All posts by Nasiru Suwaid

The Political Metaphor From Rivers State, By Nasiru Suwaid

Nasiru Suwaid

There is this widely held belief in Nigeria, though some people hold it as universal, that in any altercation between individuals of higher standing in the society with those beneath them, the bigger man never wins.

The Late Mallam Aminu Kano often cautioned in the many of his sermons, during the heady days of the second republic: He would say, in the theatre of Nigerian politics, just as in a local wrestling match, when you throw the opponent down, don’t declare victory by overturning your opponent, pinning him on the ground, and placing your legs atop his stomach, in a triumphant gesture of conquest.

The reason, the late sage used to emphasize, is that with a little loss of concentration, the very next moment could find him on top of you such that the sweet scent of victory could quickly transform into a record of monumental defeat.

This is the reason why when Rivers state political crisis began, I deliberately ignored it by taking scant interest in the selfish battles of supremacy, except from the curious perspective of a student of politics, viewing the strategic interplay of political brinkmanship, where a political gladiator takes calculated risks against a leadership with the goal of securing victory by seemingly conceding defeat.

Actually, my major interest, in all the back and forth of the political conflict, was not who won the first battles or even which party got the upper hand in the short run, but whose strategies, in the long run, secured the coveted prize in 2015.

By way of a mythic recall, what I was specifically interested in was which  group best internalized the Aminu Kano prescriptions for political victory in his metaphor of the wrestling match. If anyone would need this playbook as a guide to political strategy, I badly fear it is the president whose political strategy, in the politics of Niger-Delta recommends itself for new pathways.

If we may recall, the president, through his now famous Minister of State for Education, Mr. Nyesom Wike, took away the party from the governor and striped him of every instrument of federal power, most especially, the pleasure and privilege of being a chief security officer of a state, the person who gets to control the police, thus nearly rendering him politically redundant.

Then the gloating began and the open proclamations about the defeat of an opponent, who could not even give executive orders to his state police commissioner, because, of course, the state’s chief police officer would rather see himself not answerable to the governor.

On a good day, this could have been the end of the contest of supremacy, except for the fact that the particular personality in question, though thought to be hopelessly ineffective, still retained the control of his House of Assembly, while maintaining the loyalty of the significant membership of the National Assembly from his state.

This two instrumental organs of operative democratic governance, ensured for Rotimi Amaechi a redoubtable security of tenure, as well as the ability to set a path for confronting a presidential traducer, with the state assembly shielding the governor from any attempt to impeach him, while the federal lawmakers protected their embattled junior state brethren on the task undertaken, as well as on what accrues to the state in terms of federal funding.

As such, while the Abuja politicians were celebrating clipping the wings of the local champion in Port Harcourt, a crisis of acceptability erupted at Wadata Plaza, where a group of governors under Ameachi’s influence, refused to recognize the leadership of the national chairman of the People’s Democratic Party, when the supporters of the president chose to balkanize the Nigerian Governors Forum into factions.

In the positional battles that ensued, Amaechi’s angry peers effectively severed the party into a division of two opposing blocs, thus, for the first in the history of the Africa’s largest ruling party, the disunity within the ranks of the party in power became so self evident and the power of its principal leader whittled down against a chain of dissenting defectors.

As it is now, for a president who inherited a controlling power in the National Assembly, to get to a point of struggling to maintain a simple majority in the parliament doesn’t look like a decent balance sheet.

In the lower chamber of the House of Representatives, the biggest party in Africa is now only a minority, fearful of what happens in the next coming days of legislative agenda, and wondering whether its principal officers would be forced to wear the tag and wear the new toga of minority leadership, because, you just cannot lose a sitting majority and expect the reward of having higher number of elected representative delegates to the assembly.

From the upper chamber of the Nigerian parliament, despite the absence of clarity on who belongs to where, in terms party membership, what is at least clear is that the People’s Democratic Party still controls the Senate, or better to say, at least the loyalty of the majority of its membership.

However, after what happened a forthnight ago in Rivers state, repeated again last week, when a serving senator of the Federation was openly assaulted by the Nigerian police, the equilibrium has suddenly shifted, and the primal law of self and selfish institutional preservation has taken effect.

True, Magnus Abe, may be an opponent of the president, and a local operator within the context of Rivers politics, giving the administration the false comfort that he is a fair game in the destructive exchanges which defines political differences in the state, it soesnt easily add up that way.

In the context of the Nigerian systemic norm, he is also the representative of an institution, which has the mantra of peer equality in a distinguished chamber of power. This is a kind of a close-knit group of individuals, who are very jealous of their privileges, even if they hardly care about their other constitutional responsibilities. Thus, any attack on one of them is akin to an intrusive invasion against all, which will at the very least, leave the legislative agenda of the seeming attacker in peril.

Nasiru Suwaid, a constitutional and human rights attorney, lives and writes from kano where he is also a community development advocate.

The Moral Realism of Regime Change, By Nasiru Suwaid

Nasiru Suwaid

This is the beginning of a new year, away from the end of another year that marked itself as a season of long open letters.

It is also a season of letters presumably meant for the other party alone, but which, curiously, became the spectacle of a wider community. Pray, what is the purpose of a letter that is signed, sealed and mailed in confidence of its delivery only to a certain address?

But, before now, in the previous years past, what used to be the norm is that this period is usually a time for prophecies, where men of God, clairvoyant forecasters of the future, loquacious fortune tellers, and even those who think of themselves as little gods and goddesses, who can predict what becomes of other people’s destiny, take the centre stage and issue a lot of platitude about the good, the bad and even the ugly things that might happen.

Although many doubters, of which I am very much inclusive, would situate these yearly projections as nothing more than acts and arts inspired by pure conjunctures, many of their projections sometimes come true.  The question then is why do many still listen to them or even believe them? Thus for anyone wishing to forecast what might be the fate of the country in 2014, within the visionary range of Nigerian as a democratic enterprise here are some quick guides.

