Some Nigerian lawyers have questioned the constitutionality of the banishment of Muhammadu Sanusi, following his dethronement as Emir of Kano.
With a stroke of the pen, the former Emir, on Monday, was stripped of his royal title and exiled to a neighbouring state, Nassarawa on grounds of ‘insubordination and disrespect for lawful authorities including persistent refusal to attend official programmes and meetings organised by the government.’
According to the government’s representative and the managing director of Kano Road Traffic Agency (KAROTA), Bappa Dan’agundi, Mr Sanusi’s banishment is “in line with tradition and for peace to reign in Kano.”
As a reformist and leading voice against poor conditions in the North, Mr Sanusi had, at different times, been accused of playing partisan politics in the 2019 election against Governor Abdullahi Ganduje.
Last year, Mr Ganduje broke down the former Kano Emirate into five emirates, in an attempt, many viewed, to whittle down the power and influence of Mr Sanusi.
He, afterwards, appointed Mr Sanusi as the head of Council of Chiefs to oversee the new emirates.
Many believed Mr Sanusi’s appointment was a poisoned chalice to his earlier vehemence against the creation of the new emirates. This trailed the perceived power tussle between the duo.
However, his dethronement has drawn the ire of many Nigerians on the virtual space and mixed reactions have trailed his banishment as many questioned its constitutionality.
This is not the first time an Emir would be dethroned.
It would be recalled that Mr Sanusi’s grandfather, Muhammad Sanusi l, was also deposed in 1963 and banished to Azare town, now in Bauchi State. He was accused of misappropriation of Kano Native Authority’s funds.
But a former governor of Kano State, Late Abubakar Rimi, brought him back to Wudil town where he died in the early 1990s.
Other deposed Northern monarchs include the Emir of Muri, Umar Abba Tukur (1986); Sultan Of Sokoto, Ibrahim Dasuki (1996); and Emir of Gwandu, Mustapha Haruna (2005).
The duo of Messers Tukur and Haruna later sought redress in court against their banishment and they won.
For Frank Tietie, a human rights advocate and executive director of Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER), Mr Sanusi’s ‘offence’ can not be prosecuted under any criminal law in Nigeria.
“His inability to perform well, according to Kano state government, should not be an offence to be banished for.
“If the people think he is a threat to traditionally upheld beliefs, that’s their problem.
“I cannot accept that he is banished, it is unconstitutional,” he said.
He said the 1999 Nigerian constitution provides for every Nigerian the right to personal liberty and that no person should be deprived of such liberty.
“Section 41(1) of the Constitution provides thus: every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereto or exit therefrom.”
He said it would be injurious to the Nigerian citizenship that such a thing as banishing a fellow Nigerian in his country could be attributed to it.
A lawyer, Johnson Omede, said Mr Sanusi’s banishment was unconstitutional and a flagrant disregard to the laws of the federation, adding that “the archaic practice of banishment of deposed Emirs; a colonial practice that has no basis under the Nigerian law or the Constitution.”
Citing the case of the Nigerian Court of Appeal in Attorney General Kebbi State against former Emir of Gwandu, Mustapha Jakolo, as a similar case of power tussle, he said the court pronounced it as illegal, unconstitutional and gross violation of the rights of the Emir.
According to Funmi Falana, a rights activist, the banishment is a violation of the right to human dignity as the deposed monarch was whisked away from his home without recourse to a fair hearing.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how Mr Sanusi was forced out of the palace and taken to Loko, a remote town in Nassarawa State. He was later moved to Awe, an urban setting in the same state, following the appeal of Emir of Loko to Governor Abdullahi Sule.
Mrs Falana condemned Mr Sanusi’s subjection to public ridicule and humiliation, saying it is an infringement of his right to free movement.
Abimbola Ojenike, another lawyer, said the action amounts to an unconstitutional interference with fundamental rights cannot be validated as customary practice or law.
“A custom or customary law is invalid if it is repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience or incompatible directly or by implication with any law that is in force. The custom or practice of banishment fails fatally on this test,” he said.
He argued that the inaccessibility of Kano State Emirate Council Law of 2019 under which the deposed Emir was prosecuted, opened a room for contention.
“The law must be interpreted in its context and would be valid only to the extent of its consistency with the 1999 Constitution. Any state law that engenders (a) violation of the constitution is invalid. It’s much more offensive when state legislation interferes with fundamental rights that are enshrined in the basic structure of the constitution,”
For Judith Agbotean, the issue of banishment in Nigeria is ‘incompatible’ with the law for the time being because the constitutional provision of the right to movement and private life, invalidates it.
The way forward
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Ozekhome, said not only were the government’s actions contrary to the Nigerian Constitution but, also to Articles 4, 5 and 6 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, Cap A9 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
To ensure the enforcement of the deposed Emir’s fundamental human rights, he said, court redress must be sought after.
Legal machinery might be set in motion as Mr Sanusi’s legal team, led by Abubakar Mahmoud, on Tuesday, said it would challenge his banishment.
While the deposed Emir said he would recline to fate and accept his dethronement, Mr Mahmoud said his team would take legal actions against his banishment because it is “illegal, unconstitutional and a clear abuse of power.”
It remains unclear whether Mr Sanusi would challenge any of the actions taken against him on Monday.
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