation.

Now, to emphasise: by all means withdraw the security detail of the Speaker, but do so as a direct executive order—and leave the constitutional interpretation for the judges.


 

Ayo Sogunro is the author of The Wonderful Life of Senator Boniface and other Sorry Tales. A lawyer by profession, he also indulges in quasi socio-legal philosophy on this blog. You may interact with him on Twitter via @ayosogunro.

Re: To the Guys That Want To Take Down LIB | Love Letter from Ayo Sogunro

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Dearest Linda Ikeji,

Re: To the Guys That Want To Take Down LIB

Permit me the indulgence of a few lines to your eminent personality. I have been a constant fan of your work, although from afar. To be honest, I rarely open your blog volitionally, never scrolled through the news items on a slow day, never typed out the address on my browser to open it; yet, like hundreds of thousands of other Nigerians—I find myself falling into your domain through the intricacies of internet sharing and their damn hyperlinks. Despite this non-conscious increment of your page views, I dare say that I have had no cause to complain about the content of LIB—I expected to find gossip and entertainment not Shakespeare, and you have never disappointed me.

So, again, I am a huge admirer of your intrepid work.

But this is not to say I have not had some mixed feelings—possibly on the verge of “beef”: as a writer who has managed to capture some viral attention on social media myself, I know how difficult it is to get to the top. Like you have rightly pointed out, you are highly ranked in the Nigerian cybersphere. And, you could say I envy—to use our recent diction—your super-megastar blog status.

Yet, this is not an automatic “hating”.

You see, I do not hold your successes against you. The fact that gossip and entertainment blogs rank higher than informative or analytical ones is hardly your fault—it’s just a simple reflection of our society’s intellectual values. More importantly, if you don’t make the money from this, someone else will, anyway. Considering your status as, I think, a single black woman, it is all the more inspiring that you are the one raking in all that cash and influence. Believe me, this is a really inspiring story—worthy of its own biopic sometime.

But on the other hand, here is the problem: we live in a world of laws and regulations, and most of your critics have come from that angle. And a lot of people cherish these legal values. In fact, some people are almost insane about the extent to which they are prepared to enforce laws. These people are passionate enough about their rights under the law to come across as your “haters”. I, for one, am willing to ignore a lot of these unreasonable laws—but not everyone one can be as patient as I am.

Now, what do I mean?

Take, for example, the other day when you published my letter criticizing that son of the Abachas: I was quite happy to see it posted on your blog even without you requesting permission. Practically the whole of Nigeria’s internet did, anyway. I didn’t mind. I am crazy like that. For people like me, we are happy to see our content shared around the world without restrictions, even where the person sharing it is making money from it. To people like me, the moral right to be acknowledged as the writer is sufficient, and we do not care much about the economic rights—which is why I will never get to buy a Range Rover.

You got the moral rights acknowledgment aspect correct in your response to these so-called haters. But, a lot of my writer friends are not haters, they are simply hard workers who would also like, very much, to buy their own Range Rovers someday; a difficult enough ambition in Nigeria, where writing is about the lowest paying job or business an African can have. Consequently, a number of my writer friends are very guarded, not just about the moral rights, but also about the economic rights of their writings.

Now, I do not necessarily agree with their position about sharing online content. This is where you and I are on the same page—afterall, we should all be grateful first to Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, who gave us this medium without copyright or licensing restrictions. But, we do not control the laws or the regulations governing copyright—and so we have to understand the point of my writer friends. These people are not “haters” and they do not want to take down your blog just to make some money. No, they are mostly writers with genuine economic copyright grievances—and that 2014 Range Rover Sport Supercharged didn’t help them to suddenly become more understanding.

Consequently, we should be able to see their perspective, considering also that Google sees their perspective.

All of these is why: first, as a publisher, you need a lawyer to help you circumnavigate the murky waters of copyright—forget the excuse that everyone else is doing it, and focus on doing it right; secondly, start some payment terms for the hungry, trekking, writers whose writing you “borrow”—you will be surprised how cooperative they can get. Thirdly, you may need an accountant too, just to balance the costs of all these economics. It’s a small price to pay to save yourself the burden of critics—and you may end up having to own, maybe, not a Range Rover. But you will rest easy from spammers, hackers, and critics who will stop at nothing to get you off the charts.

These, of course, do not mean you will not have genuine haters determined to make cyberspace a warfront for you—but for genuine haters, just like you said, you have “the backing of God”, same as the rest of us mortals. Meanwhile, get the backing of the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for all the other stuff. You’re in the big leagues now, and the legal world comes with the package.

On a personal note, I am also very keen on changing my car; My 2004 Honda Accord is so not supercharged and has become a bit of a drag with old age. A retainer with my firm would be a quietly and quite satisfactory arrangement for both of us. As a bonus: you get the services of a great writer into the bargain—particularly to help with all those pesky original content.

I look forward to your prompt response.

Yours respectfully, sincerely, faithfully, captivated and so on, etc.

Ayo Sogunro

P.S.: You know you don’t need my permission to share this—we now have an understanding.