A little peep into politics and the leadership equations, tells us, painfully that all things will remain the way they are. The question of course as to who, or what, determines the destiny of a nation, we have come to know, has nothing to do with who rules.

Uncomfortable as many may want to accept it, the Jonathan succession grail is a settled fact; and the notion that this new year will herald new elections, and that the current president will still preside over the country, is all in the determination of the opposition which has a choice to make it happen or to blow a bold and golden chance.

Thus, whether the People’s Democratic Party would be able to contain the impending implosion from within and from without its non- partisan borders remains one of the major stories of the year waiting for attention. The fact that the ruling party in Nigeria had to shed its membership, before a strong and viable opposition could emerge, therefore says a lot and confirms the impact, importance, and inevitable permanence, of this rapacious behemoth, which had, before now, swallowed many candidates of the struggling opposing parties, leaving in its wake, empty shells of many a political organization.

In fact, the ruling party is a true reflection of Nigeria or at the very least, the caricature of a disreputable nation, where the image one mostly sees are the repetitive trait of crime, corruption and cataclysmic bad governance. The leadership of the party is also a representative highlight of a typical national citizen or, more appropriately, as the classic Nigerian story.

Take the national chairman of the umbrella logo bearing party, the man looks like anyone’s grand daddy, whom, even when you know was engaged in all the vices unique to Nigerians, you had to, out of deep reverence, fear, or sheer political correctness, prefer to see as a saintly sage, full of wisdom.

From another angle, take the national leader of the ruling party and the principal official within it ranks, the story of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. This is a classic Nigerian story; the typical rags to riches recount of a kid who wore no shoes going to school, but whom fate has elevated to preside over a nation. You can now proceed to ask what management legacy we are receiving. Frittering away most of the nations resources due to monumental graft, misapplication of funds, and a clear case of open thievery, which, except for a few select individuals, is exactly the same life history of the many personalities who had ruled this nation.

In a nation afflicted with get-rich-quick syndrome, and having such a national party as representative grace, every politician worth consideration, invariably thinks they must belong to the ruling party. Then in what direction do we look to regarding the prospects for change? Sadly it is the politicians of old, the same tainted breed, not the clergy, nor the holy men of valor, or even the feisty academic critics, who can cross over to create the needed change in leadership.

  This is part of the burden of a developing democracy, the trite logic of political infancy where core institutional developments are still inchoate. This is very much unlike societies where the ruling elites have not created a settled block of opposing parties, like the Democrats versus the Republicans in the United States of America, or the Conservatives, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom.

In the case of Nigeria, as a young democracy, with parties that are barely a decade in existence, and where ideological conviction is almost non-existent, what would create an incentive for change is not moralist chivalry, or sanctimonious preachment, but the need to preserve the system from the self-destructive ailment of over staying a welcome.

What it all boils down to, therefore, is that anything that replaces the ruling party in Nigeria will not merely be the case of good triumphing over evil, but the classic realism of a lesser evil taking over from a stale opponent.

Mr. Suwaid, a public interest attorney and community activist, is a regular contributor to Premium Times. He resides in Kano.

Budget Rituals and Presidential Responsibilities, By Nasiru Suwaid

Nasiru Suwaid

When it happened, many an American citizen situated it as an innocuous mistake or even an innocent misrepresentation, where during the first inauguration ceremony of President Barack Obama, on the 20th of January 2009, Chief Justice John G. Roberts incorrectly ‘garbed’ or rather ‘mangled’ some wordings in the constitutionally sacred deed of swearing an oath of office, but most specifically, the particular section that was caused to be mumbled inaudibly was the word ‘faithfully’.

Upon realizing the dangerous precedent about to be set, the head of the American judiciary had to call for repeat of the oath swearing for the next day, which is the 21st of January precisely, to guard against the eventuality of some individuals questioning the legality of the oath taken by Obama and the legitimacy of the government formed with such a defectively sworn vow. Unfortunately for the concerned parties in the swearing ceremony imbroglio, the tenure of the outgoing incumbent President George W. Bush, ended on the 12 noon of the 20th January 2009, while President-elect Barack Obama was to be affirmatively re-sworn on the early noon of the 21st of January.

   The question that arose was whether the expiration of Bush’s tenure and the none assumption of office of his successor via a validly accepted oath, has not created a constitutional crisis, with its implication for a presumed vacancy in the White House. After all, is the practical act of swearing an oath not the beginning of the tenure of any elected political office holder?

Fortunately, the assumptive, and need I say, the presumptive benevolence of political conventions, aided in settling a likely fatalistic legal lacuna, with the view that the moment one administration’s tenure ended, the elected successor immediately assumes its place, with or without the validating swearing-in ceremony. Indeed, the 20th Amendment to the United States Constitution affirmed the Convention, where it states; “The term of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January…; and the term of the successor shall begin.”

 Thus, what the American example is telling us, apart from the fact that we operate a similar federal and presidential constitution, is that even established legal norms could be overridden by conventional wisdom.  This is what appears to have come to the rescue with respect to the legality of having the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance present the 2014 Budget Proposal before the National Assembly.  Otherwise, under strict reading of the law, Section 67(2) of the 1999 Constitution offered a minister only narrow latitude to do no more than to defend a ministerial portfolio, when invited to the National Assembly.

In fact, the other authorizing Section 148(1) of the same document only expresses the discretionary power of Nigerian president to delegate responsibility. Strictly speaking therefore, the only appropriate portion of the constitution, Section 81(1), cited to justify the budget laying exercise and which emanated from the Powers and Control over Public Fund, mentioned only the president as the sole authority to triger the preparation, and laying to the National Assembly, the revenue and expenditure profile of the succeeding year.

