The Twitter saga
When I saw the front page headline of This Day Newspaper last Wednesday, I realised that this administration neither cares about the welfare or happiness of Nigerians, nor has it got the wherewithal to fulfil either the primary purpose of Government, nor the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, that is, Chapter II of the 1999 Constitution, which sets out the very essence of Government. Because, to insist that the suspension would not be rescinded until Twitter shows remorse, makes it abundantly clear that Nigeria has unfortunately been cursed with an egotistical Government suffering from chronic illusions of grandeur. If Twitter could deactivate President Trump’s account, why can it not delete President Buhari’s tweet? While I personally didn’t find President Buhari’s tweet offensive, that is my personal opinion; enough people would have found it offensive and reported it, to the extent that the President’s tweet met Twitter’s threshold for sanction.
We have a Government that is prepared to damn the consequences of the additional suffering being inflicted on its people who are already in pain, as a result of loss of revenue, loss of jobs especially for the millions of young Nigerians who constitute majority of the population, many of whom derive their livelihood from the use of Twitter. Nigeria is already the poverty capital of the world, and this only worsens the situation. The attendant negative multiplier effect of this decision is immaterial to Lai Mohammed and Government, as it is obviously more important for them to prove a point to Twitter, because their pride has been hurt, and they also see it as a golden opportunity to silence critics.
Section 16(1)(b) of the Constitution which mandates the State to inter alia, secure the maximum welfare and happiness of every citizen, does not come into play in many Government decisions, at least not in this one. The suspension of Twitter is clearly an infringement on our rights to freedom of expression, access to information and right to earn a living (Sections 39(1) 16(1)(d) and 17(3)(a) of the Constitution).
A contumacious government
Is there a word or phrase that can better describe what is presently happening in the country? Aside from insurrection, terrorism, insecurity, anarchy and constitutional crisis? One that describes a situation where you have a contumacious Government that protects and promotes lawlessness and political disorder, while it opposes the conservation of fundamental rights and legality? An oppressive authoritarian dictatorship, perhaps?
At every given opportunity, it seems that when there is a chance for Government to choose the welfare and happiness of Nigerians, it sacrifices the people and makes the wrong choice. Take for example, the decision of the Southern Governors to ban open grazing in their territories (supported by an earlier decision of the Northern Governors, and a joint decision of all Governors), in order to protect the lives and property of their people – a decision that is both constitutional and lawful, backed by Sections 14(2)(b) and 45 of the Constitution, and Section 1 of the Land Use Act 1978. When Miyetti Allah emerged with a statement that they would not obey the ban, as they were free to graze their cattle anywhere there is grass and water, Government supported their illegality by stating that such a ban infringes on their right to freedom of movement (Section 41 of the Constitution), when we all know that this right does not extend to cattle nor to being able to trespass on another’s land and commit other offences in the bargain. As long as the ban on open grazing is supported by laws enacted by the various State Houses of Assembly to that effect, as Ekiti and Benue States have done, most Lawyers, in fact anyone with a wholly Nigerian and not a tribalistic or ethnic agenda, agree that this ban is necessary and in order (see also Section 4(6) & (7) of the Constitution).
Government seeks to maintain the suspension order until Twitter comes to grovel for forgiveness, regardless of whether it is a breach of our fundamental human rights. See Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti & 3 Ors v AGF, Chief of Army Staff & 7 Ors 1985 2 N.W.L.R. Part 6 Page 211 at 230; Imonikhe v AG Bendel State 1992 23 N.S.C.C. Part II Page 480 at 491 per Nnaemeka-Agu JSC.
It is ironical that in the two instances which I have just highlighted, Government has eschewed constitutionality and legality, and shown itself to be lawless in this and numerous other instances. Unfortunately, the consequences of having a lawless Government is usually illegal opposition (as we see in the North East and South East) and a high crime rate, amongst many other evils; most of which we are experiencing in Nigeria today. When the rule of law is lacking in a society, it breeds inequity, inequality, insecurity and poverty.
Principles of the rule of law
We often refer to the rule of law – it seems almost non-existent in Nigeria, and until we start to develop it, these harsh problems which the country is facing, will not abate. I found an apt description of what exactly it means to have the rule of law in a society. The World Justice Project’s (WIP) Rule of Law Index, enumerates the following principles that demonstrate a society that is governed by the rule of law: “the government and its officials and agents are accountable under the law; the laws are clear, publicised, stable and fair, and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and property; the process by which laws are enacted, administered and enforced is accessible, efficient and fair; justice is delivered by competent, ethical, and independent representatives and neutrals who are of sufficient number, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve”.
Lack of rule of law in Nigeria
Is it that our Constitution was inadvertently designed to make our country fail ab initio, because of some of the mechanisms for dereliction inserted therein, which would inevitably prove to be unworkable in a democratic setting, unbeknownst to the drafters of the grundnorm? I use the word inadvertently, because I imagine that the drafters of the Constitution obviously did not foresee or envisage this kind of failure, chaos and misprision that is plaguing Nigeria today. Instead, they may have thought they were being ‘sharp’, crafty and cunning, their objective to surreptitiously perpetuate the military mindset, by introducing a pseudo-constitutional democracy, that is, continuing the unitary, centralised system of Government practiced by the military, giving some zones an advantage over others in the country as far as the number of States in the different geographical zones are concerned, thereby giving them a majority vote in Parliament (dictatorship) and making it a near impossibility to create any new States to balance the equation, by virtue of the unfriendly provisions of Sections 8 and 9(3) of the Constitution.