Ayo Sogunro is the author of The Wonderful Life of Senator Boniface and other Sorry Tales. A lawyer by profession, he also indulges in quasi socio-legal philosophy on this blog. You may interact with him on Twitter via @ayosogunro.

A WORD FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO SEE MORE YOUTHS IN POWER | By Ayo Sogunro

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It has become somewhat popular these days for people to discuss the role of and opportunities for, what I will call “youths in power”. As an example, my amiable acquaintance, Ohimai—a young man who has demonstrated the administrative capacities of young people with quiet aplomb—and certain other people in the public space have touted a #30PercentOrNothing call on social media for what I believe is an amendment to their political party’s elective ratio. This request is of mild interest in itself, and one which can be followed without an emotive flutter.

However, when the discussion slips from the political party space and ventures into the general polity, there is some cause for concern. This is because, frankly, a demand for the inclusion of youths in government is not a serious topic but, instead, comes across as a type of the socio-political distractions that rear their head during election season and takes away from the attention and time dedicated to more serious issues.

The unfortunate ramification of this article is the unnecessary fuel it will add to an already overblown debate. However, on the positive hand, a little common sense derived from this piece may help in pushing the topic along more reasonable lines.

Now, the question of “youths in power” implies two assumptions: one, that the inclusion of youths in the political space is a vital aspect of good governance; and two, that this inclusion has to be initiated and established through a legally entrenched political process.

The first assumption stated above is no more correct than the statement would be if the word “youth” was substituted by  “children”, “adult”, “women”, “carpenters”, “lawyers” or any other community of individuals in the society. This conclusion is self-evident: there is no inherent quality in the fact of being a youth that confers on the person a better sense of political administration than it does on any other community. It is therefore no more important to have a fixed representation of youths in government than if we were to have a fixed representation of children or the elderly. The same principle applies to gender differentiations: sensibility is not a factor of gender, nor is it determined by age. There have been stupid men unfit for government, and equally stupid women; and a daft old person most likely started life as a daft young person.

However, even if we were to acknowledge that youthfulness implies general qualities of energy, innovation and enthusiasm, then we should also embrace the counterpoint that, in general, most young people are egoistic, unreasonable, easily impressed by their own achievements and consequently susceptible to manipulative flattery. To what extent then should political administration be entrusted to such volatile temperaments?

This is not to deride the ability of young people—a demographic in which I am still a proud member—it is, instead, caution against the hysterical support for political inclusions of social communities, instead of political inclusion of deserving individuals.

And this brings us to the second assumption: the request for a legally entrenched political structure specifically inclusive of youths. Let us consider this idea from three perspectives.

One: In Nigeria, the Constitution already guarantees every individual above the age of eighteen a stake in the government through appointive positions, and from the age of thirty, through elective positions. This is as far as any political structure should go. This legal structure is the equal platform from which every individual can launch into government—and in a sane polity, such deserving individuals are encouraged. Any other political process to specially include communities in governance is not just partisan, but also a potential threat to equality of opportunities.

Two: We may concede that, unfortunately, the current political structure in Nigeria makes a mockery of the supposed constitutional equality and, instead, favours the political emergence of the association of older men. This, however, is a result of socio-cultural factors, and not legal ones. Socio-cultural factors that unduly place emphasis on a culture of age, respect for elders and “seniors”, and the subjugation of women. An appeal of sorts to the political class of older men for the standardised inclusion of youths or women in their ranks becomes then a social validation of their usurped entitlement. On the assumption that the patriarchal order is voluntarily interested in parting with its political power, older men then become the givers, who “generously” include women and youths in government. But the principle is clear: he who gives can also take away; and what’s worse—they can also dictate the terms of their gift. The real task is then to work hard at changing the social factors that give rise to an older-male dominated society, and the key tool for this is the championing of universal education and human rights.

Three: Demographics change and social issues and circumstances vary over time, it is consequently improper for a legal provision to entrench an issue which is of concern during a particular period into the permanent political structure. In any given year, clowns may be in high demand—this is well, the people can vote in clowns into power. But it is wrong to have the system make it a requirement that a percentage of the administration must forever be composed of clowns.

Which is why if clowns—or any other community of individuals—are interested in a serious change of political control, they have to take it forcefully: through revolutions, coups or some non-violent but affirmative political action, firmly independent of the existing order. Change is never happily introduced; it has to be kicked into the stage.

Let me be clear: youths have a right to be in power—but only in equal proportion to every other group in society. In Nigeria’s history, youths were effective in pushing the British out of government—and youths were equally effective in destroying the economy of the country. In fact, most of the old people in governance today were once the youths in government yesterday. With the exception of Abacha (who, nevertheless, was in government since his 40s) and Shagari, every head of the Nigerian government prior to 1998 took office at an age range from 32 to 48 years.

In conclusion, and for those who insist on a perceived positive role of youths in government, here’s an easy—but equally difficult—suggestion: if you want to take power from an insufferable patriarchal order, simply stop working for the older man.


 

Ayo Sogunro is the author of The Wonderful Life of Senator Boniface and other Sorry Tales. A lawyer by profession, he also indulges in quasi socio-legal philosophy on this blog. You may interact with him on Twitter via @ayosogunro.

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