Yet we cannot lose sight of the inherent dangers to the democratic health of the nation that this excersie of civic delegation connotes. The truth is that it is democratically, and need I say constitutionally, inappropriate to merely employ the mechanism of the law, to throw a non-elected official before a parliament to perform a task that is strictly demanded of an elected official.  Cutting it all to chase, this is a threat to the long held democratic norms and ethos of accountable governance, indirectly a disrespect to the people’s parliament, but directly a snub to the people through their elected representatives and most importantly, a sacrilege in a democracy.

There are those who might argue that it is not unique to Nigeria, and that in a country like the United Kingdom, it is Secretary of Her Majesty’s Treasury, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who traditionally lay the budget in the British House of Commons. It is pertinent to note though, such a government minister, unlike the one heading the finance ministry in Nigeria is an elected member of the parliament and that he or she is always accompanied to the legislature, to perform the sacred constitutional duty of budget presentation by the British Prime Minister.

It is most important and noteworthy to observe that budget presentation is more than the projection of fiscal financial expenditure profile of the incoming year, or even an agreement on the Medium Term Expenditure Framework of the succeeding years.

It is not a ritual platform to lay meaningless financial figures or economic indices that are hardly implemented. Rather, it is deeply sober and reflective performance, on the future financial requirement of a nation, most especially, it is a platform and an avenue to reassure the country and its citizens on the social, physical, environmental, security and general challenges confronting the polity, which certainly cannot be undertaken successfully, nor performed adequately by a mere appointed public official. To be sure, this is at the very least, a monumental shirking of presidential responsibility akin to a constitutional gross misconduct.

Mr. Suwaid is a constitutional lawyer, and a community activist based in Kano. He also writes a regular column for Premium Times.

Mr. Jonathan Counsels a Kenyan Colleague! By Nasiru Suwaid

Nasiru Suwaid

“I believe that any law whether local or international as well as Treaties and Conventions should be instruments for the resolution of human problems not to compound them.”

 -President Goodluck Jonathan

The day I first heard of this new policy statement, I was so totally shocked and flabbergasted, that I could also imagine the state of turmoil, which Nigeria’s presidential speech writers would have felt, when a president pointedly initiates a new foreign policy turn, via statements made off the curve, and in blatant disregard to his prepared presidential speech at a foreign parliamentary appearance.

The context of this blow out performance was President Jonathan’s last week state visit, and address to the Kenyan Parliament, where he highlighted the bonds of friendship existing between the two African countries, exploring the historical ties binding them, and sharing their similar challenges with governance. The president, as much as traced these challenges from independence, indicating how the challenges obfuscated their march to greatness, concluding with a promise and an acclaim; to build a society where justice reign supreme, granting fairness and equality to all before the law.

Most surprisingly, the now often quoted statement of the presidential appearance, was not even part of the prepared text of the speech, nor did it require an intensive proof reading, to discover that the statement did not emanate from published text of the speech.

Simply put, the Nigerian president evidently conjured the statement outside the prepared text, most probably, as an inadvertent feeling of filial bonds of affinity, with a fellow Head of State, who is under tremendous pressure from the International Criminal Court, to honor an appearance in the international court trying persons suspected of criminal activities.

It is noteworthy, and as was affirmed by even the august speaker, Kenya and Nigeria share a lot of similarities, though rather than for the good, ours is more of a behavioral trait and conspiracy to engage in corruption, ethnic conflicts, election rigging and having a national parliament which earns stupendous amount of allowances.

The main focus of the speech was about the historical journey of the two fraternal African countries that have embraced the mantra of democracy and the rule of law, not due to any external prodding or pressure, but because of internal realization that good governance is the best way to dream of an economically viable Africa.

Thus, the confusion of many who came across the statement urging Kenya to ignore and disobey the appearance call of the International Criminal Court, after signing into the Treaty and Convention establishing the special tribunal, was beyond belief.

Pray what does commitment to treaty means in this specific case? Simple, one would assume: that, by appending a signature to honor an appearance in the court, by any of the parties indicted by the chief prosecutor of the international court, is not a confirmation of guilt or innocence but to affirm confidence in a judicial process that a suspect is not simply comdemned, rather, that this is a fair and just opportunity to have evidence of his or her culpability diligently examined before the  pronouncement of judgment.

In the specific Kenyan indictment therefore, it means not to malign, belittle or humiliate a representative sovereign in the person of a Kenyan president and vice president, but to deliver justice on personal actions taken before attaining the eminent status of such a sitting head of state.

To be sure there is the case and the impression here of a high-wired jurisprudential politics of international law at play.  Thus, on face value, it all appears to be a conspiracy of the global powers to create a dangerous precedent, which tries and convicts an African sovereign, thereby creating the possibility of putting such nations into disrepute, by criminalizing a whole country due to the past activity of its leadership, when their domestics laws have not seen them through such disapproving eyes.

However, despite what anybody might think, the domestic implication and connotation also is disturbing, to say the least, when an executive president urges another country’s parliament to disobey the courts and cause the refusal of anyone honoring the summon of the temple of justice. What is at stake here is the blatant contempt for te rule of law, and someone who plays on this track cannot come behind, sounding proper and self-righteous by preaching practices they don’t truthfully believe in.

Part of the confusion that this triggers on a social, national, level is that citizens simply get mystified, confused on which court to obey, what law is just, and the preference of subjecting oneself to the dictates of a disagreeable judicial process, especially for people who consider they can dictate their appearance procedures of the courts of law based on personal choice and desire. This, to put it mildly, creates an abominable precedent of lawlessness, rascality and clear disrespect to the institutions dispensing justice to all and sundry.