For good measure, they also inserted Section 6(6)(d) into the Constitution, which makes any issue concerning achieving (or not) the aims and objectives set out in Chapter II of the Constitution, that is, the very essence of governance, non-justiciable. This sealed the fate of accountability of governance and Nigerian Government officials, who did not want to take responsibility or be blameworthy in the first place, fuelling the flames of inequity, injustice, corruption, and many other societal ills. My point? The first element of a society governed by the rule of law – accountability of Government and public officials, is missing from ours.
Again, the second principle of clear and good laws or laws that uphold fundamental rights, is not always followed by our Government, or even our Legislature for that matter. A classic example is the draconian Hate Speech Bill which the Senate came up with, in order to gag Nigerians and curtail our freedom of expression, prescribing stiff penalties of even the death penalty. I have given the anti-open grazing law enacted by Ekiti and Benue State in the interest of their people, for the security of their lives and property, being opposed by the Federal Government and the Herders, as another example. The amendment to Section 31(1) of the Electoral Act which was definitely not publicised before it was passed, a proviso that INEC cannot reject or disqualify a candidate for any reason whatsoever, is another example of a bad law. This was clearly an unfair law enacted by Politicians for their own protection from disqualification, even in the event that they submit fake credentials or faulty documentation to INEC, or they are underaged, or simply unqualified to run for office for some other reason. See the Supreme Court case of People’s Democratic Party v Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo & 3 Ors.
Similarly, it was rumoured about four years ago, that there was a clandestine attempt by NASS to amend the Constitution to endow Sharia courts with criminal jurisdiction which they presently do not have, despite the provision of Section 10 of the Constitution which is to the effect that Nigeria is a secular nation. Here lies another example of opaqueness in our lawmaking. And, when that failed, the Sharia courts still continued to unlawfully exercise criminal jurisdiction which they do not possess, and dispense ‘injustice’ in criminal matters. The 2020 case of Yahaya Sharif Aminu, a musician in Kano State who was sentenced to death by hanging for blasphemy (an offence which the Holy Quran enjoins Muslim faithfuls to ignore and overlook, not punish with killing – Quran 33: 49, 4:141), readily comes to mind. See the case of Madukuolu v Nkemdilim 1962 2 S.C.N.L.R. 342.
The appointment of an Inspector General of Police who is not qualified for the position (contrary to the provisions of the Police Act 2020 and the Public Service Rules), and his wife who allegedly seeks to ban the sale of alcohol in the Police Barracks, are additional examples of Government, and even appendages to Government officials’ contempt for the rule of law. Pray tell, what law gives the wife of the IG the power to issue such an unconstitutional directive (if indeed, she did), because possibly, she and her husband are Muslims? Any adult over the age of 18 has the right to consume alcohol.
Lagos State contributes about 50% of the V.A.T. generated in Nigeria, with plenty of it derived from the sale of alcoholic beverages, nightclubbing and so on. While the Sharia States prohibit the sale of alcohol and this kind of robust social life, many of them except Kano State, contribute little or almost nothing to the total V.A.T. revenue of the country, yet, they get more than their fair share in the distribution of V.A.T. revenue to the States. Is this not hypocritical, inequitable, unjust and unfair? Hisbah is famous for destroying beer. In Kano, in 2013 and 2015, 240,000 and 326,151 bottles of beer were destroyed by Hisbah. Why then, should the V.A.T. revenue derived from the sale of alcohol, not be restricted to only those States that allow alcohol, especially if the Sharia States are honestly being true to their religion? Is it just, to enjoy the revenue of what you disallow? In this case, reprobate and approbate?
And what about justice delivery? The wheels of justice in Nigeria are slow, our courts are grossly underfunded, our jurists grossly underpaid and disrespected, while there’s always one outcry or the other from time to time, about the suitability of some of those appointed to the Bench to dispense justice – complaints like not being knowledgeable enough or being partisan. Or even the issue of attempting to appoint a known APC supporter and aide to the President, to such an important and delicate position of INEC National Commissioner, which demands absolute neutrality for fairness? If we were not in a lawless society, with a Government that disregards the rule of law with gusto and aplomb (relish too), the idea of having such a person as an INEC Commissioner would be unthinkable, let alone letting it see the light of day.
I am quite sure that you will agree with me, that it is glaring that the combination of the aforementioned factors and examples which I have cited, only a few out of a myriad, I might add, are anti-rule of law and therefore, an impediment to the achievement of a successful and just society. Our foundation is indeed, extremely faulty, therefore making it inevitable that the country must wobble very badly. Going forward, any constitutional amendment or redrawing, and law reform exercise, must take many of these anomalies, partisanship etc into consideration, and rectify them to reflect equity, equality, inclusion, excellence, accountability of public officials etc. In practical terms, many of these injustices can be corrected today, by actions or policy change. Government already has their work cut out for them. As tensions continue to mount, I advice Government to hurriedly take some positive, practical steps to address these injustices. I believe it will improve the situation in the country.