While times without number, judicial courts have shown themselves to be prisoners to facts, evidences and penal statutes, in most political cases of this nature, which is largely evident in this instance, the general interest of maintaining the stability of a nation state, requires that justice is done to the victims of criminal actions of individuals,. Sadly this penal sanction never really takes effect, until and unless the convicted offender loses the status of a representative sovereign piloting the ship of state.

Mr. Suwaid, an attorney and community activist in Kano writes a regular legal opinion for Premium Times.

Reflections on the New CBN Credit Revolution, By Nasiru Suwaid

Nasiru Suwaid

Let us hold the old adage true that a person who does not produce cannot generate wealth nor should her or her require the trust of a supporting credit. This honoured truth made sense in the context of the subsistence nature of our cultural livelihood before time, and remained permanently etched in our traditional entrepreneural spirit.

This is why the waking mood of a Nigerian entrepreneur is characterized by a yo-yo swing because they are generally unable to make long term projections largely on account of the protean pace of  public policies that changes at the instinct and whims of officials, but often devoid of the substantive needs of the man on whose behalf the policy had been conceived .

Reflecting on one of such polices, the recent announcement from the Central Bank of Nigeria setting aside the sum of N220 billion Naira to fund Small and Medium Enterprises comes straight to mind. I am here thinking of the small entrepreneur whose business would demands an itinerant schedule, and I am wondering how he would be a likely beneficiary of this most progressive government initiative? Here the focus is not on account of  any discriminatory hint in the economic policy, but due to the harsh reality of his/her occupational culture, which comes in sharp conflict with the tradition in the banking community that only sees and situates loan-able trades desrving of credit support within the narrow prism of say, a manufacturing venture.

I am talking seriously here of an institutional thing, as well as a mindset,  where credit desk officers and bankers, only give listening ears to individuals and persons managing or operating a solid manufacturing concern, because of some presumed claim and general expectation that it is such entrepreneurial activities that are ultimately viable to create wealth.

The truth, of course, as we have all come to see it is that in a real world beyond presumption, many a manufacturing enterprise, are no more than statuesque presences, if I may use a cold reference.  We have ubiquitous evidence of industrial complexes or premises which initially served as dependable collaterals to many risk managers, which today are sad commentaries of the consequences of a loan repayment programme that had gone sour.

As enumerated during the epoch making event of this new CBN initiative, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, authoritatively submitted an analytical trend of the percentage share of credit granted by commercial banks to Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise in a decade of declined funding of this primary business sector of the economy.

The statistics is abysmal. Starting from the year 2003, we witnessed a recorded 7.5% percentage of availed credit facility to small enterprises, to less than 1% percentage of loans granted by the year 2006, leading to the measly 0.1% of percentage credit granted by the year 2012.

Technically, the inference is strong that the willingness of commercial banks to make lending to small business is proportional to the ability of the small investor or business person to seek for such loan, which is a different picture from a manufacturing entrepreneur who wishes to draw such a facility, to direct, organize or participate in the mechanized art of industrial production.

It is pertinent to note that the decade of decline in industrial financing corresponded with the period when the manufacturing industry in the nation nearly collapsed as a viable sector, as most of the re-known axis of industrial production in Nigeria, nearly became a relic of a distant past.

From the Kano-Kaduna-Abuja axis to the Onitsha-Aba-Port Harcourt axis, it was a single story of abandoned complexes and deserted areas, except, perhaps the Lagos-Ogun axis which remained as ever vibrant, especially, because the industries that were there are more of multinational conglomerates, that never lacked access to much needed capital, as foreign interventions were always available, and because the industries were large incorporations, most banks found it a novelty by association, to make available to them the much desired credit funding.

Of course, the new CBN epochal initiative, like all things revolutionary, had factored the probability of the enumerated problems, posing a serious threat to the actualization of an easy access to credit in Nigeria. Thus, the policy came with the establishing of micro finance banks as appropriate vehicles for the dispensation of such loans. It also revised the types of property, which could constitute adequate collateral to for granting a loan, and these include the generally accepted permanence of a landed property, to the now officially recognized moveable property, capable of withstanding the scrutiny of becoming asset worth being pledged to secure a credit facility.

Also, the provision of wholesale financing windows at a reduced cost to participating financial institutions, improving the capacity of Primary Financing Institutions to meet credit needs of micro, small and medium enterprises and enhancing access of women entrepreneurs to credit by allocating 60% of the funds to them. It is noteworthy that part of the targeted funds will be channeled to agriculture and women in farming vocation.

The simple truth about Nigerian economy is the fact that it imports almost everything, as its entrepreneurs do not manufacture goods nor invent products.  Sad to say, they trade on the exports of other nations, which includes, most surprisingly, foodstuffs. Thus, any credit policy that wishes to succeed, must integrate the trader and vendor community, by granting them loan facility, with a proper mentoring incentive to wean them from their established business styles as middlemen, into the expected realm of production and in this regard, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, the Chairman of Dangote Group, is a perfect exemplar; starting from trading to importing and packaging, and finally reaching the ultimate of a manufacturing entrepreneur per excellence, with the added notification of being the richest black man on earth in excess of $20 billion dollars.

The Perfect Pitch From Borno, By Nasiru Suwaid

Nasiru Suwald

When the story appeared about a month ago unto the media space, it came like a classic make believe, a sort of moral and morale boosting folktale, which almost everyone would wish to accept and identify with.

Indeed, for a highly distrusting and hugely cynical population like that of Nigeria, it was a historical first, where an official tale, that had no author, and where while the real life characters in the drama remained unnamed, and the plot unconvincingly scripted as it were, did not elicit the prompt and usual rejection of the public as hashed up lies.

The story was one where a father, somewhere inside the city of Maiduguri, received a prodigal son, whom has probable escaped from the camp of Jamma’atul Ahlil Sunna Lil Da’awati Wal Jihad, due to the rapid and commanding onslaught of the Nigerian Armed Forces.

Rather than acting the usual norm and offering the son a sanctuary and a safe aboard, the father reported him to Joint Task Force Sector Commander, as having confessed to murder, armed robbery and belonging to the Boko Haram.

Like all captivating tales that made a lot of impact, this one also ended in tragedy, when the father requested for a task team members to escort him home, in order to arrest the son and collect the stashed looted funds, hidden somewhere within the periphery of his compound.

Dramatically, the boy was shot in the back, when he tried to escape from his traducers, upon which the father exclaimed; Masha Allah! Giving glory to God, for fulfilling the sacred vows of an honorable gentleman, who is able to do justice to himself and immediate family.

The accepted wisdom is for the family to defend a kin, no matter their folly, faults and failures; no matter the weight of accusation and the degree of complicity.

Now, taking away all the heart wrenching plots, ploys and performance, what the real dramatic story is telling us is that justice cannot be negotiated away as an alternative to peace, while innate personal responsibility for acts done, cannot be forsaken for a general amnesty, which does not proportionally punish, demands penitence and deliver peace.

Indeed this single chivalrous gesture is against the operative policy of the present administration, it is also at odds with the thinking of many of the harshest critics of the present policy, because it is simply premised on the justice, fairness, equity and good conscience.

The federal government’s policy on the insurgency in the North, is premised on a four-point containment strategy of the insurrection through a declaration of a state of emergency; the operation and maintenance of an amnesty committee; proscription of the violent and seditious separatist groups; and releasing of captured insurgents without being subjected to a proper judicial review. Needless to say that this is a confused, convoluted, counter-productive and clearly unjust strategy.

However, the judicial order sought by the federal government to proscribe the indoctrinated insurgents, confirm the illegality of the groups as a partner to be negotiated with, despite the fact that all civil armed conflicts usually end at the reconciliation table, after the futility of war as a viable option has been explored and agreed by all parties.

The irony of it all, therefore, is that if the Federal Government plan was a sensible route to peace in the first place, then any civilian alternative to violence, as a viable option to the justified feeling of neglect by people in the region, deserved huge support and appreciation. They, after all, have been the ones who have resorted to directly confronting insurgents that are taking up arms against their nation as in the case of the Boko Haram.

Thus, groups like the Civilian Joint Task Force, who are a collection of youth fighting the perilous evil of sectarian and terrorism violence, should have been the one’s supported with a task force, rather than the current situation where their traducers are offered sweet heart deals of meaningless talks. How ridiculous it sounds that the mere declaration of repentance, qualifies the murderous lot to the eternal bliss of forgiveness by the Nigerian government.

Surely, this is more than a huge disincentive to individuals presently constituted as defensive vigilantes, who are making grave sacrifices for their people, community, state, and the greater territorial unity of the Nigerian federation.

Mr. Suwaid is a community activist and constitutional attorney, and he writes in from Kano

Common Sense Approach to Marriage Age Amendment, By Nasiru Suwaid

Nasiru Suwaid

Any true nation-state, worth its name, is ultimately built around some core sacred principles, among which are: the fundamental agreement to coalesce into nationhood, within a defined territorial space of people, who have agreed to form a union of either a unitary or federal state.

As in any arrangement, however, involving a lot of people, a settled guide must exist to arbitrate on what was agreed, who are the parties, where are the boundaries of individual rights, which structures constitute organs of institutional state and upon which values a nation-state stands.

Of course, what is agreed upon is the constitutional document, while the parties are the citizens of a country.  The boundaries of individual rights is encapsulated in the fundamental human rights provisions, and other non justiciable rights principles, while the structures constituting organs of institutional state, represent the legal stipulations empowering the existence of the government itself. It necessarily carries all its arms, organs, and institutions of governance, complete with their byelaw. Once these documents are garnished with the systemic values of a nation, the outcome announces the constitution as the fundamental basic norm of a society.

Usually, that is the originating path for any nation, unfortunately for the colonially-created state like Nigeria, the first principle is either a forced commandment of the British hence citizens are ignorant of what was the agreement creating the state.

Since the Independence Constitution of 1960 is premised on certain basic none-negotiable principles, making Nigeria an indivisible and indissoluble entity, a union of federating regions or states, the concept of federalism has come to represent our innate, fundamental, objective of existence as a nation state, having similar beliefs, cultures and traditions.

To each territorial, jurisdictional, unit are a set of laws, adopted from the primary custom of the areas, formulated into customary laws of the regional state. For the southern part of Nigeria, the customary law and Customary Courts came to guide persons contracting traditional marriages, and this was enshrined into the Matrimonial Causes Act.

For the northern part of Nigeria, the Shari’a Courts came into existence to administer Islamic Personal Law or more appropriately, Islamic family law, which is essentially dealing with issues of marriage, divorce, inheritance and endowment.

The framers of the constitution enacted a stipulation, which has been carried into the current arrangement as the Second Schedule Part 1Item Number 61 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as Residual List giving states exclusive jurisdiction on all matters contained therein or in a lay man’s language, it is a constitutional stipulation which forbids the National Assembly from making laws on matters unique to the customary values of the people in both northern and southern Nigeria.

It was a unique arrangement authored by the founding fathers of the nation, specifically, for the likes of Sir, Ahmadu Bello the Sardauna of Sokoto.  For him it was both a battle and a victory to achieve the basic minimum, that rather than have a full implementation of the Shari’a legal system, a Muslim in marriage, divorce, inheritance and endowment at lest had a set of guides which are a non-negotiable minima. of a set of Islamic laws.

But could the attempt at making a constitutional alteration on section 29(4)a & b, dealing with the renunciation of citizenship, not clash with the provisions of the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution?

The truth is that with the definition of full age as 18 years in Subsection 4(a), and with classifying a married woman to be of full age, as per Subsection 4(b), the Senate have cleverly made law on marriage, pegging the age of marriage at 18 years, and this is clearly outside the realm of their constitutionally enshrined powers of legislation, without altering the provisions of the Second schedule of the same constitution.

Yet, the controversy was needless in the first palce, because the subsection has always been there, rather, what happened was the attempt to remove Subsection 4(b), prescribing any married woman as of full age, despite the fact that the extant marriage laws had never set a minimum age for marriage in Nigeria.

Some would argue that despite the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, the Child Rights Act was passed by the National Assembly, setting the minimum age of marriage to 18 years as the national average, but the truth is that, as in the United States of America, which has 18 years as a national average, that is not the end but a way station to the terminus in constitutional amendment. Thus, to enforce the law, national law must be domesticated, as more than 30 states in the United States have ages of consent that is less than the national average.

What this means is that, any effort at setting a minimum age for marriage would be constitutional, only in so far as it is undertaken by the Houses of Assembly that the constitution envisages as the custodians of customs for each of the federating states.

Such a pegging could also be legal under Shari’a law, since in Islam, marriage is a contract made proper only on the three conditions set by the Holy Qur’an, which are dowry, two witnesses and a Waliyy.

Just like any other contract, the parties could then create terms, and agree on them. To my mind,  it is only under such a premise, that the state could congregate a communal Ijtihad, under each distinct State House of Assembly as custodians of custom, to determine whether such a state community desires a minimum age for marriage.

Mr. Suwaid, a constitutional attorney and community activist writes from Kano.

A Mama in the Villa, By Nasiru Suwaid

Nasiru Suwaid

Testimonies in places of worship, just like the ones given in the courtrooms, create an opportunity for the strategic unburdening of the soul, with the necessary proclamation of pure truth.

Perhaps it is because of this fact that the speech by the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, at a thanksgiving mass on Sunday 17th of February 2013, retrieves the debate on the believability of the presidential information management team, to the front burner, as well as to the moral standing of the administration itself among the generality of the citizenry.

The wife of the president, while thanking God for her life, admitted her sojourn to the Horst Schmidt Klinik in Germany, narrating how she had several clinical surgeries, and the shocking claim that she passed out for more than a week. Indeed, by her own admission, her doctors lost hope on her, until the miracle of her recovery that could only be attributed to the good lord himself.

She gave credit to the power of prayers for her full recovery, recalling sessions undertaken by a small circle of close relations, who were in the know of her precarious situation.

Meanwhile, around the time the first lady was undergoing these demanding trials and tribulations, the information fed to the generality of the Nigerian public was to the effect that the matron of Aso Villa was only on a vacation, resting after a hectic schedule of hosting the African First Ladies Mission.

In fact, while the likes of Reuben Abati and Doyin Okupe dithered for a while, before coming out to deny her hospitalisation, Mr. Ayo Osinlu, her personal media aide, vehemently rejected the ascription of ill health, to a woman he said was on a sightseeing trip to the insightful wonders of Deutschland.

Where were our presidential pressmen? What happened to their moral complexion?  If they accepted her confessions as a modern day Lazarus, rising from the dead, they could at least have engineered a strong reconstruction of the past event to obfuscate the fact, so that what actually happened in Germany, would not threaten to throw the presidency into disrepute. Unfortunately, mum was the word from the villa at Abuja.

Was it not before our very eyes that this same media deployed the best of their craft to the presumed demystification of a previous president? True, the scales are a bit different in this case, but the office of the first lady, remains one of the most powerful offices in the land, regardless of the fact that it exists without any basis in the constitution of the country. What is important is that it is expected to keep the first lady positively engaged as a way of keeping the nation’s leader happy at the home front.

Thus, in many nations, presidential spouses are enabled with a pet humanitarian project, expecting that they use the opportunity of appearances to animate the public stage, projecting their image and persona into the psyche of the citizenry.

The unfortunate slide, and misinterpretation of these roles in many situations, especially into a cult of fashionista, is not necessarily a Nigerian factor.

There are those who will argue that there is a correlation between the seriousness of the first lady’s role and the presidential example that inspires it.  For the likes of President Barack Obama or Prime Minister David Cameron, their central challenge, while in office, appear to be a dedication to good governance, provision of adequate infrastructure, stable economy and efficient justice system. One will expect, logically that their spouses are equally so engaged.

Whatever way we look at it though, one thing is incontestable in this oddly intensive human drama, at least to individuals like me, is her assertion that except for prayers, we won’t be having a hale and hearty Mama in Abuja today.

Mr. Suwaid is a Kano-based layer.

Integrity is no barrier for Nigerian Ports, By Nasiru Suwaid

Nasiru Suwaid

The hall was so magnificently set with a lot of chandeliers reflecting every object on sight and in around every couple of minutes, a dignitary saunters majestically through Nigeria’s corridor of power and enters the heavily fortified but permanently shut room. As the routine continued to flow, there arrived an individual, whose familiarity is so notorious that his presence evokes divisive debates, who walked gently with a graceful mien. Though, after taking a few steps into the hall, some of the meeting’s organizing officials hurriedly approached him, hugged the floor and prostrated in a typical Dobale fashion, heralding the arrival of Chief Olabode Ibiyinka George, to the gathering of his own political party’s Board of Trustees.

 A body which by virtue of section 12.76 of the People’s Democratic Party constitution as amended, must comprise of men and women of integrity, that have contributed critically to the conception and nurturing of the party. The task before the august body was so simple, as organizing an election for a large family of agreeable peers, whose principal interest should at the very least, be the maintenance of the semblance of unity. Unfortunately, what is seemingly obvious to an outside onlooker, does not necessarily capture the reality within the fold of the often trumpeted largest party in Africa.

For days preceding the main event, which is the election or more appropriately put, selection of chairman of the party’s body of wisdom, feelers from the print as well as the broadcast media were typically Nigerian. As the directed pattern of reportage was so obviously biased and in most instances bordering on treasonable defamation, which is a situation, when mere ordinary citizens for accountability sake, dare to question an African ruler’s choice of appointments. Indeed, in some instances, the aim was to gloat, on the suspected calamity of a defeat, which the seeming loss of chairmanship of the People’s Democratic Party Board of Trustees portrays, as a single person could not commandeer chairmanship of the Board of Directors of the Nigerian Ports Authority, while at the same seeking to control the ruling party’s prestigious elderly think tank, which is surely a monumental power grab of the highest order.

A wild allegation and plot conspiratorially orchestrated and fixed on the persona of an individual, who became famous as a deal maker, by performing impossible tasks of electoral ingenuity. Which is when an election looked seemingly pre-determined and not by any hidden act of official tempering with the voting materials, but through the fact of inexcusable bad leadership, which had made the people to resolve into ensuring a change in leadership, that is when Chief Anthony Anenih shows his magical and mercurial excellence, in fixing the results, which had set to convey a crushing defeat to an ignoble incumbent, into that of endowing victory to the properly and financially deserving.

A reality which could cause those desperate breed of office seekers, the politicians, to pinch themselves trying to come to terms with the good fortune and need I say good luck, which has befallen them, not by any pre-destination or a gracious God, but through the malevolent artistry of an election rigger, who is so adept at what he does, as to evoke deep seated jealousy from the camp of perpetual loosing block of opposition political parties in Nigeria.

A lot of cynical Nigerians, unfortunately I am prominently included, have developed such an obnoxious habit, which is about questioning the motive of whatever Mr. President does, when a simple appointment of a political apparatchik to the office of a government agency board of director, has evoked so much passion and need I say hatred. In fact, where it in the United States of America or any one of those overtly sensitive European countries, the Benin High Chief could have easily sued, under one of those hate crimes legislations, arguing about the premeditated profiling of a patriot, whose only crime is offering himself to the service of the motherland at such an octogenarian age and I am sure he would have obtained proper commensurate recompense,  if for nothing else, to build more financial war chest for the eventuality of 2015 Presidential Elections.

Indeed, people have often wondered why only controversial figures get appointed to head the board of the premier management agency, guiding the trading entry point into the Nigeria nation through the sea front. While, a coterie of information officials have always prophesized, with Dr. Doyin Okupe prominently among them, which is that such appointments are nothing more than mere settlement of the individuals and persons who fought for the party’s victory in the elections. My prognosis is that it all have to do with African tradition, which have always conferred enormous to powers to the sea, after all it is from it, we have half man half fish Mammy Wata spirit, who by a mere wishful thought, could engineer an earthquake, a Tsunami and devastating flood, while a simple rolling of eyes by the super human, could cause a reversion to the status quo. Thus, if you are President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, with a unique history as a fisherman, wouldn’t you employ such figures to handle such intricate electoral matters?

Ibori’s sentencing lacked compassion

“So to give him 13 years is savage and malicious. It looks as if the British government is taking it personal. He is going to return all the assets in question. I am not saying he shouldn’t be punished, but there should human face in the punishment.”

Professor Itse Sagay (SAN)

One of the perennial and perpetual conflicts in the world of legal jurisprudence is the evident chasm between law and morality, the harsh dictates of applying the cause of justice versus the graceful compassion of an erudite sitting judge. Indeed, for the British and more specifically English, such conflicts in the dispensation of the rule of law, led to the separation and eventual formation of the Courts of Equity, as a distinct temple of justice, apart from the original Common Law Courts, the idea being the insertion of human element in the austere provisions of law, as against the normal application of timeless legislative postulations.

For every student of the Nigerian legal system, with sufficient familiarity in our law of contract, the name of Itse Sagay is synonymous with the intricate principles of a Legal Binding Agreements, the fundamental ethos of which is the honorable resolve of a gentlemen adhering to a signed and sealed promise. Thus, when such an individual, despite all the universal acclamation of the judgment, condemned the sentencing of James Ibori, as an exercise in premeditated travesty of justice, the world, and indeed the nation needs to listen, even more so as he is a favored member of the silk shirts, otherwise  called the Senior Advocates of Nigeria.

As Justice Marcel Idowu Awokulehin, the judge who acquitted Chief James Onanefe Ibori would wont to say, under our distinctive territorial jurisdiction, the essential demands of satisfying the burden of proof are quite different, for while an accused in Nigeria must be proven to have committed an infraction of the law beyond reasonable doubt, under the British system of the administration of justice, all that is required to be proven is essentially the probable commission of an offence.

Indeed one of the apparent confusion with the judgment, and technically with the accompanied condemnations of the sentencing, is the presumption of an attempt to severe the umbilical cord between the Nigerian legal system and its common law progenitor, since, as we all know, the historical source of Nigerian laws are the norms of common English tradition. 

Thus, in a circumstance which compels the application of different legal facts, people are expectedly pondering whether the right course of justice has been diligently followed, more so as the Nigerian has the dubious image of a corruption society notorious for subverting the rule of law. This is further compounded by the fact that the original crime was committed within the jurisdictional confines of Nigerian state despite the fact that the huge and unaccountable money transfers breeched the existing monetary laws of the United Kingdom. In a manner of speaking, therefore, the context of the crime remained singularly against the Nigerian people.

The jurisprudential difference exhibited from the case aside, the points of convergence between the unsuccessful execution of the process in Nigeria, and the successful interdiction in Britain are as follows: the evidence presented before the judge, the personality standing trial, and the inferred motive of a crime against the Nigerian people. To be sure there are interesting points and lessons. For instance, while the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission of Nigeria, built the core of its case theft and fraudulent stealing of government funds, the British premised their conviction on attempted money laundering offense. Obviously, proving the act of criminal stealing is a much tougher take. For one, it requires not only the proof of the removal of such funds from its legitimate accountable place of abode, but the prosecutor must also show that the intention of movement of the funds was with criminal motive of fraud.

In the case of the British charge of money laundering, no such tedious requirement is needed, in so far as the funds in question were moved to the British banks and the accused individual in question, cannot validly account for the funds under the expectation of his or her legal income. Simply put, an individual on an annual income of less than a million dollars, cannot legally launder hundreds of millions of dollars without showing cause as to how he came into ownership of such funds. To this extent, therefore, the burden of proof shifts to the defense, as against the Nigerian norm where it is the prosecution that is burdened with the obligation of prove.

Thus taking the case on the premises of its facts, which is purely amoney laundering conviction that was obtained on the basis of a pleadeal upon a convict that has accepted guilt, and by so doing has saved the court the hardship of a long and costly trial, the sentencing of 13 years is certainly not justifiable.  Further, as a trial court is not only a temple of affirming the moral ethos of the society, but an avenue and a platform to deliver justice according to the proportion of an offense, which in these instant case is not really an act of theft, but an illegal transfer of unaccountable funds.

 

Ibori’s conviction rescuing the essence of plea deal

Nasiru Suwaid

“He was never the legitimate governor and there was effectively a thief in government house. As the pretender of that public office, he was able to plunder Delta states wealth and hand out patronage.”
-Sasha Wass, QC, Crown Prosecution Service Attorney.

It is obvious that these are unusual times in Nigeria. The many challenges afflicting the federation and its units in terms of clear failures in leadership, security, infrastructure, economy and the overall questioning of the viability and sustainability of the amalgamated union attest to this. The leadership has also chosen the path of sleaze and seems to be unable to perform credibly. It has failed to set a clear premise of applying and enforcing the core dictates of the rule of law. One of the cardinal points enabling a minimum standard of ethos and justice in an organized state is the rule of law. It engenders the necessary feeling of equality before the law. Without the rule of law, the majority of the citizens will be left with a feeling that fairness has eluded them during any adjudication process.

 

The conviction of James Ibori, former governor of Delta State and a significant official of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, through the much vilified process of a plea bargain deal served as a confirmation of the corrupt tendencies of Nigerian politicians. It also showed the fallacy of the ineffectiveness of a plea deal in prosecuting corruption cases. It was for the sake of ‘Plea Bargain’ that the London court was also able to negotiate an admittance of guilt by Mr. Ibori.  As the conviction of Chief Ibori showed, a diligent prosecutor first establishes a tight case against the defendant, before serving strong evidence to the defendant in order that he might seek for a plea bargain. The crown prosecution service, meticulously gathered incriminating evidence and then confronted the accused (Mr. Ibori). The plea bargain then became the only viable option of having his cooperation as a mitigation factor in his eventual sentencing. The fundamentals of a plea deal are to coerce an admission of guilt by the defendant and to negotiate for a either a reduced sentence or obtaining of a financial recompense in lieu of serving a jail time.

It is apparent that the origin of plea bargain has a checkered past in the history of Nigerian jurisprudence. The principle of plea bargain is very hard to comprehend and can be easily susceptible to abuse. It can also distort the fundamental legal ethos of diligent prosecution. Perhaps, it is because of these characteristic nature of plea bargain that made Justice Dahiru Musdapher to proclaim the concept of plea bargain as a “foreign and fraudulent interpolation, within our distinctive territorial jurisdiction and applicable legal norms, which strives to punish the culpable with a non commensurate penitence”. As his lordship stated, “a plea bargain shall never be part of our procedural prosecutorial process in Nigeria again, because in the eyes of greater majority of the public, it is neither serving the cause of justice nor aiding the interest of fairness”.

Indeed, the history of a plea deal in Nigeria is full of instances of abuses. In instances and occasions where the beneficiaries of a plea bargain who committed obvious corruption crimes were given sentences, it consisted of prison time not commensurate with the criminal act. In a twist of event, those that are accused of committing minute infractions of the law get long and windy sentences. As Chief Justice Musdapher puts it – “imagine a goat thief doing more time in jail than an embezzler of hundreds of billions of naira”. The prosecution of Mrs. Cecilia Ibru who was the managing director of the former Oceanic Bank, through plea bargain showed the flawed interpretation of plea bargain in the Nigerian judicial process. A convicted felon was given a sentence of limited penitentiary time in the confines a private hospital. As such, Mrs. Ibru, the felon never actually did time in a harsh atmosphere of a prison yard.

An analysis of the judicial process in Nigeria reveals a situation where no matter the type of prosecution method adopted in criminal cases, the counsel always finds it hard to conclude the trials. More so, it is unable of securing a conviction commensurate with the alleged offence. As such, the population volume of awaiting trial inmates is more than three quarters of the actual convicted felons. Trials also drag on for years before it reaches conclusion mostly because of the lack of needed evidence for the judge to deliver his prognosis. It is in this instance that a plea bargain becomes an alternative option for a diligent prosecutor. The diligent prosecutor gathers great evidence covering all areas that affirm the guilt of a defendant and presents same to the defendant, not as a means to negotiate away the charge, but as an avenue to extract acceptance of the commission of a legal infraction; the bait being a plea bargain.

The advantages of a plea bargain are numerous. It cuts short long and expensive trials and saves tax payers funds. It also saves time in the adjudicatory process, which in most cases results in loss of evidence, due to withering of the gathered provable evidence. The plea bargain also facilitates admission of guilt in some instances. When people are slapped with their provable misdeeds, they easily accept guilt. Thus, ensuring the cause of justice is acceptable to both the prosecutor and the defendant. Litigants also agree that plea bargain promotes prosecution in place of persecution.